Archive for the ‘ essays ’ Category

Did the World Need a Wonder Woman Movie?

In today’s Hollywood, producers, movers, and shakers are all clamoring for “shared universe” franchises. Inspired by the juggernaut of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, every possible story-telling rock is being overturned in the hunt for a franchise of franchises–money making interconnected characters and settings that will hopefully have infinite reservoirs of built-in audience appeal.

It cannot last.

Soon the silver screen will be graced with a Mummy remake starring the incomparable Sofia Boutella. But I doubt even her physical grace and screen charisma can carry a movie that is basically going to be Tom Cruise playing Ethan Hunt (again) vs. monsters. Universal is hoping otherwise, though. In fact, they hope it will be a relaunch (they tried already with an abysmal Dracula movie a few years back) of their monsters-themed shared universe.

On the horizon, we have other studios with similar hopes for Transformers spin-offs (because Bumblebee, the yellow camaro that cannot talk can totally anchor a feature film) and Godzilla vs. King Kong movies.

They’re all trying to do what Marvel did with its superhero movies, and thus, they all miss the point.

Superheroes work as a “shared universe” because they already occupy one. They already dwell in a common space within our collective imagination–they live within the mythic.

That is what the DC shared universe of super hero movies has failed to grasp thus far. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel offered some rays of light, but mostly was subdued by a larger interest on the director’s part of making a darker, grittier superhero universe–an impulse that took over (and took a shit on) the Batman v. Superman debacle.

Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, though, finds the soul in her super heroine that the boys’ outings for the DC murderverse never could. In Batman v Superman, Superman was dragged into the muck in a sophomoric attempt to make his idealism grapple with the ugly side of humanity.

Wonder Woman shares a similar thematic impulse, but executes it so much more capably.

The film is in many ways a bildungsroman for Diana, the nascent Wonder Woman (who never gets called that on screen), who moves past fish-out-of-water gags in London to have her eyes opened to the horrors of war on the Belgium front of WWI. She has trained her whole life to fight war in order to end it, but the suffering she actually witnesses surprises her.

It’s a somewhat superficial exploration of the limits of idealism, but it’s more depth than one generally finds in a super hero movie (Winter Soldier aside) and does much greater justice (pun intended) to her character’s unflappable heroism than Snyder’s take on Superman where Henry Cavil mostly had to grimace to try to maintain Supes’ dignity in the face of terrible, terrible writing.

One cannot credit Gal Gadot enough for her turn as the titular heroine. Even when she exudes naive confidence that the key to peace is simply to find Ares, the God of War, and slay him, her radiance is irrepressible and you want her to be right even though you know she can’t be. Naturally, Diana must learn the hard way that the world of men is not so simple as that and Gadot carries that growth–and conveys the protagonist’s distance from humanity–flawlessly. It’s ironic that many people, both myself and director Patty Jenkins, were skeptical that Gadot had the chops for this part since now she seems like the perfect screen embodiment of the character and likely will be for perpetuity the way that Hugh Jackman will always now be Wolverine.

The other key player in the success and charm of the film is Jenkins. She adopts the visual aesthetic of Snyder’s work–slow mo, muted color palettes–and bends them more purposefully to her story. Her camera loves Gadot’s face, seen often in close up, as much as it does the glint of her armor deflecting a bullet and she manages to humanize the action and epic story (one regrettable bit of CGI artificiality aside) so that the audience feels connected to Diana’s story through her warmth and optimism.

So Wonder Woman is an expertly executed super hero movie and, as many have pointed out, it’s high time that we had one of these stories helmed by a female character.

But, alas, it is one of these stories.

It doesn’t take a fine analytical edge to see the DNA this film shares with its predecessors, particularly the Marvel films that have previously perfected the formula. At one point, Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor leads Diana into a bar to recruit an odd-ball crew for their dangerous mission behind enemy lines and I half expected the camera to pan across the pub to see Chris Evans’s Captain America on the very same endeavor.

