Is Donald Trump the First Hyperreal President?

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Hyperreality.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it almost sounds like a positive phenomenon.  It almost sounds as if you are describing a heightened awareness, a greater perception of surroundings or some sort of improved capacity for empiricism. A more real reality.

It is none of those things.

For those of you who have encountered the term before, you probably understand that hyperreality is in fact the result of erroneous perception.  It is an experiential flaw in which reality is confused with simulations of reality.  The real and the simulation are not simply indistinguishable, but to the person who is experiencing the phenomenon the differentiation between the two becomes irrelevant.

A simplified example can be seen with Alexa, Amazon’s AI-driven virtual assistant; or SIRI, or any other of the nearly-ubiquitous simulated conversational agents that many of us interact with daily.  Imagine if a person engages in an interaction as if it were an actual human, telling it jokes, asking it questions, introducing it to their friends.  The virtual assistant becomes a very real companion to that person, even though they can look at the matte black finish and LED displays and control buttons.  The interactions cease being simulated, even if they are simply the output of a series of machine-learned algorithms and natural language processing. 

A less hypothetical example has been seen in the past few years in social media.  Remember when Facebook crashed and people, lots of people, dialed 9-1-1 and reported it as an emergency?  Is it possible that to some people, their interactions on Facebook were so real, so essential, that when they were unable to continue it became a perceived existential threat?  This could be individual’s immersion in the hyperreal.

What we are facing lately however, is far more debilitating as a society, and potentially extremely destructive.  I am seeing a full, societal, descent into hyperreality; where facts are negotiable, the truth is fungible, and history is expungeable.  A slow, sinister deconstruction of the very epistemological fabric which has shaped the way humans have acquired knowledge since the age of Plato.  Reality is being replaced by simulacra which may outwardly appear to resemble our real environment, but in fact simply hides the decaying corpse of the truth behind it.

How did we get here?  There are many factors in play.  A damnable serendipity of events and forces out of sight and beyond the control of most people, but fully in control of people who seek to profit from the effects, and are shamelessly ignorant of the long-term consequences.  Social media, political propagandists, reality television have all been choking and suffocating a generation of people’s ability to distinguish the real from the unreal, to differentiate actual explicit meaning from the semiotic intent; while simultaneous mitigating the importance of differentiating the two.

This is how we have Donald Trump as President.  He is indeed the first hyperreal president, but unfortunately it is doubtful that he will be the last. He is quite literally a simulacrum of what his supporters want him to be.  Conservatives see him as a conservative, because he appoints the judges that they want; however, his actual policies have been far from conservative.  Fiscally, he has doubled-down on our sovereign indebtedness and he has constrained free trade. He is soft on the traditional adversaries of past republicans while cozying up to autocrats from countries diametrically opposed to conservative values.  Evangelicals have gone so far as to say he is anointed by God, while ignoring his lascivious past and unrepentant attitude regarding it.  His working-class supporters see him as their champion, despite his privileged upbringing and well-documented past patterns of stiffing small businesses and laborers.  His supporters from the military and veteran community see him as a strong leader, despite his craven past of avoiding military service himself, and shameful disparaging of servicemen and veterans who he capriciously deems worthy of disdain and disrespect.

Perhaps the most glaringly obvious clue of the hyperreality of Donald Trump, is that on those occasions when the veneer has been lifted due to his own self-contradicting statements and actions, his supporters are either unable or unwilling to reconcile the conflict; moreover, they react with violent cognitive dissonance.  It is simply more comfortable to them to pretend it never happened then to look past the curtain and see that their great and all-powerful wizard is nothing more than a sad, old charlatan.

How do we fix the situation we are in?  I have no answers for that. I fear this is simply the direction society is headed.  The truth is now fungible and easily replaced with whatever you can convince enough people to believe. 

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