Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Donald Trump and the Phony Middle

In his book, Writing The Breakout Novel, super-agent Donald Maas insists that what drives story is conflict, be it external or internal, and that a novelist should have it on every page.

Other writers agree with him, though some are less bullish about the "every page" part of his statement. Novels are long stories, and like films, build to a climax after a series of "skirmishes." There are, however, many other parts to a novel.

Character development. Theme. The arc of the plot. Description. Cohesion. Added value. It's a long list, but ultimately, he's right. If there's no conflict, there's no story.

And so, in an age of twenty-four news coverage, the media is desperate to grab our attention by providing as much conflict as possible. Coverage, on everything, rarely makes it to long form reporting these days. Everything is breathlessly reported, and always, always, there is conflict, one side pitted against the other.

Unfortunately, this creates a "phony" middle, in that it accepts that there is a happy medium between two sides, a moderate answer. Unfortunately, Donald Trump is pushing these boundaries, but they are boundaries that no educated person should accept.

Where Did Right and Left Come From?

Have you ever wondered why we use the terms "Right" and "Left" when dealing with political issues? Why is a program for single moms deemed "leftist" and shutting down abortion clinics or denying climate change considered "right wing?" Well, the terms come from the Enlightenment, a philosophical age that led to modernism and the idea that humans could be completely objective. The idea was that there was always a center to be reached.

Postmodernism long ago exposed this lie. No one can be objective, because we are all shaped by our experiences and our learning, so to use the phrase "left" and "right" is not only disingenuous but wrong. What it does, however, is allow an ad hungry media to create false dichotomies and pit one idea against another as if both are equally deserving. This creates conflict, the shadow of a story, and drives interest and emotion.

But in this presidential election, that false dichotomy is creating an excuse for bigotry and racism of the highest order.

Think about it. Donald Trump, who has a twenty point lead in the polls as the next perspective candidate to represent the Republican Party in the presidential election, has called for Muslims to be banned from the country. He's called for them to register, exactly what Hitler did with Jews in Germany. And he's done this while exploiting the fear and xenophobia of an uneducated and vindictive segment of the population.

Historically, this isn't new. It happens everywhere. But the media's insistence on the false middle is creating a space for racism and bigotry, so long as its muted. Ted Cruz, Trump's biggest challenger, actually stands to the "right" of the venal plutocrat and former TV star, if such a thing is possible. He is smoother than the first time politician, and will more than likely end up as the Republican candidate. But he has done nothing in the way of insisting that his running mate is a bigot. If anything, he's basically intimated that Trump is an amateur with a big mouth. (And a lot of money)

Many progressives (and conservatives, it should be said) are appalled by Trump's comments. But because we insist on this debate style of reporting ( I left, you right) it gives credence, if unwillingly, to the bullshit racism that Trump is promoting. And let's be clear, he's leading the race because of it. His numbers shot up after his demand that we "register Muslims."

But the debate is ultimately phony. There is no "middle." There is bigotry and xenophobia and the example of Hitler. And there is equality for everyone, regardless of race or colour or sexuality or religion.

Those are the two sides.

Those are the choices.

One fits our Western morality. The other is an offense to it.

And while conflict is important to any story, and may indeed drive up sales and ratings, we better be careful. If we don't realize what bigots like Trump and his cronies are doing, we may be responsible for ushering in a new wave of tragedy, simply because we were too caught up in the phony argument to pay attention to what was really happening.

Writing a breakout novel, whether it's a book or our life as a politician or the sales of a TV network, is an accomplishment. But when it comes at the expense of people's lives and the best in humanity, maybe it's better that we forget about page clicks and eyeballs and votes and tell the damn truth.

There ain't no middle.