It’s a great movie, no doubt. But more than anything, I left wondering if this genre has anything left to give us? The fight choreography was great, but we’ve seen characters tackle rooms of baddies with similar dramatic flair dozens of times–yes, even female characters. Just imagine shooting Black Widow’s fight scenes from Marvel in the style of 300 and you’re there. We’ve also seen the epic show down between God-like heroes and villains tearing the screen and reality apart in blasts of cosmic energy again and again.

Can these scenes really thrill us anymore? Show Wonder Woman to children–preferably some little girls–as their first action movie and they would probably be in rapt awe.

But for us, what is left? We can hardly be dazzled any longer. The story beats and their larger-than-life climaxes are requisite, familiar. The DC movie universe is building toward its Justice League, which looks to be The Avengers with the lights turned down. Marvel itself is building toward the culmination of its “Phase 3” in the two-part Infinity War. And now the world has a really good Wonder Woman movie.

Maybe that’s all it needs.

Maybe it’s time to say, “I say, we will have no more [comic book movies]. Those that are [in production] already, all but one (stop Aquaman, please!), shall live. The rest shall keep as they are…”

The (New) Civil War

Yesterday, I wrote about the Trump presidency and its effect on America’s standing as a world leader as a triumph of “ignorance.”

Now, there might have been some ambiguity about what I was saying when it came to this label. Some might have been unclear as to whether I was trying to say that anyone who supports Donald Trump was “ignorant.”

I don’t want there to be any such ambiguity, so let me clear this up:

If you fully support Donald Trump as president, then you are being ignorant.

Now, you may not be guilty of the racist or intolerant ignorance we’ve seen on display since his election and you may not be guilty of the sort of gross ignorance of global political and economic realities that drive his Bannonesque isolationist/nativist policies, but if you support this president then you are guilty of at least some measure of willful ignorance.

In writing yesterday, I quoted the National Review’s editors. I believe it’s important for any honest intellectual to make an effort to listen to and engage other viewpoints. In today’s increasingly balkanized and bubbleized online discourse, it’s more important than ever to step outside the echo chamber of what-we-already-believe and try to understand where others are coming from.

For a progressive today, that’s really, really, really hard. There simply aren’t many venues where conservative ideas are being discussed without rampant hyperbole and naked bias like one sees at Fox News or, God forbid, in the right-wing blogosphere where fraudulent stories run amok (let’s not forget that 75% of the fake news during the election cycle was right leaning).

The National Review, though, is an outlet with reasoned articulation of conservative thinking as it applies to the issues of the day. You know how you can tell? They routinely grapple with the problems of the Trump presidency, such as Charles Krauthammer’s recent editorial criticizing Trump for weakening NATO’s deterrent effect in Europe–or, even better, David Harsanyi’s assertion that “no political tribe…deserves your complete loyalty” where he notes several sound constitutional arguments against Obama’s approach to the Paris agreement.

Now, I think he gets a lot of other things wrong in that article and I would love to sit down and discuss it with him, but there’s the thing: we could sit down and talk about it. There’s room for discussion. The divide is not unbridgeable.

Harsanyi supports some of Trump’s actions, but does not argue for blind obedience to Trump’s agenda simply because he is an ostensibly Republican president.

Conservative Dennis Prager in his column for The National Review, though, does.

Writing recently, he chastised the “never Trump” conservatives that he knows for failing to get behind their “general.”

It was a column so unctuous to the general milieu of reasonable discourse on their site that in addition to Harsanyi’s “hey wait a minute” article, there is another rebuttal from Jonah Goldberg.

Prager’s argument is that America is in a “civil war” and that the republic itself is threatened by the left’s assault on campus free speech and its shift toward “European-style socialism.”

There are so many things I would like to say to this man, but I doubt we could sit down and have a reasonable discussion…

I, too, believe that the foundation of our republic is threatened, but not in the way Prager imagines. Mr. Prager, if this is a civil war with the heart of American democracy caught in the balance, are you sure you’re on the right side? Your “general,” after all, has attacked the courts and tried to rule via fiat from the oval office despite your party controlling Congress. If President Obama tried to circumvent and exploit loopholes in the balance of powers, your president is simply balking at them.

But there is something even more deeply disingenuous about Prager’s lament about the danger of it being “close to over for America as America” if Clinton had won.

Prager, and anyone who laments in fever pitch the imminent defeat of conservatism, is not taking an honest view of history–even recent history.

