On Tuesday, November 7th, 2016, the Empire of Illusion succeeded in taking over America.
For the past fifty years, two versions of America have been jockeying for control of the destiny of the nation.
The first America, now a minority, is a dying tribe of literate folk who function in a print-based world, people who regularly question themselves and can soberly address the complexities of the world.
The second America- which I will call the “Empire of Illusion” (and I borrow the coinage from Chris Hedges, who wrote a brilliant book of the same name)- has retreated into a fantasyland of blind patriotism and false certainties. This tribe, which has steadily grown in numbers over the past half century, sees the world as black and white and is incapable of discerning truth from illusion.
The first America can sympathize with other people, can understand differing points of view from their own, and tries to scope out the long-term effects of every political action. They prefer nuanced political dialogue to demagogic TV entertainment. They receive their news from newspapers, in-depth, long-form journalism, and have read books beyond cheap middlebrow literature. They are often college educated. Most notably, they have enough intellectual acumen to be able to think for themselves.
The second America perceives the world as a vast, Manichaean battlefield between the forces of black and white. They receive the majority of their news via word of mouth, oversensationalised (often false) Facebook links, and grossly nationalistic political pundits.
While they love their country (as anyone should), members of the Empire are vulnerable to the racially charged, self-glorifying narratives of patriotism peddled out by conservative politicos and nearsighted politicians.
These narratives of patriotism insist blindly that anyone who dares criticize the United States is an un-American traitor (though it may be worth pointing out that deriding critics as anti-patriotic is a totalitarian strategy for maintaining power, used time and time again by different regimes throughout history).
For those seduced by the Empire of Illusion, America is a withering nation pitted against the collective evils seeking to degrade and destroy our way of life: crime-ridden Latinos, out to steal our jobs; Jihadi Muslims, out to massacre our children; lazy black welfare moms, out to scam hardworking taxpayer money; mustache-twiddling Socialists, out to install a communist regime; and overemotional scientists, out to hurt hardworking Americans with their hot-headed theories about Global Warming.
Ironically (and perhaps unsurprisingly) members of the Empire of Illusion falsely lump America’s supposed “enemies” into one big, indistinguishable mass; unlike Literate America, which can discern the numerous intricacies of the problems facing our nation, the Empire of Illusion is simply incapable of seeing such differences.
The Empire of Illusion, by allowing the rampant proliferation of false narratives within the political sphere- which are often racist and xenophobic- creates a platform upon which openly dangerous candidates can easily rise to power (Trump).
Many have rung the alarm bells over the Empire of Illusion’s steady degradation of our political culture, creating an intellectual void that is most often filled by demagoguery and fascism. Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize, described in his book Notes on the Death of Culture this phenomena of the Empire of Illusion: “(In the Western World) politics has been increasingly replacing ideas and ideals, intellectual debates and programs, with mere publicity and an obsession with physical appearance. As a consequence, popularity and success are achieved not so much though intelligence or probity as through demagogy and a talent for histrionics.”
A half a century before this, in 1940, the mystic philosopher Walter Benjamin echoed the same sentiment about the rise of Germany in Europe. He said that when politics is replaced by aesthetics, when reasoned debate is replaced by shallow, patriotic showmanship, you drift into the realm of fascism. Benjamin, a Jew, committed suicide at the Spanish border while fleeing Nazi forces in France. The Empire of Illusion created false narratives then as it does now, and false narratives can become lethal. Benjamin knew this all too well.
Two Americas, battling for the destiny of a nation: Literate America and the Empire of Illusion.
Literate America is on a downhill slide, and may disappear completely in the near future, if we’re not careful.
The Empire of Illusion is growing at an exponential rate, bolstered onwards by the predominance of TV and social media and the disappearance of print literature from daily life. And it just elected an authoritarian, racist, misogynistic xenophobe to what’s arguably the most powerful position in the world.
And thanks to the Empire of Illusion, Donald Trump will now be the President of the United States.