Once upon a time, a man named Napoleon Bonaparte conquered most of Europe and large chunks of the Middle East as far down as Egypt. He was such a successful conqueror that he had to be dethroned, not once, but twice.
Napoleon died in 1821, but until that very moment, he knew exactly who he was - Napoleon. Everyone else knew it too.
Today, there are people who believe that they are Napoleon. These people are generally found in comedy sketches but occasionally in the real world also. Most of the time, they wind up in the insane asylum unless they can be talked out of this belief.
They are, in fact, not Napoleon at all, which by definition should be painfully obvious to anyone in command of their senses. It's generally believed that people who suffer from such monumental delusions should be locked up for their own good.
In like fashion, the American voting public are running a serious risk of believing that things are real which are not. Whenever you do that, you make the even more dangerous error of disbelieving what is actually true, and reacting incorrectly due to the weight of your delusions.
Consider the fare coming out of Hollywood these days. Hardly an action movie goes by in which thousands of innocent civilians are brutally killed. Gone are the days when Superman fought bank robbers wielding tommyguns or managed to destroy a nuclear missile headed our way without innocent bystanders suffering so much as a broken fingernail!
No, in modern action movies, even the battles won by the good guys result in mass casualties. How many citizens of Metropolis were crushed, incinerated, or defenestrated during Superman's battle with Zog? The Avengers accidentally killed so many innocents that even in the world of the movie itself, the international community was aghast.
Yet in the real world, people lined up to spend $15 to watch the slaughter of the masses. How is this different from people paying to enter the Roman Colosseum to watch Christians eaten by lions?
Well, in one very significant way: it's all fake. Nobody really died in the filming of any of these movies save the occasional unlucky stuntman. All the mayhem is faked either by computers or by special effects and we all know it.
The trouble is, to a modern citizen, what's the difference between a movie showing mass casualties and a news report depicting the same? Hollywood, of course, imitates reality plus a bit of imagination, and in turn, evildoers the world around get ideas from watching movies.
The 1998 terrorism movie The Siege contained a very striking and deeply disturbing scene in which terrorists bomb a New York theatre. Nearly two decades later, I can still recall a beautiful girl descending the grand staircase of the theater shortly after the blast, wrapped in a gorgeous evening gown and missing an arm whose stump was spurting blood.
I know perfectly well that it was all done with special effects - maybe the actress really was medically missing an arm, maybe it was edited out with a computer, maybe it was some other camera trickery of some kind. The blood, of course, was ketchup or whatever. At the end of the shooting day, the girl washed off the fake blood, changed into jeans, and went home to dinner with her family to rest up for her next gig.
Yet the scene was so realistically done, I couldn't help but immediately think of it during the news coverage of the Bataclan terrorist assaults in Paris. There was a theater filled with beautiful people out for a good time, suddenly being blown up or blown away. As in the movie, the streets were full of badly injured people stumbling around in a state of shock and panic.
Again, we all know, on some level, that one is fake and the other is real. If one lives in Paris it would seem all the more real.
But most people don't live in Paris - or Israel, or London, or New York, or work in the Pentagon, or attend the Boston Marathon. For the overwhelming majority of people, terrorism has exactly as much objective reality as the latest Hollywood blockbuster and no more. Terrorism is something to be watched from the safety of your TV set, not something that is "real" to you unless you're extraordinarily unlucky.
In what way is this different from our elections? Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood star but he was also a highly effective President. Donald Trump may turn out to be a good President too, but right now he is first and foremost a reality star, and, as many have noted, the media are covering him as if he were an actor in the title role of Donald Trump for President: The Movie.
This makes the entire campaign seem to have nothing to do with the future of our country. Although achieving the Presidency is the end goal of the process, most of the commentariat act as if the realities of the Presidency have nothing to do with the show.
At the end of the day, the Presidency is real no matter hard we pretend otherwise. Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will have their finger on the very real button that launches very real nuclear missiles to blast very real people into their component atoms. Less terminally, either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump will hold the pen which signs or vetoes tax hikes, tax cuts, troop deployments, draft orders... need we go on?
Actually, it would have made more sense for voters to treat an election as entertainment in our Founders' day, because back then the Federal government was a tiny fraction of its size today. For nearly everybody in the nation, whatever the Great White Father in Washington did would make no visible difference in their lives.
Today that's not so. There is nothing so trivial that it cannot be regulated by Federal bureaucrats, nor any habits sufficiently widespread or longstanding that they cannot be instantly outlawed by a rogue judge. Elections really do matter. Once upon a time, the media felt it was their duty not only to remind us of that but to give us information in line with the seriousness of the issues at hand.
Now, it's all just entertainment. Yet there's a risk to ignoring politics as one audience at the Colosseum discovered the hard way:
One day when there was a shortage of condemned criminals, the Emperor Caligula commanded that a whole section of the crowd be seized and thrown to the wild beasts instead.
Talk about the Emperor having a phone and having a pen! You may not care about politics, as the old saying goes, but politics cares about you.
Of course our modern Emperor is far too sophisticated to throw voters to actual lions; he merely throws their wives and daughters into the hands of sexual predators in drag.
Maybe the only way America and the rest of the West can return to the reality of understanding what is real and what is not is if the real reaches through our television screen and grabs us by the throat. Perhaps it will be in the form of a nuclear missile from North Korea that kills 90% of Americans with an EMP blast that knocks us back to the technology level of 1800, or a nuclear bomb that takes out Los Angeles. It might be any number of other things of both human and natural origin, all which, like 9-11, seem like the stuff of the movies until they suddenly become real.
Until then, we can sing along with the massed chorus of media: "Boom, boom, ain't it great to be crazy!"
Over the past five years, the editors have been secretly working on a book that summarizes the fundamental viewpoints of Scragged.