Prager feared a descent into socialism and warned that a Clinton victory would have made complete the “fundamental transformation” that Obama began.

What “fundamental transformation” would that be? Would it be the one where global capitalism was stabilized following a collapse that wrecked the world economy? It doesn’t look too “fundamental” from here.

Let’s face it, Prager, not even “socialist” Bernie Sanders was suggesting a shift toward real socialism. In fact, even Germany–which my conservative father always held up as a boogeyman of nanny-state socialism–is a perfectly fertile garden for capitalist enterprise.

Your histrionics, sir, ring hollow because we still live in the world Reagan built. Business is still booming. CEOs are still super, super rich. And inequality is still running rampant.

You need not declare a Civil War to protect your world view.

You can calm the heck down. Maybe we all need to.

Not about Trump, though, come on. The guy’s a nightmare.

But someday Trump will be gone. I’m hoping really, really soon. If we can’t impeach him or if his erratic behavior doesn’t lead to the invocation of the 25th amendment, then I really think he just can’t take four years of this. He’s already deteriorating physically and mentally and I’m not the first person to think that he’s desperate for some face-saving excuse to resign.

Someday we will face a post-Trump America. And what should that be? Should it be a battleground, Mr. Prager? Should Democrats and Republicans, liberals vs. conservatives, dig in and fight on tooth and nail onto oblivion?

Let’s remember that, strictly speaking, we are all liberals. We all pledge allegiance to the principles of enlightenment liberalism: reason, discourse, progress.

There are a lot of shortcomings with our two-party system, but it evolved basically to serve two necessary impulses in our political landscape.

There should be a party pushing out, calling for progress and proposing bold experimentation to address whatever issues plague us, a party striving for solutions to make our union “more perfect.”

But there must also be a party with a steady voice, warning of the dangers of change for change’s sake, a prudent party that safeguards what is working in our system.

Our government should be an engine grinding out compromises between these two voices–not a battleground.

I continue to maintain that it is ignorant to support Trump, but let’s be honest: we are all guilty of occasional willful ignorance on behalf of our political tribes. It is also ignorant, for example, to ignore the fact that President Obama never really had the authority to join the Paris Agreement without Congress.

We are all guilty of such ignorance, but we should strive against it within ourselves, with our compatriots, and with our opponents.

Because “we are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Ignorance on Parade

There is no denying that today, we face a new global landscape–one that was unthinkable before the ascendancy of Trump to the presidency. It is perhaps, though, one we should have seen coming.

In a recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn argued that the world order is not and should not be defined in terms of a “global community,” but rather, the world stage is an “arena” defined by competition.

It is an alarming shift of world view. To be sure, this smacks of Steve Bannon, who famously celebrated “darkness” and “power” in describing the governing style he hoped for under Trump. Many are calling this op-ed the clearest articulation yet of what Trump et al. mean by “America First.”

Yet, herein lies the great problem with “America First” (besides its connection to Nazi sympathizers):

America already was first.

The United States of America was indisputably the leader of the global community, not just the fiercest competitor in some arena as McMaster and Cohn insist. Our nation was the leader of, not just the free world, but the entire world.

As global orders go, it could have been better. Many critiques could and should be leveled at the quality of that leadership. Yet American hegemony in the post-Cold War era has marked a time of relative peace and uneven prosperity–and it was a community and order led by America.

No more.

Donald J. Trump, the accidental president, has pulled the rug out from under decades American leadership. This shift in world view is more than just rhetoric, as his disastrous appearance before NATO and his shameful withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement demonstrate. His enablers, like McMaster and Cohn, along with far-right cheerleaders in Congress believe and declare that Trump is serving American interests.

The fact that their understanding of those interests is short-sighted and skewed is irrelevant in discussing the larger, critical issue.

The simple fact is that leaders do not consider only their own interests. That is simply not what leaders do.

As the leader of the global community, it was America’s responsibility to look beyond its own limited interests and to put conditions like global prosperity and global peace above narrower concerns like the health of individual industries or particular (and often peculiar) sub-national interests.

That is the price of leadership. It is one that past American administrations have understood.

