When I was growing up, media meant network TV. Its voice was the network news broadcaster: a man who read the news in an authoritative voice devoid of
any discernible accent, personal belief or visible emotion. How old am I? Old enough to have watched the evening news on a black and white TV that received only 3 channels. Old enough to remember actually reading the daily newspapers. Old enough to remember when the Net existed only in Science Fiction. In those bygone days the TV network news broadcaster was the voice of authenticity (admittedly he was the only game in town). No one spoke more authoritatively and appeared more authentic than Walter Cronkite. Today media means the Net. The internet has given everyone a voice, hence blogs like mine where I make no attempt to hide either my personal belief or emotion. The internet has given everyone the ability to become one of the media. Along the way authenticity has been reimaged. In social media people who speak from a set perspective as themselves are seen as authentic, even professional media bloggers are expected to speak with all their idiosyncrasies and imperfections intact.
I believe one of the keys to understanding Donald Trump’s political success is that his media voice sounds authentic to modern sensibilities. Read his tweets and there is little doubt that he writes them himself, making him the first major candidate for the presidency to do so. Hillary Clinton’s (whom I don’t support either) tweets are carefully prepared talking points that obviously are written by her staff — obviously unless she can be two places at once because sometimes she tweets when she is onstage in a live debate. On the other hand Trump apparently just tweets whatever is on his mind at that moment, no matter how nasty, degrading or untrue. He tweets like he speaks, without a filter. He uses the weird spelling and punctuation common on Tweeter which, ironically, makes Trump seem much more authentic than Clinton.
I am not saying that Trump is authentic, just that he appears authentic by social media standards. Authenticity is the quality of being true to yourself. I truly hope that Trump’s internet self is not his true self because if it is then he may be the perfect narcissist, empty and desperate to fill himself with the cheers of others.
I believe that Trump sounds authentic to many of his supporters because he explicitly disavows political correctness. Let me elaborate.
Political correctness began on University campuses in the 1980s in the wake of the sweeping moral re-evaluation of our society’s traditional assumptions about the role of women, people of color and other marginalized people taking place in Academia. A suspicion of ideas that we have inherited from earlier generations is healthy. Academia became sensitive to the fact that language perpetuates assumptions, especially negative assumptions.
PC was ridiculed from the start for two main reasons: First, the “PC police” enforce a mindless and empty adherence to the PC vocabulary, a criticism that is sometimes justified. Second, PC is cowardly, afraid to state the truth for fear someone will be offended. This is why some believe Obama won’t refer to jihadists as “radical Islamic terrorists.” Republican leaders went so far as to label him “cowardly”. They chose to disbelieve his explanation that he didn’t want to legitimize the idea that these extremists represent Islam (anymore than the KKK represents Christianity).
Trump’s popularity has risen in direct proportion to his claims becoming more outrageous and hateful: his supporters apparently take that as a sign of his bravery. They believe that Trump is speaking truth to power. As one who believes that “PC” actually is a means to granting basic respect and dignity to all I see his speech quite differently. I fear that his “speaking truth to power” is really just hateful bullying.
The unparalleled freedom of speech afforded by the Web gave me hope that it would facilitate an appreciation of our differences more than ever. But instead I see a power broker like Trump being lauded as authentic because he “says it like it is”. Apparently what “it is” includes trumpeting his power and wealth and ridiculing anyone who disagrees with him. Rather than his speech producing dignity, respect and compassion, in Trump world the hard truths that only he is authentic enough to acknowledge produce xenophobia, sexism, Islamophobia, racism, and anti-intellectualism.
Trump’s tweets have turned one of the Internet’s greatest virtues into a weapon in the war to keep the marginalized right where they belong. At least until a final solution for them is found.