By Toby Rutner
When the NY Times tells you that the rubes and hicks and rednecks in flyover-country, U.S.A. have elected the Anti-Christ; when stars and celebrities, who tell us what deodorant to wear and what cars to buy, are apoplectic because the Russians have stolen our democracy and installed the Manchurian Candidate in the White House; when Chicken Little is now crying that the sky already fell; when Fareed and Wolf, and Rachel and Morning Joe have started the countdown clock to impeachment; when you think it’s alright to punch a Nazi and that Free Speech means that it is okay to trash a campus to protect your constitutional right to be free from my speech; when Katy Perry and Bill Maher do your thinking for you; when you stop going to family dinners and no longer speak to your idiot neighbours, you have a bad case of TDS: Trump Derangement Syndrome.
What is this strange malady which only seems to affect the intelligent, sensitive and more sophisticated amongst us? The only protection from this disorder appears to be terminal stupidity and lack of good judgment. Like the poor little boy who was not wise enough to see the Emperor’s new clothes, our less fortunate ex-friends and neighbours fail to see what is evident to all, that Putin has a puppet in the White House and that he is wrecking everything.
Welcome to the post-modern world, where emotions trump reality, where how you feel determines what is real. And what is real is that which elicits an emotional response. Reality TV is not true, but it is real because it engages us emotionally. We know that it is staged and scripted, yet if feels real, in fact more than real. Real life is mundane and boring. This is not so much reality, but hyper reality. This is realer than real. This is why instant coffee has a picture of the coffee on the label, because the real thing is not as engaging. This is the world of Cleaner than Clean, Newer than New and Whiter than White.
In the post-modern world, truth and objectivity have been replaced by opinion and subjective experience where everyone is the same, where having special training or experience is seen as Privilege where everyone’s opinion is just as good as everyone else’s; where diversity is demanded in everything except thought, and inclusion is required for all except those whose views are not correct and must be shut down; where Group Think has replaced thoughtful consideration and discussion, and where we have not breaking news, but breaking opinion.
When our rational, logical thoughts and opinions are challenged, we can defend them through discussion and debate. But when our unconscious values and core beliefs are under attack, we become defensive and aggressive. We cannot explain or defend why we believe what we believe because our belief is not logical or rational, it is emotional. We just know how we feel and that feeling is very real. Your teenage daughter knows that it is true love she feels for the biker with the tattoo on his neck. And when pushed for a justification, we can expect fireworks and tears. When what we deeply feel is challenged we feel frustrated and misunderstood. We feel attacked and victimized. We fight back and look for support.
We find it on the Internet, on Twitter, on cable TV. We find our constituents in an echo chamber of like-minded individuals who only communicate with each other, no longer open to other points of view or different opinions, who become more extreme in their isolation as they validate each other, a closed system of true believers guarding the sacraments of their theology and ready to burn books, demonize apostates and de-legitimatize and destroy heretics and blasphemers.
A fixed, rigid belief system, when challenged, produces fear and aggression and provokes a negative, aggressive response to the threat. We project our own subconscious hostile feelings onto others and then react to them as though they are being aggressive and hostile to us. This is the psycho-dynamics of delusion and projection. This is how mobs can trash a college campus and call themselves Anti-Fascists. It’s the people they beat up who are the fascists.
Delusion-like attachment to a fixed idea or belief is not accessible to reason because the belief is not based in fact. But there are no longer objective facts in the age of post modernism. When emotions trump biology and truth is relative, when gender is a social construct and boys can compete in a girl’s track meet by simply declaring that they are identifying as a female; if how you feel is what determines what is real, how do we find our way?
How do we determine what is rumour from what is fact? What is our source for accurate and truthful information? For this we have historically turned to the news. Whether in print form or on television, the news was viewed as impartial and objective. Edward R. Morrow, Walter Cronkite and other giants of the day gave us the facts, the story behind the facts, and we felt informed. We trusted the news and those who delivered it. But that was then, and this is now. This is the age of the blog, the tweet, the Internet. Now information is ubiquitous. Any crackpot can get on his electronic soapbox and rant to millions. Special interests can commission stories and produce a media campaign to influence significant numbers of people. Governments can attempt to influence their voters as well as voters in other countries. We have lost the ability to determine what is true news and what is fake news, what is false news and what is propaganda.
We count on the media to give us feedback about reality in the same way we count on the weatherman to tell us if it really is raining out or if in fact someone is peeing on our leg. But what if the newspapers and TV news are not objective or truthful? What if the mainstream media is in cahoots with a candidate and wants to help him sell his story? What if the media is not only invested in the story, but committed to it?
Of course this is not a new phenomenon. Back in the days of the Great Newspaper Wars, 1895-1898, Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World was in a battle for circulation with William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. They sensationalized the news with screaming headlines and hyperbole in order to drive up circulation. This was the era of Yellow Journalism. Pulitzer (yes, that Pulitzer) and Hearst (the inspiration for Citizen Kane) are credited as the instigators of the Spanish American War due to their sensationalized stories and exaggerations of conditions in Cuba. Artist Fredrick Remington, who had been sent to Cuba to capture images of the conflict, telegraphed Hearst to tell him that all was quiet in Cuba and “there will be no war”.
Hearst’s famous quote was “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” A week after the U.S. declared war on Spain, Hearst ran an article on the front page of his paper “How do you like the Journal’s War?”
During the last election cycle in the U.S., the media appeared to be committed with that same kind of zeal. We have seen the same kind of hyperbole and sensationalism and the same focus on influencing public opinion to support their position. They seemed determined to beat back the dark forces which challenged their shared values and agenda. To do this it was necessary to defeat the man who represented everything they hated and feared, the man who threatened their deeply held beliefs and core values, who wanted to build walls not bridges. Their PC world was under attack and they were committed. And they still are.
It was once said of the brash, larger than life, over the top, attention seeking U.S. president that he loves the limelight so much that he wants to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral. His unorthodox management style, his take-charge, full-speed-ahead, in-your-face approach to everything, his unique way of communicating, his many enthusiastic interests and limitless, almost manic energy led one ambassador to explain, “You must always remember that the president is about six years old.”
That president was of course Teddy Roosevelt, Rough Rider, winner of the Noble Peace Prize, War Hero, Congressional Medal of Honour recipient, builder of the Panama Canal, gunboat diplomat, he of the “speak softly and carry a big stick” fame, trust buster extraordinaire and creator of the National Park System, among many, many other accomplishments. It is his statue on horseback you see when you enter the Museum of Natural History in NYC. And he is the Teddy for whom the Teddy bear is named.
So who needs normal?
Dr. Toby Rutner is a psychologist who treats stress related disorders. The above remarks are from a speech he made on the topic of the media to the Manitoba Association of former MLAs in June, 2017.