The Iraq invasion, for example, was undertaken in the name of leadership. America would lead, we were told, a “coalition of the willing” to remove Saddam Hussein from power in the interests of global stability and the eradication of rogue states bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

The idea that this invasion was solely in our narrow national interests was a charge that the administration vehemently denied. We were told, repeatedly, that we were not invading for the oil or for the potential windfalls for related industries should Iraq be transformed into a friendly state (those were just fringe benefits). We were eliminating a source of dangerous weapons and, when that turned out not to be the case, we turned our national attention to “liberating” the Iraqi people.

The extent to which this was a completely misguided application of our leadership capital is not really important for this discussion. What is important is that President George W. Bush and his neocon allies still acknowledged and, ostensibly, believed in the truth of American leadership.

President Obama took great pains in his early years repairing that stature, assuring allies and partners worldwide that America would not fly off the handle again with a ill-advised war and that we would be more tempered and more cautious in our role as leader. But his rhetoric and policies again presumed the simple fact of American global leadership.

But no more.

Today America has receded from that role under a president increasingly unlikely to finish out his term. His ill-begotten presidency, won under a previously unthinkable electoral scenario that saw him lose the popular vote by a greater margin than any other president not selected by the House of Representatives, is plagued by ongoing scandals even as his health and soundness of mind are in demonstrable and rapid decline. But even if we rid ourselves of this president, the damage is done.

The withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement is the surest sign of Trump’s disastrous impact on America’s role as a, nee the, global leader. The editors of the National Review applaud Trump’s decision, citing low-end projections of climate change’s impact on the GDP of 2%, and echoing Trump’s claims about the coal industry and how the agreement allows developing nations to keep burning coal while phasing it out in America.

These spurious claims aside for the moment, the National Review does point out something fairly important about the Paris Agreement, a critique that no proponents with an understanding of constitutional powers can lightly dismiss: Obama never had the authority to join it in the first place.

President Obama, in one of his many acts of legal gymnastics to try to address policy with an unabashedly hostile and obstructionist Congress, joined the Paris Agreement without sending the treaty to Congress for ratification. Given that several high-profile senators, like Texas’s Ted Cruz, applauded Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement, Obama rightly feared that the treaty would not be ratified.

Yet Obama knew what these senators and Trump have ignored or forgotten: The United States of America cannot be the leader of the world if it rejects a treaty signed by every other major nation–every nation on Earth, in fact, save Nicaragua and Syria.

American leadership required that we join the Paris Agreement. It demands that we remain committed to it.

The details of the treaty are almost irrelevant in that regard, but it is worth noting the extent to which its detractors are wrong. In focusing almost solely on the coal industry, both Trump and the National Review editors take a myopic view of the treaty and the larger issue of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, if they want to maintain a healthy American coal industry, then they should embrace the fact that the accord would have continued to allow for American coal to be exported. It is not, after all, environmental regulation that is killing the domestic coal industry, but good-ole fashioned free market competition. With natural gas and even renewables becoming more price competitive, coal is on the way out no matter what.

Even when the coal industry is gone, though, the atmosphere will still be in jeopardy. That is the importance of the Paris Agreement. It represents an international acknowledgement that climate change is a pressing issue for the global community.

An arena of competitors is never going to effectively deal with a global problem like climate change. It is a problem of the commons, and dealing with problems in the commons requires cooperative–not competitive thinking.

It is the failure to grasp that truth of leadership and community that is the greatest hallmark of the Trump administration’s ignorance–which is sadly its defining trait.

Trump claimed that the treaty was not fair to America because it allowed different standards for developing nations. Yet, even if we ignore America’s role as global leader, we must consider our role as a global polluter. We have only recently been passed as the world’s greatest contributor to global warming, despite China having more than six times our population. (The National Review editors disingenuously cite America’s share of the global pollution market in terms of GDP instead of per capita.)

But none of that matters to the ignorant.

And make no mistake, Trump’s election and presidency mark the triumph of ignorance in America. His refusal to embrace climate change as a sound scientific understanding of our physical world in the 21st century is the most glaring example of this uncomfortable truth, but it is far from the only one.

