Donald Trump is going to be the next President of the United States. And technology is to blame. If you disagree with either of those statements, you just haven’t been paying attention.
Why is Trump about to win the Republican nomination? Do you blame ignorance, stupidity, racism, sheer anger? Do you blame the cynicism and greed of the Republican party over the last 30 years? All of these answers are rooted in an ungenerous assumption about the many millions of voters who have voted for Trump and will continue to do so. You would be saying that these people are fools, ignoramuses, racists. I think that is wrong substantively, but I know for sure that is wrong for you as a person. Always choose to be generous and empathetic in your assumptions about people, so long as that serves you just as well as your lesser instincts toward mean-spirited judgment.
The generous and empathetic view here accepts that the political system of this country is incontrovertibly broken for the majority of people. And since this country is ostensibly a democracy, that majority is understandably willing to vote for the person that most loudly claims that they will revolutionize the existing system. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, taken together, represent the vast majority of this country’s voters.
Trump won his party’s nomination (and Bernie will not) because Trump received billions and billions of dollars worth of free advertising. In a democracy, getting the message out to the people is the fundamental lubricant of the polity, which is why for nearly all of our nation’s history, the media have been regarded as the Fourth Estate, an equal peer to our functioning government alongside the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
But in the last twenty years, intensified in the last decade, the media have undergone a tremendous upheaval, all wrought by technology. And here is where we, all of us in technology, have been so proud of how we shaped the future, so unbearably, insufferably proud. We were proud to destroy Old Media, to disintermediate the gatekeepers, to revel in the creative destruction. Pride goeth before the fall.
What we didn’t realize, didn’t take seriously, is the real value of media as an institution in a properly functioning democracy, the Fourth Estate that keeps the others honest. We destroyed the gatekeepers without any foresight that we were replacing them with monsters much more insidious: the tyranny of the click, the plutocracy of the pageview, merciless metrics. Technology has become a dominant force in our culture over the last twenty years, and we as technologists were wholly unprepared for the responsibility.
If you think Hillary Clinton is going to win the general election, you have an optimism that is wholly unsupported by the slow-motion train wreck that has unfolded before our eyes these last few months. What could possibly support that optimism? Would you deny the obvious truth that this is a representative democracy, and that the majority of voters have stated their preference for overthrowing the current system? Hillary is a creature of the system, she cannot win over those voters.
The only hope is that the will of the majority will become disengaged from this election. They will not do so in the face of the billions and billions and more billions of free advertising that the media will continue to lavish upon Trump because they are no longer gatekeeping bastions of the Fourth Estate, but slaves to the clicks and advertising dollars that the technology revolution have left to them as the only form of viability that they have left. Believing that Hillary Clinton will win the presidency is like believing the New York Times is still The Paper of Record.
Bury your head in the sand if you must. I’m making plans for 2020.