Social media considered harmful, last part

In his screenplay for the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd, Bud Schulberg posits the political rise of Lonesome Rhodes, a populist figure who captures the public imagination through his folksy manner and ability to present himself as a working man’s alternative to the political elite of the day. When a recording of Rhodes speaking, in an unguarded moment, reveals his true feelings of contempt for others, his political collapse is instantaneous.

There was probably a time in our nation’s history when that would have been the fate of a figure like Donald Trump, after recordings surfaced in which he talked about “grabbing pussy” and otherwise revealing himself to be a crude and contemptuous man. But now we live in the era of social media.

Trolls are not merely tolerated these days — they have become woven into the fabric of our culture. The ability to derail rational and constructive discourse through an act of pure verbal aggression has come to be admired in many circles. And I think this goes a long way toward explain the continuing acceptance in many circles of Donald Trump.

As Trump’s true nature has emerged as a troll writ large, a con man and a bully, a supposed “billionaire” who hides his tax returns out of fear of revealing his true financial state, a long time swindler of employees and contractors, a taker of bribes from Russian benefactors in the form of sweetheart real estate deals, an admirer of murderous despots in brutal totalitarian regimes, a man who seems to view his marriage merely as an opportunity for photo-ops, a serial liar on a scale never-before seen in our nation’s political sphere, his popularity in many quarters has only increased.

I don’t think such a figure would have been acceptable to the American public before the emergence of trolling as a form of power. Baseless insults, crude verbal attacks, disgusting comments about women, switching from one set of “facts” to another at the drop of a hat, these are not forms of behavior we historically associate with leaders. Yet now, in 2017, they seem to add up to a set of traits that many in our country find admirable.

One question that remains: Was the rise of a figure such as Trump a consequence of social media, or was it the result of an existing flaw in our social fabric, one that social media has merely allowed to blossom forth?

One thought on “Social media considered harmful, last part”

  1. Not a consequence of Social Media directly. He’s always been him, but Social Media enables him to run his manipulative mechanisms more rapidly and more directly. There isn’t a flaw in our social fabric, but there is a trust and an idea that trust is not exploited. He is unaware that trust should not be exploited, and in fact, uses trust as an exploitation mechanism as well.

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