I read a couple of really interesting articles this weekend that attemped to shed some light on how our culture failed to prevent a Donald Trump Presidency. The first was by Danah Boyd, who works at Microsoft Research. When I read the title – Why America is Self-Segregating – I almost didn’t click on the link. Most of the pieces on self-segregation that I’ve read I don’t agree with, and I tend to find annoying. That was not the case with Danah’s article. Her argument and evidence were completely new to me, and really insightful.
Emily Nussbaum’s New Yorker piece How Jokes Won the Election was a more painful read. For those of us who think of humor as a way to package the truth for easier consumption, 2016 reminded us that humor can also provide refuge for liars.
As I read it, though, I remembered an incident from years ago that chilled me to the bone in recollection. In 2000, The Onion (which Nussbaum calls “the original fake-news site) ran a satirical piece entitled ”Harry Potter Books Spark Rise in Satanism Among Children." Here and there, people who weren’t familiar with The Onion reported on the article as though it was real news. We laughed and laughed. How could people not know The Onion was a joke? How could they believe that kids become Satanists after reading Harry Potter. People are so dumb, we thought.
Little did I know at the time that those people who took The Onion literally were the vanguard of the fake news epidemic that plagued the 2016 election. They were teaching us a valuable lesson – if you publish something that’s formatted like news and reads like news, people will take it seriously if it confirms their existing biases. What The Onion proved by accident has since been repeatedly used to devastating effect to erode society’s relationship with the truth.
The election of Donald Trump has proven that American culture is in a desperate state, and even though the examination is painful, it’s important to figure out how we got here. Both articles take the already tired investigation into the origins of Donald Trump’s America in new and interesting directions.