What greater sign of ignorance in power do we need than the president’s absurd relationship to truth itself? Again and again, he has spouted off false-hoods and out-right lies. Yet he is uncowed, and blithely unconcerned with any pretense of honesty.

And while some past followers have publicly admitted regret over his antics as president, many remain committed. Again, their ignorance is glaringly obvious as studies confirm that the values that motivated many Trump voters are decidedly Unamerican.

This shift toward ignorance has been brewing since the Tea Party stormed Congress and dragged the entire Republican establishment away from both the center and from reason. The Tea Party was always built on ignorance. Initially, it was only ignorance of economics and tax policy. But the right-ward nose dive of the Republican party has attracted all manner of ignorances into their coalition of the befuddled, from climate change deniers to conversion therapy believers to alt-right racists and lock-her-up Benghazi fanatics. All now empowered voices in our political landscape.

This slide into an abyss of us vs. them nativism and isolationism is exactly why Obama never sent the treaty to the Senate. Though we can fault him for such a maneuver coming from a constitutional law scholar, at least he tried to preserve American leadership.

But, sadly, that is no more.

All we can hope is that the next administration can right this fool’s course and reintegrate the United States into the global community it built for the security of, not just its own citizens, but for the world as a whole. Sadly, though, it seems unlikely that America will be able to retake its role as global leader any time soon.

The American century is over.

The Empire Strikes Back

The partisan rhetoric about Syria speaks as much as anything to the deep ideological and illogical divide in American politics. President Trump and most Republican members of Congress have blasted President Obama’s handling of Syria as “weakness” and repeatedly asserting vaguely that the President was somehow to blame for the whole mess of the Syrian war and its undesirable outcome on the world stage.

To be sure, Obama–typically measured and striving for prudence–did not want to get involved in Syria. It was a classic debacle in the making. Even our limited support for anti-Assad forces has come back to haunt us as material support meant to weaken the repressive Syrian regime has ended up in the hands of ISIS, the most repellant ideological blight of the twenty-first century. But the coverage in the media towing the Trump-Republican line that the current president is “breaking” with the last belies the real, muddled history of Obama’s almost-intervention in Syria.

Let us not forget that when chemical weapons were last used in this civil war, breaking Obama’s “red line,” the president did call for a vote authorizing military action in Syria, one that never came. Instead, Russia brokered a deal to stave off American intervention in Syria, saving us from direct involvement in this quagmire and preventing us from the unenviable position of weakening the Assad regime and, as a consequence, strengthening ISIS.

Though his political opponents have spun this moment as one demonstrating Obama’s weakness, in actuality it is a testament to American strength and shows how the threat, if not promise, of American military action changed the behavior of other state actors to abide by international law.

No, it was far from an ideal outcome, but in Syria, there are no ideals.

Now, in 2017, the landscape in Syria has changed considerably. ISIS is wrecked and, hopefully, doomed. But on the other hand, the Assad regime has pulled itself back from the brink and in the past weeks, most everyone has acknowledged that that regime would remain in power whenever this horrible war was finally resolved–whether through peace talks or exhaustion.

Which is why it is so galling that Assad would authorize a chemical weapon attack now. Clearly a completely cynical demonstration of naked aggression against any domestic forces who would oppose him, it is difficult to conceive of Assad’s reasoning. The war is all but won. Why now? Part of that answer must surely be that Assad and his enabler-in-chief Putin must have believed that Trump would indeed “break” with Obama and not deliver on the previous threat of American military action.

Trump, after all, has said that Assad’s ouster is no longer in the cards and has praised Putin’s “strength,” while urging for less American engagement when our interests weren’t directly served, promising to put “America First,” in a sickening echo of the American isolationists and Nazi sympathizers who argued for keeping us out of WWII. So it seems likely that it is their perception of Trump’s weakness, not Obama’s that led to the chemical weapon attack, assuming an American president who would buy their obvious lies about the nerve agent being released by the rebels or at the very least, triggered accidentally by an attack on rebel-held positions.

