Decades ago advertising people got involved in running political campaigns. Their view was that the candidate was essentially a product to be marketed to voters. Those who used to be citizens were now just another kind of consumer. Then, as television began to dominate campaigns, the line between politics and entertainment started to blur. And, finally, as trust eroded in society, the attack ad became the vehicle for achieving victory. If nobody trusted anyone, better to have them trust the other guy even less than your guy. The race to the bottom was under way.
So politics became a form of toxic entertainment. One result was a group of successful politicians in different countries – successful in the sense that they rose to power. In Italy, it was the media mogul Silvio Berlusconi who put on a great show. In Britain, two loud mouths, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, put on such a great show that they led their country right out of the European Union. And there are now similar types around the globe.
That brings us to the really big show, the United States and the Donald Trump phenomenon. In just over a year, a pathologically lying, bigoted, woefully ignorant reality television star has become the candidate for president of one of the two major parties of the most powerful country on earth. And, along the way, he has garnered big ratings as a television-lobotomized population takes in the show on a nightly basis, mostly oblivious to the damage that the hate-fest is producing and to what is at stake for the country’s future.
And there are the many little local Trumps. In my hometown of Milwaukee, there is a local sheriff who is also quite entertaining, playing the role of the black man who tells white racists what they want to hear. Given Trump’s success, we can expect many more to roll off the line in the future.
Every so often, someone pulls the curtain back and takes a hard look at the impact that these kinds of fake "leaders" have had. We have some sense of the disaster that Berlusconi has left behind in Italy. Britons are just beginning to wake up to the costs that the bigotry-driven campaign led by Farage and Johnson has left them with, buyer’s remorse leading to a search for some sort of do-over. All of a sudden, it doesn’t seem so entertaining.
And, in the United States, win or lose, the damage that Trump has done is enormous, casting serious doubt on our future as a successful multiracial and multiethnic country.
Then we come to the Virgin Islands, with its own collection of little Trumps. The Source has done an enormous public service by tallying up the destruction wrought by the always-entertaining Chucky Hansen. Like the others, Hansen has put on a good show, making outrageous statements that always made good copy.
Like Trump, she has her fans, because she "tells it like it is" or "says what we think," those things inevitably focusing on her group’s victimization and the evil of the "the others." And, as the Source article details, like her counterparts elsewhere, Chucky Hansen has demonstrated a stunning level of recklessness and irresponsibility, one that has helped bring the territory to its current dire condition.
Hansen was always a champion of "hooray for us and screw everyone else" politics, a set of practices that contributed to the collapse of the territory’s health care system, the coming death spiral of the pension system, and poisonous relationships and mistrust between peoples and islands. As the Source article spells out, the poisoned fruits of her efforts are everywhere to be seen.
Back on the mainland, Trump may become the next president of the United States, an outcome whose consequences most people don’t even want to think about. It will be bad news for "the others," immigrants, poor people, Muslims, minorities and much of the world. It is useful to think about these potential consequences when we look at the Source list of Hansen’s destructive achievements on the small stage of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
As on the mainland, someone is voting for the Trumps, Hansens and others like them. They wouldn’t get elected or show good poll numbers if they didn’t have supporters. For these fans, it is either entertainment or they believe that "the others," the designated scapegoats, will end up getting the short end of the stick. As the outcomes in Italy, Britain and, alas, the Virgin Islands demonstrate, it’s just a matter of time before the rot spreads to engulf even the fans of the carnival barkers.
The only ones who seem to escape the consequences are the barkers themselves. Berlusconi, Farage, Johnson and Trump will never suffer any consequence for what they have done. And, it is doubtful that Hansen, who once suggested going back to live off the land, will ever miss a meal.