In the December 15, 2016 issue of Rolling Stone, Bernie Sanders made a telling statement to journalist Matt Taibbi about the overall health of our democracy.
What I’d say to readers of Rolling Stone is: We have to understand that Trump, in a sense, revolutionized politics, and we have to respond to that. What does that mean? You start with 46 percent of the American people not even voting in this election. Of the 54 percent who do vote, how many are really engaged in politics, or just voting once every two years or four years? How many people really go to meetings? How many are involved in unions? Are involved in environmental works? Or anti-racism? Or anti-poverty work?
I think you’re talking about, certainly, far less than five percent. A good chunk of those could be right-wing people, so you’re down to maybe one or two percent of people in this country who are actively involved in progressive movements and ideas. If we can bring the number up to six or seven percent, you can transform America. Irrespective of Trump. Irrespective of Republicans.
The social and psychological problems that Sanders is alluding to are far more profound than a single political election or a contemporary political trend. Sanders knows that the ultimate reason a figure such as Donald Trump could capture the White House is because the vast majority of Americans are basically uninformed, unmotivated to get involved in politics, indifferent to the process of government, and generally lacking in the tools needed to be engaged citizens.
With Sander’s critique in mind, perhaps the unified theory that explains how a television celebrity could become POTUS is that a substantial portion of Americans were either persuaded to embrace someone they could relate to through the virtual screen or they decided not to vote at all because someone else would do the job for them. We are, after all, a nation under the hypnotic spell of mass media corporatism and remote control activism.
According to sources such as the Television Bureau of Advertising and Nielson, the average American family has 2.5 TVs per household. 75% of Americans have at least one television set in their living room, and 31% have 4 sets or more. Kids 2-11 spend 26 hrs a week watching TV. That’s 1,248 hours a year.
The average American adult watches 4 hours of TV each day. Every 4 hours a viewer witnesses 80 minutes of commercials. That means Americans spend a little more than 20 days a year just watching television commercials. From the age of 3-80 an American will spend 1,540 days watching commercials. Divide this number by 365 days and you get 4.2 years. Most Americans spend 4.2 years of their life watching commercials.
In a related finding, researchers in Canada surveyed 2,000 participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms (EEGs). The report sponsors Microsoft found that since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds. To put this dismal factoid in perspective, the average attention span for the goldfish is nine seconds.
“Heavy multi-screeners find it difficult to filter out irrelevant stimuli — they’re more easily distracted by multiple streams of media,” the report read.
So, returning our 8 second attention span to the 2016 election, perhaps we can say that the main reason that a cameo actor on The Nanny, Sex and the City, The Jeffersons, Home Alone 2, The Little Rascals, and Zoolander- and an executive producer of Miss Universe and The Apprentice- was able to commandeer the most influential post in the free world, is because Trump is a commercial brand that screen addicted Americans know. In the end, it may be that stupid and simplistic.
Trump won for the same reason that consumers buy Sprite instead of the store brand lemon up. He won for the same reason people get a bottle of Advil instead of a generic box of headache pills. It doesn’t matter if the generic medicine is better. They just wanted what they saw on television. Trump Tower. Trump Plaza. Trump did this and Trump said that. Trump’s Breaking News on CNN. Trump vs. Clinton. Trump Tweets in the middle of the night. Trump hosts SNL. Trump hates SNL…Trump. Trump. Trump. (And of course I am writing one more blog about Trump now.)
Trump won because most Americans will spend 4 years watching commercials.
Trump won because most Americans have a shorter attention span than a damn goldfish. Nothing against goldfish.
Trump won because he shouted loudest and most often on television.
“Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn’t mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.”