The Horsemen of the American Apocalypse

The greatest threats facing American democracy and how to combat them.

January 11, 2018

The Troll

Since when do so many of us take so much pleasure in other people’s anger or suffering?

America has a case of the plague, a viral strain of schadenfreude that infects people from every background and political ideology. It blocks out all discourse, both sides too busy revelling in other people’s frustration to even try to understand. People have become so polarized that they don’t even see each other as fellow countrymen anymore.

We see these so-called trolls everywhere, on the Internet, in person, in public office. All they do is provoke, by racebaiting, creating fake news, and sowing discord in comment sections for kicks. But this sentiment is also present in smaller actions that most people partake in, like making fun of people for having certain viewpoints, talking over each other, and scoffing at all positions that aren’t their own. This schadenfreude is a sin of which almost everyone is guilty.

Trolling came to a peak during the 2016 election, when all sides devolved into a vicious mill of rumours and name-calling. Thanksgiving Dinner became unbearable and the national stage has never looked nastier, with politicians insulting each other and the American people alike. Marco Rubio quipped about his opponent’s penis size. Hillary Clinton referred to Donald Trump’s supporters, her would-be constituents, as “deplorables.” Yet no one topped Trump himself, who spun off nicknames for any political enemy at the drop of the hat, renaming both of the aforementioned people “Little Marco” and “Crooked Hillary” respectively. Even worse, this trolling has turned into a new form of digital warfare: Putin reportedly played off of these divisions amongst Americans by hiring people to act as Trump supporters to spread pro-Trump propaganda and sow discord.

For that reason, there is no greater threat to American democracy than this contempt we hold for each other. It divides us and weakens us in one swoop. Because of the cracks in the American public, the foundation of our democracy is slowly being chipped away without notice. Presidential power-grabs, fundamental restructuring of our government processes, and concerns over international meddling in our elections are being blown over in favor of sensationalist news about some absurd quote from a politician seeking their moment in the limelight.

We all need to discard the image of a troll that we have in our head. There is no overweight pimply thirty-year-old man living in his mother’s basement with nothing better to do than enjoy other people’s misery because it makes him feel better about his own. There is no malicious troll out to get us; there’s just us. We need to all try to be better, to suppress the little voice inside ourselves that relishes the failure of others. We need to strive to be better than that man in the basement, because that guy? That guy is a loser.

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The Consumer

The consumer is not a zombie, but they are pretty damn close. This passive recipient of information is the kind of person who will hear what you say and never ask questions, but will accept it as fact.

The “fake news” pandemic is perhaps the fault of these people as much as that of the troll because they are not creating, promoting, or changing anything with a goal in mind; no, the fault of the consumer is that they take in what they are told without examining it and thinking critically. Unlike the troll, there is no end, no objective, no goal in sight. The consumer’s role in this American apocalypse is to observe and to receive in an endless cycle with no ultimate goal or gain.

It is amazing that even though consumers do nothing to actively deceive or harm others, they can have such a negative effect on society, but affect it they do. The consumer is the largest facilitator of the activity of the troll. Without the consumer, the troll would be out of a job, and the stories spread by trolls would never gain any mainstream recognition or publicity.

The consumer not only receives information and internalizes it, but because of both the social nature of humanity and the newer advent of social media inevitably passes it on. Whether in the breakroom or on Twitter or Facebook, the consumer spreads the ‘facts’ dispensed by the troll.

Now, social media can be a powerful tool for good. The attention people give it and the pithy, easily accessible nature of its messaging make it one of the most useful media today for spreading knowledge and important points about our society and the problems thereof. But it is commonly appropriated and misused by consumers to spread bad information from trolls and other disreputable news sources.

Today’s divisive political and social climate is not only facilitated by trolls who generate false information specifically to get money or to sway people’s beliefs. It is also greatly affected by the consumer, that everyday zombie, that unquestioning ear–and it will continue to be for as long as the consumer cannot differentiate and discriminate between what is true and false, what is “fake news” and what needs to be discussed, publicly and civilly, to improve our society.

There will always be trolls in this world, people who take any opportunity to wreak havoc for their own personal gain. Call them what you will–pirates, robber barons, anarchists–but they have always been here, and they always will be. The downfall of American society as we know it may well be upon us, and it is not by a reformation of the troll that we may save it.The only way we can reverse this American apocalypse is by aiding the consumer in thinking critically and removing trolls from their sphere of influence.

The consumer, not the troll, must be the one to stop the American apocalypse. We have the means, the motive, and the opportunity. We only need to use them.

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