A meme (/miːm/ MEEM) is an idea, behaviour, or style that becomes a fad and spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture and often carries symbolic meaning representing a particular phenomenon or theme.
Psychology is, in large part, about prediction. And with prediction, comes some measure of increased understanding. To reliably ‘know’ what is about to happen (within the usual disclaimer of ‘margin of error’), one must have identified a sufficient number of variables impacting a given person or event in a significant way to, in the lingo, ‘account for the variance’ in a particular outcome. One reduces the ‘wiggle room’ (in beautifully complex equations — algorithms, if you will) to be able to say, with some certainty that such and such will happen or so and so will behave in a ‘predictable’ way.
Among the legion shared obsessions of early November, two have surfaced in spades — well, one really: the pollsters (or if you’re DJT, the polesters) blew it again and, the . . . we interrupt this editorial moment to share the AP’s announcement at 11:47 a.m., four days post-election:
Back to the blog at hand.
. . . and ‘What the _______ were they thinking?’
That small segment of us who is both numbers-obsessed and enamoured of predicting human behaviour, needed to grasp how, not once (2016) but twice, the crunchers got it wrong — again! The Blue Wave not only didn’t happen, it took four days for said wave to even begin to break — and sweep away the sand castles that have populated the world’s beaches these past four years.
A New Yorker piece published in this very odd interlude since November 3 — when uncertainty was the rule — considered an ‘aftermath’, optimistically (now a reality), a pathway to transition. The article focussed in part on a distinction between Trump (the man) and Trumpism (the ‘movement’, if it’s even appropriate to dignify the ‘red mirage’ as such). And herein lies a clue to how a slam dunk of what was to be a ’10 point victory’ could fail to so palpably materialize and very nearly half of a voting public could entrench — again.
Consider the man. ‘Trump has famously survived one impeachment, two divorces, six bankruptcies, twenty-six accusations of sexual misconduct, and an estimated four thousand lawsuits’ — as catalogued in Jane Mayer’s NY’er article this week. Jimmy Kimmel did his own diarizing: ‘Cozying up to many of the world’s autocrats (Putin, Kim jong-un to name but two of the low lights), put children in cages, villainized the press, ducked paying income taxes (sorry, paid $750), tear-gassed peaceful protestors, pardoned criminal ‘buddies’, mismanaged and minimized a lethal pandemic, dismantled health care, incited white supremacists to violence, and lied, and lied, and lied. . .’ Hmm. Not exactly the resumé that would get you the job — but it very nearly did. . . again. Who could reasonably walk into a polling station, review in mind the four-year performance — with all the foregoing ‘highlights’ — and check the DJT box? Evidently nearly 71,000,000 voters of the recorded 145,000,000 total votes cast!
Sarah Cooper, the now widely viewed comedian best known for her ‘lip synching’ of DJT, offers some insight. Asked why her routines are so compelling, she noted that when we watch Trump in full flight we are so distracted by the caricature that is the man himself, that we fail to fully absorb the ignominy of his blither. We hear it . . . sort of. Her TicTok moments separate the man from the message. Failing to do so leaves us only slightly more aghast, disbelieving, numbed than we were before than last barrage.
As I watched election night and it became increasingly clear that there would be no resolution on that evening or for several to follow, like so many others, I began to reflect on a similar scenario four years earlier. A definitive Clinton victory had been predicted, then morphed into a toss-up, then simply disappeared. And this was before a term of chaos, prevarication, bullying, criminal behaviour, denial, and delusion. The ‘base’ had remained the ‘base’; and for a time appeared to have come through — again!
As tempting as it is to characterize the base as a collection of disenfranchised, disgruntled, gun-totin’, poorly educated rednecks incapable of critical thought, this is simply untrue (our Beer, BBQ, and Freedom demonstrator aside). ‘Election tailoring’ courtesy of Cambridge Analytica and the infamous social media targeting of messages to vast numbers of intellectually vulnerable droids is improbable — particularly for a second time around.
More likely some 48% of the US voting public cast their ballot, not for Donald J. Trump — but for a meme. A meme that has successfully polarized a nation — and capitalized on that divided number. A meme that did not require authentication, was completely lacking in accountability, empathy, compassion, planning. How else to make sense of an electorate’s decision, in the face of such cognitively dissonant truths, to express itself this way. Happily the ‘fad’ has run its course. The slogans have been found wanting, empty. Despite a very signifiant minority’s failure to separate the ‘myth from the man’, reality from the cartoon, we can now exhale. . . and heal. Having pulled the curtain away and, to paraphrase Rachel Maddow, revealed the small, pitiful, and irrelevant being behind — still in denial, still ranting. The work ahead will be to address the meme: Trumpism. Trump is out but the residual, the resonance his meme fostered remains.