by Keaton Weiss
President Trump has used the word “fake” so often, he seems to think he invented it. In a 2017 interview with Mike Huckabee, he said, “I think one of the greatest of all terms I’ve come up with is ‘fake’.” Liberals, in predictably snarky fashion, scoffed at the remark, because of course Trump didn’t actually invent the word itself. But in a decade defined by institutional corruption, deception, greed, negligence, and hypocrisy, is it really any wonder we’ve elected a president who weaponizes the concept of “fakeness” as frequently and aggressively as Trump does?
This was the decade we learned that Lance Armstrong, whose story of beating cancer, starting a foundation whose yellow wristbands became a symbol of hope and resilience, and winning the Tour de France, made him an American icon, was a doper. A cheat. A fake.
Wells Fargo employees, in order to meet sales requirements, opened millions of fake checking and credit card accounts.
Elizabeth Holmes, celebrated by Forbes in 2015 as the youngest and wealthiest “self made billionaire” in America, had come up with a fake blood testing method (she even used a fake voice to do it!), and is facing a massive fraud trial in June of next year.
The Sackler family was exposed for faking information about the addictive nature of OxyContin and fueling the opioids crisis, and their company, Purdue Pharma, declared bankruptcy in response to an onslaught of lawsuits.
This was also the decade we learned of dismal working conditions at factories and warehouses owned by the likes of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, billionaire businessmen whose successes are supposedly sterling examples of the fully realized American dream.
This was the decade of the #MeToo movement, which exposed many of the fake liberals in Hollywood and in the media for the misogynist pigs they really were.
Boeing made a fake airplane. Volkswagon faked their emissions tests. Celebrities faked their childrens’ ways into elite colleges and universities (and served just 14 days in jail for it.) We even had a fake (Fyre) music festival!
The decade began two years into Barack Obama’s first term. Obama was elected to unite and heal a nation reeling from a recession caused by a war that was started for fake reasons, and a housing crisis made possible by the issuing of fake mortgages. Obama won a landslide victory on the platform of “Hope and Change,” which turned out to be, for the most part, fake.
Then, we had an election in 2016, which consisted of a fake Democratic primary race in which the supposedly neutral Democratic National Committee was actually being financed by one of the candidates in the running, whose name I always make a New Year’s Resolution never to speak again. On the Republican side, we had a candidate who likes to call things fake. And he won the whole thing.
One of the things the liberal class (ie, the Starbucks drinkers, the MSNBC wine-moms, the Washington Post subscribers) laments most about Donald Trump is that he ‘undermines public faith in our institutions.’ To them, this is a real shame, because these institutions are, in one way or another, part of a system that has served them pretty well over the years. Financial institutions like the big banks and the stock market are of course primarily involved, but beyond that, institutions like Hollywood and professional sports are secondary participants, in that they provide the masses with the “bread and circuses” necessary to distract them from the struggles they endure every day. When even those institutions become corrupted, the public begins to lose all faith in everything. And so an era of institutional corruption breeds a culture of bitterness and despair, and out of that culture emerges a demagogue like Donald Trump who can so effectively harness the collective negative energy that had been festering in America throughout this whole fake decade.
What this means, of course, is that the liberals have it backwards. Trump hasn’t caused people to lose faith in our institutions, he’s simply seized upon a jadedness that had already made its way into our culture by way of incident after incident of institutional failure of every kind. This realization is an uncomfortable one for the liberal class, as they themselves bear some responsibility for perpetuating both the system itself, and the lie that it’s functioning in a way we should all appreciate. And so, they’d be quick to point out when challenged with this point, that Donald Trump is the biggest fake of all. They have a point, don’t they? Well, yes and no.
Trump is no doubt a fake himself. Everything about him is fake. His hair is fake. His skin tone is fake. He gorges on fake food and guzzles soda laced with fake sugar. He’s probably a fake billionaire, but whatever real money he’s made came from his fake universities, fake charities, and selling people the fake hope that if they throw a dollar down one of his slot machines, they’ll hit the jackpot and become a big winner. He hosted a fake TV show where he played a fake boss and fired people for inadequately doing fake jobs. One the one hand, yes, he’s the personification, the physical manifestation, of fakeness.
On the other hand, though, he’s so fake that no one actually feels deceived by him. He “breaks the fakeness meter,” if you will. His hair is so fake that we know for sure it’s fake. The blonde dye, or spray, or whatever the fuck it is, is so hastily and lazily applied, we can see the gray at the bottom of each strand of hair. Whatever he does to his face to turn it orange is done so badly we can see his natural skin color in big circles around his eyes. We know what garbage he eats, because we eat it too. We know that reality TV is bullshit, because we watch it. And we know casinos are a scam, because we’ve all lost money at ’em. We know that when he denied his affair with Stormy Daniels that he was lying. And if we know he’s lying, is he actually manipulating us? I’d argue, not really. When your child has chocolate all over his face and you ask if he stole cookies from the cookie jar, and he says no, do you really feel like you’ve been duped, manipulated, deceived, or defrauded? No. He’s just a lying little shit. And that’s ultimately what Trump is. He’s not pre-packaged. He doesn’t come with the pretense of integrity, naturalness, or fair play.
But when Lance Armstrong denies having used performance enhancing drugs, or when Wells Fargo tells us we can trust them with our money, or when the Sacklers tell us we needn’t worry about getting hooked on their product, or when Hollywood’s sexual predators pose as women’s rights advocates, we take them at their word. So when they betray us, it hurts, because we believed them. Since we know Trump is full of shit even before he opens his mouth, his lies don’t have the same emotional effect on us.
Therefore, Trump’s overt, over-the-top artificiality, along with his repeated branding of any and all opposition to him as “fake,” makes perfect sense in a decade defined by widespread institutional fakeness, because Trump is a constant reminder that fakeness is everywhere. He didn’t hoodwink the country into electing him; he simply gave the country a way to express their frustration at having been hoodwinked into thinking their politicians cared about them, and that their banks were taking care of their finances, and that their media wanted to keep them informed, and that their idols in sports and entertainment were exemplars of virtue and excellence, and that the people who make their medicine do so because they actually want to heal the sick, and that the American dream is attainable for anyone who works hard and plays by the rules.
Of course, there are real solutions to these problems that could be explored, and thankfully, are being explored. Ideas like Medicare For All to replace the fake healthcare reform of Obamacare, or a Green New Deal instead of the woefully inadequate Paris Climate Accord, or student debt cancellation to make the American dream actually possible for a generation saddled with crippling high interest loans, are all being floated in this critical election year as we close the book on the previous decade. But in these fake times which we live, real solutions to real problems are deemed – you guessed it – unrealistic.
And so, the Fakeness Train doesn’t just roll on, it builds steam. This makes Trump the favorite to win in 2020. He is the distillation of this American moment, and of the previous American decade – the fake decade. We’re very much a fake country right now. And so if we’re going to turn this around, and see to it that this next decade is more fruitful than the previous one, and we must, we’re going to have to get real.