For my young and inexperienced non-voting self, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 was a chilling moment. I couldn’t even imagine the political turn our society would take, or how the vocabulary of the nation would change, as if George Orwell were writing reality.
Words such as “fake news” or “illegitimate,” and phrases like “Sad!” or “America first,” have become commonplace terms in the U.S. over the last four years. The nation has taken on an us vs them stance, leaving the U.S. to be marginalized and laughed at by the rest of the world.
It is our ever-divided country’s either greatest fear or greatest hope to relive this moment from 2016. But, as we ache in anticipation for the final polls for the top seat in Washington, there remain more names on our ballots. International, national and local scales have all been tipped in new directions. Going forward, how are we expected to balance them? Or is it time to re-calibrate?
Since Trump has taken residence in the Oval Office, historians have already penned his presidency the “Trump effect.” An NBC column employs the same name, using it to define the president’s disruption of American politics and government. A Harvard study done in 2018 describes the term’s implications in regards to Trump’s “negative rhetoric” on marginalized groups and how it normalizes hate speech. Cognitive Anthropologist Samuel Paul Veissière accepts the Trump effect and sees how the workings of society reflect these problematic biases and prejudices that the American majority holds. Psychologists Rosemary K.M. Sword and Philip Zimbardo, creator of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, call it bullying.
Despite the different levels and bureaucratic branches of government, the Trump effect has painted over all of these many areas. And, the trickle-down effect is real.
One loose thread of the Trump effect coils around the changing arena of local government. In this modern world of partisan networking and connections, it only matters who you are backed by — politically or monetarily. Local governing positions lose their relevance and pale in comparison to the larger game in D.C. These candidates are forced to attack the presidential nominees and discuss national politics, because it’s what constituents want to listen to.
Rather than discussing the local community or governing, candidates feel as though they need to explain and defend their values. We find candidates tiptoeing around sensitive subjects which negate their policies, or candidates are being pressured to outplay their opponent at the risk of their values.
Republican candidates find themselves in the same predicament, unable to separate themselves from the president. Shannon Powell, the leader of the anti-Trump group Indivisible Westchester, notes, “You cannot escape Donald Trump.” In New York, the Trump effect has pressured Republicans to become more bipartisan, while Democrats have been forced to become more progressive in order to accommodate the traditional-left party line.
International, national and local scales have all been tipped in new directions. Going forward, how are we expected to balance them? Or is it time to re-calibrate?
What propagates this is social media, the place where nobody is political until things get political. As President Trump has been blurring the lines between celebrity and politician throughout the last several years, politics have become a sector of pop culture. As Trump is a public figure who projects his voice most often on Twitter, conversations and topics on this platform become dramatized, sensationalized and continually divided. The debates and the politicians who used to be interpreted through political cartoons are now given the meme treatment. Ranging by several degrees of political correctness, memes travel across the internet and are shared instantly with millions of people. Furthermore, predictive or personalized ads force people to see what they want to see.
Campaigns, such as Trump’s 2020 re-election crusade, steer toward blasting out these targeted messages. Although a successful campaign includes defeating the opponent, the increased partisan divide is now standardizing messaging, similar to propaganda. In one political advertisement, Trump asks if the American people know how to spot a zombie. Assuming that American people do not know, and disregarding the factual nonexistence of human zombies — that is not to discount animals being taken over by parasites — the advertisement plays on. It highlights clips of Joe Biden in his poorest moments and matches them with zombie warning signs. The narration urges voters to re-elect Trump and keep out the Biden zombie from the White House.
It is almost guaranteed that the Trump era has shaped politics, possibly permanently. The severance between the two major political parties is, at times, toxifying. But, before a revolution, there needs to be at least two sides willing to fight. Though I don’t want to see the country in real flames, 2020 alone has proved to us that there are many problematic systems in our country.
So while we all reflect on our mailed ballots or make our trip to the polling station, it is still important to think for ourselves. The policies or plans from a representative or a candidate cannot generalize the entire party’s needs.
We are a bottom-up society by nature; we cannot just start from the top. Every mayor or council position or proposition begins with your vote.
Maya Salem appreciates Orwellian epiphanies when they don’t reflect reality and instead looks to the future of this country with uncertainty.