The American reality show descended into chaos this week as its ringleader refused to be voted out, but the spectacle of the world’s most evangelical proponent of liberal democracy imploding in this embarrassing fashion should be regarded with pity rather than schadenfreude.
The refusal to accept reality has been normalised, not because electoral defeat isn’t obvious even to the denier, but because ‘reality’ no longer matters in our post-truth world.
This is the natural endpoint of a narrative being spouted from campus to workplace to the White House press room that says strong feelings and a fervent desire to believe can create ‘alternative facts’.
Who are you to argue with Donald Trump’s ‘lived experience’?
Is it any surprise that, when the ‘Leader of the Free World’ incites hatred against the press with cries of “fake news” and “enemies of the people”, his most fervent followers physically attack the people who are there reporting it?
To the loyal supporters of the real estate conman turned game show host turned President of the United States, smashing up media equipment isn’t vandalism, it’s just the first skirmish in defence of ‘freedom’.
“We’re at war,” one enraged follower said, pointing at a pile of damaged camera equipment. “And no matter what, even if it kills you, remain a free man.”
“We are at war. We’re coming for bodies.” pic.twitter.com/3c2WoNqhkf
— Ellie Hall (@ellievhall) January 6, 2021
As fascinating as it is to watch these scenes play out from a distance, the events in Washington DC are no reason for self-righteousness from the other camp.
Such violence isn’t the monopoly of the American far right. This collective hysteria exists on both sides of the bitter US political divide.
While Trump has deliberately fed into one side’s narrative that a militia of morbidly obese but heavily armed ‘patriots’ is the only thing defending the US from being overthrown from within, the other side feeds their followers with yesterday’s bogeymen in the form of fascists and Nazis.
We saw similar attacks on the media by Antifa activists during Seattle and Portland’s Summer of ‘20, where the looting of businesses that had nothing to do with a police shooting in Minneapolis somehow represented ‘social justice’.
This is what happens when facts are thrown out the window and replaced with one’s preferred worldview, supplied in stronger and stronger doses by your local Silicon Valley pusher whose clever algorithms give you steady hits of the poison you crave.
And so QAnon spouts Deep State conspiracy theories of the global elite, with their Satanic paedophile cults hidden below random pizza parlours. Only the maverick Washington outsider Donald Trump stands between them and the takeover of America.
Decentralised groups on the other side calling themselves Antifa and BLM inhabit a completely different world interpreted through hierarchies of power, ‘systemic racism’ and ‘white privilege’. What other possible explanation could there be for inequality?
Both sides seek to destroy the existing social structure, a goal which is presented as an end in itself. Neither narrative can be defeated through rational argument or the marshalling of facts because truth is now a matter of faith.
While technology advances in leaps and bounds, humans remain the same: no wiser, more enlightened or evolved than we were before.
But why does any of this matter to you, safe behind thick stone walls on a sun-kissed Mediterranean island? Isn’t it just more un-reality TV?
Malta is no stranger to attacks against the press, dehumanisation of journalists, and manufactured narratives that seek to present ‘alternative realities’ to fawning true believers.
A bitter divide is exacerbated by social media here, too — but it’s also officially endorsed through a level of Party-controlled news media that is unthinkable in the rest of the democratic world.
When one’s Party becomes the only voice of truth in a fight for control of the resource-dispensing machine that is high office in Malta, then the stakes become one’s livelihood, and violence can be justified as a struggle for survival.
And so Daphne Caruana Galizia wasn’t a writer with a fine investigative instinct for exposing corruption, someone whose stories should have spurred law enforcement and regulatory bodies into action.
Instead, she was “the Witch of Bidnija”, the true strategist of the Blue side whose single-minded agenda was to get the Red team out of power, thus robbing so many entitled persons of trust of their easy ride.
She threatened to puncture the narrative that it was all just sour grapes and fake news, and when too many people started believing her, she was dehumanised to the point where the most fervent followers of that narrative celebrated her violent death.
But that campaign to control ‘reality’ didn’t end with Daphne’s assassination. The stakes only got higher as Continuity Bob clings to power while doing everything he can to protect his predecessors from facing the consequences of their crimes.
Malta rose above the narrative in December 2019 as people overcame their differences to gather outside Castille, where campaigners for justice for Daphne stood side by side with disgruntled PL and PN voters and civil society groups who disagree about nearly everything else, demanding the resignation of the leaders who abused their power to rob the country blind.
For one brief shining month, Malta was an inspiration and an example of how civil society should function.
America’s descent into ungovernability is a stark warning of where the filter bubble world of ‘alternative realities’ leads.