Assad and Putin may also have done the math and calculated that America has nothing to gain from striking Syria now. There is little chance of dislodging Assad as a key regional ally for Putin and Iran. From a real politik stand point, there is nothing to argue in favor of American involvement now. Assad and Putin played nice through Obama’s tenure, avoiding American wrath, so they might have guessed the coast was clear for Assad to send a harsh message to his enemies without having to worry about the short-term fallout in the international community. Trump, after all, had absolutely nothing to gain by attacking now.

And that’s why I think it may have been the best thing for us to do.

Intellectually, I still lean toward Obama’s reticence, and away from involving ourselves any further in a messy–very messy–civil war. But if Obama was still in office and this attack had happened, this is clearly what he would have done. By the accounts now coming out, it appears that Trump’s team consulted with our allies and even warned the Russians, balancing out the concerns about this being merely “lashing out” by an irrational and unpredictable president out of his depth.

There are plenty of critiques to be leveled at President Trump at this hour–many point out that his sudden sympathy for the Syrian people should also lead him to reverse his policies on refugees and still others suggest a wag-the-dog distraction from Russiagate. Only history, as it unfolds in the next few days and over the course of the next several years, will be able to judge whether this action turns out to be bold or simply brash, but in this difficult hour, we may owe this wildly ineffectual president the benefit of the doubt and accept that maybe, just maybe, in response to a horrible human atrocity, the President of the United States made the difficult decision to seek justice for the innocent victims of a war crime.

My Faith is Restored…

from ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/womens-march-heads-washington-day-trumps-inauguration/story?id=44936042

It’s been a rough couple of months, folks.

I didn’t post it here, but in the wake of the election, I wrote this in memoriam of the Obama era:

I didn’t know what to say. I thought I might say nothing. But then I saw the articles already about how Obama’s legacy has been wiped out by this election. And yes, it may be true. We go from a man who represented the best of us–child of immigrants and the heartland, rational and tolerant, faithful father and husband, champion of compromise and democracy–to someone who represents the worst of us–arrogant and narcissistic, faithless in business and family, crass and unconcerned with empathy. The twin souls of America on display. Every hard earned inch of progress–millions of people with health insurance, an economic recovery finally reaching down to the middle class, the first inklings of momentum on climate change–may be lost. But the Obama era was still one of class and dignity in the White House and I can only think of one of my favorite quotes from Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, “If it lives only for a while…it still has lived.”

In the weeks since, I have tried and tried to understand the other side of this schism. I’ve tried to reconcile the reasons I hear people providing for voting for Trump with anything resembling reason. I would like to think it was an honest effort, but I suppose his supporters would say I’m just hopelessly biased.

My inability to understand them or make any of them understand me had left me frustrated and terrified.

I have looked at this man who is now our President and his pandering to the basest forms of populism going hand in hand with authoritarian threats against the press and with suggestions that we should abandon our leadership role in the world to let dictators abroad tend their own flocks so that we might put “America first,” and I have quaked with fear for the world my children are inheriting.

How could we have failed them so monstrously that they might live in some Orwellian state lorded over by a thin skinned demagogue? I thought that our very democracy was in imminent peril. I thought this horrible chapter was the epilogue to the great American experiment, the end of that aspiration that has burned brighter year after year as we pursued a more perfect union in liberty’s name. I have hardly slept well these past few months for the sense of despair and powerlessness that Trump’s election left in my heart.

Tonight, I will sleep like a baby.

Because today, I saw that democracy in this great country can never be brought down by one outrageous election result or one horrible president.

Today, I see that America is awake and aware, and that we are ready to stand together against the worst impulses of the powerful and defend the progress that we have made the last eight years.

The America that Obama believed in, that I believe in, did not die on November 8th, 2016. Progress. Dignity. Striving for each others’ best destinies. These things live on in America. I see them in those massive, swelling crowds that dwarf those who turned out yesterday for the least legitimate presidential victor in over a century and a half.

We haven’t lost. We’ve only had our spirit to fight renewed. Mr. Trump can pretend all he wants. He can ignore the headlines that proclaim today’s marches the largest demonstrations in U.S. history. He can go on pushing for his narrowly conceived, recidivistic agenda with every tantrum and tweetstorm.

It won’t matter.

We are ready to resist and ready to take back our country.

