It is a tweet, writ by the candidate, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Only one more day.
And for this I am relieved, because I feel every morning like I am in a digital fever dream from which I never wake.
Which is to say, it’s clear I am no longer asleep, but I am most definitely in a comatose state of panic in which I grab my phone to see, as these last weeks have drawn down to the presidential election, what fresh hell has manifested on it in the hours I have not looked at the screen.
The screen. The screen. The screen. I cannot help but look at the screen.
I’m not someone who has been addicted to anything much — not drinks, not smokes, not drugs, not food, not even people. But the screen on my iPhone 7 Plus? Most definitely of late in this most peculiar of times.
To be clear, I liked the screen before a lot. I’ve been using mobile devices sinc they were encased in suitcases. I have loved my phones for their utility and their amusements and their simple always-on always-on-ness. I even had a screen in my hand while I was having a baby, which is another story altogether. But you get my point here.
All that said, what has happened recently is altogether different.
As soon as I wake, I start on the apps of the main news sites, quickly flicking and tapping and scrolling from the New York Times to the Washington Post to Politico to Real Clear Politics to FiveThirtyEight, digesting all the news in minutes. Like it’s popcorn consumed watching a Saturday afternoon thriller.
Do I really need to read about former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has somehow turned into a hobgoblin, lecturing us on adultery, a topic he knows a lot about?
Is there some reason I have to read a dozen articles on Fox News’ steel-cold Megyn Kelly’s bizarre cage match with the increasingly creepy, used-to-be-someone Newt Gingrich (speaking of hobgoblins)?
And do I really need to see any more depressing photos of longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, whose sad, wide eyes make me so uncomfortable that I want to look away, as if I am passing in front of something that is none of my business? Except here it is, making it my business.
It’s all fodder really for the main event, which is Twitter, the Internet’s ultimate candy counter/drug fix/Pokémon Go stop, the only thing that will truly satisfy this fix I so desperately need.
But just last week, a new study showed clearly the damage that was being done by looking at all the activity on our devices all day long, making toxic our civil discourse and even hurting our democracy.
As the Journal of Communication noted:
“…our study also shows that the deliberative democratic potential offered by the platform’s own affordances may be inhibited not (only) because of the potential lack of willingness on the part of candidates, but because of the ways citizens often tend to behave in largely anonymous online contexts.”
Translation: People have become giant assholes online and especially on social media.
Me too, as it turns out.
I maintain the last one is entirely accurate. But overall, it seems like I have become exactly like the man I think has most exemplified this terrible phenomena, Donald J. Trump, tweeting-bully-in-chief.
He’s been the first true Twitter presidential candidate, seizing every single aspect of the social communications tool for his own.
He’s loud, he’s clever, he’s mean, he lies, he brags, he tells a narrative. All of it is compelling. In contrast, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is not. Not that this is a bad thing as a human being, but in this peculiar digital space, Trump wins, wins and wins again.
I’ll never forget one tweet he posted in 2015 after the Oscars that I noticed almost immediately and saved because it was so unusually effective. It kind of exemplified the power he had managed to unwittingly take from Twitter and transfer to himself, in which he insulted the Hollywood event, Mexicans, the immigration issue and so much more in only a few words.
The Oscars were a great night for Mexico & why not—they are ripping off the US more than almost any other nation.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2015
It was an epic haiku of hate and bile, so perfect in its configuration that I wanted to both cry and study it closely at the same time. Was it a dog whistle for racists? No, because it was dead clear on its ignorant dislike of a whole country. Was it just a basic insult like some late-night comic might resort to at end of a bad set? No, it was tight and too the point and unquestionably powerful in its delivery. I doubt I could say it any better, if this was the ugly message I wanted to deliver.
Sadly, for me, I have also gotten good at doing what Trump does too now, honed over the last year of this nasty political time.
This from this weekend, for example:
— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) November 5, 2016
There have been a string of doozies in the months previous too, all emanating from me as I dementedly click away on the keys of my mobile phone with increasingly regularity and frantic need. Like Trump, I am getting better and better at “telling it like it is,” but in an appallingly reductive way that yields no insight or wisdom or real truth. It does sound good though and I get lots and lots of likes.
It’s not to say that I want to change a strong tone of skepticism and questioning of the people I cover in tech. A piece I did on investor Peter Thiel’s perplexing and altogether offensive utterances in his speech at the National Press Club was most definitely tough, but it had a heft and level of argument that was more the kind of discourse we have so lost in this election with its frenetic speed and scandal-a-second pace.
At once, Trump is insulting Mexicans, and then the disabled, and then prisoners of war and then Muslims and then women. Always women. It never ever stops and we are all along on an Internet ride that we all really need to get off of for our own sanity.
Even Trump’s minions seem to realize this, denying him access to Twitter in the final days, so he does not finally take his sick tweeting talent to the final, ugly apogee of not truth but something that looks like it.
It reminds me of the first line of “Circe’s Power” by poet Louise Gluck, one that always stuck with me and which I have always used to say that it’s okay to be hard-nosed in writing as long as you are accurate and fair.
She wrote nearly perfectly in a terse Twitter-ready way:
“I never turned anyone into a pig./Some people are pigs; I make them/Look like pigs.”
The problem now? Now, my fellow Americans, we’re all pigs.