The Fake Society That Gave Us a Fake President
His election victory was no accident, nor was it engineered by him and his team. He was the beneficiary of a fake society that has been germinating for decades.
So how did this fake society materialize, and why has a large segment of the American population embraced it?
The roots of this fake society can be traced to the modern-day technological revolution, which started in the 1950s, picked up steam in the 1970s, and accelerated further in the 1980s.
Old manufacturing industries found cheap labor overseas, and many remaining factories became automated. Unions declined, pensions vanished and the lifetime job was replaced by numerous jobs and careers.
Americans gripped with fear embraced the defining features of our fake society:
- Illusory beliefs and unworkable solutions that inject a feeling of power to relieve suffering from a loss of self-esteem.
- A blurring of the line between fantasy and reality.
- Equating beliefs, ideologies and feelings with facts and logic.
- Seeking feelings of security and power by devaluing and persecuting others.
- Being swayed by words and promises while ignoring contrary actions and the implausibility of those promises being fulfilled.
- Supporting illusions by embracing fake facts and rejecting the truth.
- Denigrating legitimate sources of information to empower fake facts.
- Identifying with demagogues and false messiahs who offer the illusion of power.
Trump won the election by projecting the illusion of power over the weakness of his opponents: “Little Marco, low energy Jeb, frail sickly Hillary, (lacks strength and stamina).” He spoke of a dystopian America that was “weak and collapsing.” He puffed up his fake image with war cries like, “I’ll make America great again.”
The Democrats’ mantra of, “When they go low, we go high,” was a disastrous abdication. It meant that they would not challenge the fake Trump messages at the emotional level. Democrats became “the weaklings” by default.
The desperation for feelings of power among fearful and disenfranchised citizens explains other societal captivations, such as reality shows, which ironically reflect blatant unreality. It’s no surprise then that the fake president was groomed on reality TV.
Enter social media. Those feeling isolated, beaten down, insecure and yearning for attention could now communicate with vast networks of “friends” and “followers.”
Facebook and Twitter constantly confront us with names of people who are friends of friends and followers of followers, whom we are encouraged to hook up with. Since it only requires a click to add new friends and followers, many people mindlessly go for it. LinkedIn recently informed me that there are 1,403 contacts that I may know, suggesting that if I connected with them, I could grow my network.
But are these friends, followers and connections real — or fake? How many could you identify in a lineup?
One of the most disturbing developments in the evolution of our fake society is the emergence of fake religion. Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump — a key factor in his victory. In doing so, they had to abandon many of their professed core religious and moral principles, since they knew full well about Trump’s treatment of women, his shameful business practices, his ridicule of the disabled, his lack of compassion for immigrants, his trashing of Mexicans, his mocking of American heroes (such as John McCain), his uncharitable charitable foundation, his sham university, and more.
In the face of these revelations, the attempts to rationalize support of Trump by drawing immoral equivalency with Hillary Clinton — “she used a private server” — came across as hollow and absurd.
Many who voted for Trump said that they deplored his behavior, but defended their vote by claiming that he was a successful businessman and would provide them with jobs — jobs that are not coming back.
To justify their hypocritical choice, many evangelicals often added that he would be their ally in defending Christianity in American life — a bizarre expectation since Trump has never had any active participation in religious activities, and when first asked, could not even name a favorite bible verse.
In sharp contrast, Clinton’s active affiliation with the Methodist Church dates to her childhood and continues today. Her extensive religious activities include taking bible classes as a sixth grader, and teaching Sunday school as an adult.
What happened to the principle of faith? Has religion become a thin veneer of self-righteousness that is betrayed by actions? Sunday sermons are rife with the celebration of the story of Job, who — despite unrelenting tragedies — never lost faith. But in the face of economic hardship tied to societal shifts, many evangelicals abandoned faith and religious principles — and also lost faith in America as the land of opportunity. They opted instead for the promises of a fake messiah.
During the presidential campaign, social media took on a sinister role as the conduit for fake news — like the totally fabricated story that Clinton was connected to a child porn ring. This and other fake news stories in the closing days of the presidential campaign went viral across social media. Since almost two-thirds of American adults get news from social media, fake news can effectively become real news. “Alternative facts” in the “post-truth” era have become equal — if not superior — to real facts. And if fake news can swing an election, its output is not likely to slow down.
Trump ceaselessly tells us exactly who he is. But those who supported him choose to ignore the graphic displays of his dishonesty and incompetence — facts about him that have been known for decades. Late former New York City Mayor Ed Koch had Trump’s number back in 1990, when he endorsed the comment of a former deputy mayor: “I wouldn’t believe Donald Trump if his tongue were notarized.”
In the fake society, though, notaries are not needed.
Sadly, neither the Republicans nor Democrats have significantly helped dislodged workers adapt to the technological revolution and global economy. Neither party has come up with a way of providing comprehensive educational and retraining programs to help these suffering workers participate in today’s workforce. And neither party has found a way to provide adequate safety nets for all working families.
As long as we fail to address the fears and insecurities underpinning the fake society, fake leaders will continue to take center stage to cheers and worship. This real danger poses a real threat to our democracy — and the American society envisioned by the founders of our republic.
Bernard Starr, PhD, is a psychologist and professor emeritus at CUNY (Brooklyn College). He is also a past president of the Brooklyn Psychological Association and the Association for Spirituality and Psychotherapy. His latest book is “Jesus, Jews, And Anti-Semitism In Art: How Renaissance Art Erased Jesus’ Jewish Identity & How Today’s Artists Are Restoring It.”