Humanity Was Not Ready for the Internet

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Something has gone terribly wrong with the promises made for the Internet age.

According to its progenitors, the Internet would revolutionize communication. It was destined to interconnect the world. When it emerged in the late 90’s, nascent with its glittering butterfly wings, prognosticators from silicon valley and beyond foretold its myriad revolutions. Commerce. Education. Socialization. All would be remade by the juggernaut.

None less than Bill Gates promised that it would be “the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”

Its potential was manifold. Now, though, we live in the sloshing wake of those predictions.

And we have indeed, reaped a whirlwind of change.

Kara Alaimo at CNN is reporting today that the real lynchpin to Donald Trump’s surprising victory in the 2016 presidential election is primarily due to one huge, often-over-looked factor:

Twitter.

It seems the Orange-One-in-Chief had millions more following him on Twitter and Facebook and that his often lambasted Twitter feed was actually the centerpiece of what Alaimo’s source Mike Berland describes as “a continuous Trump rally that happen[ed] on Twitter at all hours.”

If you weren’t part of the fiesta, you might be forgiven for being unaware of its existence. It might have only manifested in the stray repugnant post on your own social media. A picture of guns promising reprisal if Clinton won. A “Trump that Bitch” picture where it didn’t belong. Aberrations, you probably thought as you turned up your nose, but no.

It was a movement and it happened all in 1’s and 0’s out of your sight range.

That is because you, too, are probably living in your own bubble. Increasingly, social media is allowing us to insulate ourselves and we are at greater and greater risk of what psychologists call confirmation bias–a type of cognitive dissonance whereby every new piece of information is filtered through whatever we already believe. Couple this with the effect of surrounding ourselves with similar opinions–which might as well be a check box on our Facebook settings–and we are all likely to find ourselves in an echo chamber, continuously hearing voices like our own telling us how right, right, right we are.

I recently tried to exit my own bubble and see what was happening out there in Trumpland. I spent a few hours and several thousand words trying to engage with “the other side.” When I wasn’t being berated or called a “pussy,” I managed to find a few people willing to talk about the election and their choices.

What I heard, though, were more sound bytes from the echo chamber.

Clinton’s criminality was taken for granted in these circles. A fact. The lack of evidence of any actual criminal culpability dismissed because of her presumed influence.

In one interesting exchange, when I asked what issues were important to one Trump voter, she argued that she supported Trump because he would rebuild our military. I pressed on what needed to be “rebuilt” in the most powerful fighting force ever known to man and ended up getting the let’s-agree-to-disagree tour of the exit.

Other issues where I might see a dire problem–climate change looms large–were handily dismissed as frauds.

In a recent series of videos on CNN, Van Jones was told that if Clinton was elected it very well might mean a “civil war” because that was how desperate people had become.

Much has been written about how we are living in a divided America, where each half of the country occupies its own alternate reality. It’s tempting for me to point out that the Trumpified universe seems divorced from the facts. Our military is unchallengeable and its professionalism second-to-none (and thank God for it with reckless Russians constantly trying to provoke us). Our economy has made the strongest recovery in the developed world. Objectively, things are looking up.

So what is so wrong that would prompt so much desperation?

A lot of commentators are fixated by the racial dimensions of this election, by the sense that Trump’s victory is the product of a resurgent white nativism.

But whence the resurgence? Why now? How did the same country that elected Barack Obama turn so quickly to Donald Trump? What force could possibly account for such a rapid transformation?

But we know the answer, don’t we. There’s only one force in the twenty-first century that moves this fast. Its speed, its capacity for transformation, is exactly what was promised. It was a selling point.

We aren’t in Trump’s America. We’re in Twitter’s world.

This is the empire the Internet built. A kingdom of instability.

Tenuous. Fleeting. Ephemeral.

And utterly fracking irrational.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is having to answer a lot of questions right now about “fake news,” the totally invented stories that whiz around social media perpetuating myths even as they reinforce the beliefs of those inside their respective bubbles. Talking heads wonder if buying Snopes and incorporating it into the Facebook machine might make the difference–might turn the tide back and make the Internet the democracy engine we were promised.

But the genie is out of the bottle, I suspect.

