As this year’s election process carries on, I (as an independent who has never voted R or D) am more and more convinced that we are all living in the closest example yet of reality being split into two separate universes. In Universe A there is an insane racist who attacks the families of war heroes and wants to open internment camps for the purpose of religio-ethnic cleansing running against a genius and misunderstood policy wonk with the biggest resumé since the guys who actually penned the founding documents. In universe B there is a flawed but honest candidate who can bring America into a golden age running against a hell-woman who bathes in the blood of young virgins to keep her skin looking fresh for her meetings with the Saudi princes to whom she plans to sell the United States of America. Both of these scenarios are ridiculous and have little basis in reality, but that’s no fun. Reality is boring.
I often find myself in the odd position of siding with the evidence that points toward this boring middle ground. I don’t believe Trump is a crazed neo-fascist racist. I don’t believe Hillary is some demon-spawned war criminal. I also don’t think Trump can fulfill much if any of his promises, and I don’t think Hillary is some kind of hyper-intelligent policy genius. But who would want to live in that world? It lacks the thrills of Universe A or B. But where do universe A or B come from? The quickest answer is: the media. Simply put, the media doesn’t want anything to be boring. They make money off of sensationalism and intrigue, and the facts of reality are often inconvenient for maintaining that profit margin. Another answer is the political cycle. The more dire the alternative, the more of a push to fight for your side.
Example: Trump and Khan
Take this Trump and Khizr Khan throw-down for example. The media is splashing us constantly with headlines where it sounds like a cage match featuring a villainous monster attacking an innocent father of a fallen war hero. That sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Of course. That would be interesting. But that is Universe A, not reality. In reality Khan went after Trump in his speech in the DNC and then went on a number of news programs to further push the claims that Trump is the antithesis of what his son died for. In response Trump made a few tweets that were by no means senseless attacks. Later he was interviewed on ABC and gave a lame response to the Khan accusation that he has “sacrificed nothing and no one” for America and implied that Khan’s wife was not allowed to speak at the convention because Islam doesn’t like women. After this the media jumped on the wagon and started an impression of WWE announcers as though it was the fight of the century. USA Today did a great rundown of how little actually happened here. Boring, right?
The interesting thing is when people who are supposed to be living in reality start reacting to the narrative of universe A or B. In this case we have GOP bigwigs condemning Trump as if he is the Trump of universe A. The reality is that Trump has never diminished the grief of the Khan parents or attacked their son’s sacrifice. The conversation has little to do with their status as parents of a war hero. In this way the Democrats masterfully set Trump up to anchor universe A in reality by having Muslim parents of a soldier go after him. Note that Khan’s statement on Trump at the DNC was the first shot fired in this exchange. Once Trump responds, then he is attacking the family of a war hero. Yeah, Trump fell for it, but that in no way evidences that universe A is reality. All it does is echo universe A subtly enough that we are triggered into thinking about all the other associations included in that universe.
Another Example: RNC
Universe B was in large effect in the GOP convention. Chris Christie’s mock trial of Hillary interspersed with calls by the delegates to “lock her up” is an exaggerated conflation of reality in its own way. Although there has never been any criminal charges brought against Hillary Clinton, there is enough speculation in the media to stoke the belief that she is a war criminal and responsible for the failed foreign policy of the last twenty years. Obviously the more extreme views of her as some kind of author of the world’s downfall are beyond the pale. Imagining her as some sort of archon of chaos during her time as Secretary of State is much more interesting than the reality that she made some ill-advised decisions while in a position of authority during a turbulent time in global affairs. Universe B shows her as directly responsible for the Benghazi attacks, when she merely tried to reduce the bad press related to the disaster. Most anyone in her position would do the same. It’s called damage control.
The same goes for the general picture painted during the RNC of an America being drowned by nearly insurmountable problems caused by Hillary’s best friend’s club. We face many problems right now, but the grimness is not all that bad. Many people are better off than they were eight years ago, and many are not. Once again, this is boring. The theme of the RNC was to point to the examples that solidify Universe B. In reality we are not all imminently doomed.
If you want to live in a world where the two main candidates in the election are not a war criminal or an evil man possessed by Hitler’s ghost, then the solution is pretty simple. Stop believing in that universe. But what is reality? By reality I mean the world based in the direct evidence of what has actually been said and done by the candidates and not what has been extrapolated many steps beyond. If you choose to live in this world, then things will be more boring, your blood pressure might go down a little bit, and maybe you will read a little less opinion journalism. (Read all journalism) But the gravitational pull of the divergent universes are very strong, so this middle ground is getting more interesting all the time. I have received shocked looks when making the claim that Trump is not a total racist monster or that Hillary’s evil manipulations are less her own attacks on democracy and just party politics as usual. If that sort of thing isn’t thrilling enough though, there is still plenty of room in Universes A and B. They don’t populate our physical reality, so the “no” never lights up on their vacancy signs.