The web was promised to us as an open platform. So it is. Not long ago we saw how social media’s success during the Arab Spring was quickly darkened by ISIS’s command of Twitter and other sharing sites where promotional videos were tailored to the ambitions of would-be Jihadies–a whole other kind of bubble, I suppose.

Even censorship-obsessed China cannot maintain control over social media. There savvy Internetites use code words for well-known topics to avoid the censors. It’s a tactic white nationalists have adopted here in the U.S. This alt-web for white racists is a toxic stew so foul that poor Pepe the frog has been coopted as a hate symbol.

But I no longer blame the Internet Cassandras for their predictions for the Internet. It is as great as they say it is. The problem is not the technology–it’s the users.

We get the Internet we deserve, it seems, and frail, conflicted, irrational human kind simply was not ready for a free, open, democratizing information Smörgåsbord.

What becomes of it now, this grand experiment in lofty expectations? Personally, I fear for the interconnected world. I’m terrified, actually. With nativist push backs throughout Europe and now here in America, the global economy seems to have its metaphorical neck stretched across the chopping block. If the global paradigm of the post-Cold War world falls apart, how long can we stay in our bubbles?
One of the oldest fables about the Internet is that, because it was born as a DARPA project, the network is actually nuke-proof. As economic turmoil spills over into actual conflict, worsened by resource depletion and climate upheaval, we may all get to watch the world burn…and live tweet the apocalypse.
Too cynical? That’s probably just because everyone on my Facebook is super-depressed right now. It’ll all probably seem brighter if I just enjoy a few more of those Biden/Obama memes.

Listen, America, This Is How It Is…

Trump must lose.

That’s it. That’s all that matters in this election anymore.

Trump must lose.

Why? There are so many reasons, really. But let’s put aside his race baiting, his sexism, his documented corruption, his constant lying, his narcissism, his ties to Russia.

Trump must lose to keep any hope alive for American democracy.

Trump must lose because he is a textbook demagogue in the making.

He is actively undermining democracy by calling the whole process into question simply because he is down in the polls. He has suggested that libel laws should be tightened to keep the press from reporting on him. He does not believe in democracy. A man who does not believe in democracy must not be our president.

Trump must lose so that the politics of fear will lose.

Trumps must not only lose. He must lose BIG.

His defeat must be epic. Unprecedented. He must be crushed so that this brand of politics goes permanently into the ashbin of history.

I don’t care what your pet issue is. Democracy itself is more important.

Abortion? He doesn’t care. He was on the record as “pro-choice” for years and years until he decided he might want to run as a Republican. Honestly, look at this man’s track record with women and adultery. You telling me he hasn’t personally paid for a few abortions? Hasn’t pressured mistresses into getting them.

Forget it. Democracy itself is more important.

Immigration? It’s a strawman. Immigrants aren’t stealing your jobs. Net immigration from Mexico is now zero. Inequality, globalization, and corporate citizenship are stealing your jobs. Trump is the last man to fight for you on that front. His assault on immigrants is textbook demagoguery. Really, look it up in any textbook. Attack the outsider, the other, the scapegoat. That’s how it always starts.

Forget it. Democracy itself is more important.

ISIS? You may not have noticed, but we’re already kicking their asses. And we’re doing it without getting sucked into another Vietnam-esque miasma in Iraq. They’re not a threat to our way of life unless we abandon our way of life by surrendering to fear and hatred.

Democracy itself is more important than all of it, and that’s why Trump must lose.

I don’t care if you think Hillary is the most corrupt politician in Washington (she isn’t–millions of dollars in investigations and nothing’s stuck). She is not worse that Trump. Repeat after me: She is not worse than Trump. Even if you think she represents everything wrong with the system, she is still not worse than Trump. As evidence: All the historically Republican newspapers endorsing her. All the actual Republicans endorsing her.

Trump must lose and he must lose big. We must crush him at the polls.

Go vote. Go now. Go on November 8th. But go and vote against Trump.

America must denounce his cynical abuse of democracy to advance his own ego. America must reject the politics of fear in favor of some hope, hope that we can still make progress together, that our system is not so broken that the only option is to nuke it with an orange-coiffed buffoon.

No, America, Trump must lose.