Ugh. Where to start? I mean, where to begin with this most depressing of American presidential campaigns? November 8, 2016 just can’t come soon enough, right? We’ll just all wake up from this horrible dream, relieved it’s over and get back to normal. Such a peaceful thought. If only we could live our lives through rose-coloured lenses. Truth is, I know things aren’t right in this world when I find myself agreeing with a Globe and Mail columnist. John Ibbitson recently predicted that while Trump will likely lose, “he is the final warning to the elites.” I’m afraid he hit this one on the head:
“Unless political elites of both the left and the right become more humble, unless they once again ask themselves how their agendas will play in Peoria, the next rough beast might slouch over the corpse of the republic.”
We shouldn’t underestimate the strength of the anti-establishment sentiment in the US. It’s not going away anytime soon. Those of us looking for a return to normal are in for a surprise if Clinton wins. Her victory will bring immediate relief to just about everyone north of the border, but we won’t have time to catch our breath before an unsatisfied, unhappy underbelly of discontent rears its ugly head. I’d like to think the anti-establishment movement could shed itself of the racist, bigoted, protectionist elements that make it such a foul movement. But, I suppose that’s probably a pipe dream. I’m not the only one yearning for a return to something a little more—I don’t know—gosh darn sincere.
And for a brief moment, we all got that aw shucks sincerity. You may have heard of him. He was an Internet sensation for a couple days (that’s like 80 years in Internet age). Yep. Ken Bone, ye of perfect meme nomenclature. Amongst the wreckage of personal attacks that plagued the second presidential debate, this man-in-the-red-sweater asked a snoozer of a question about energy policy. Proving just how nerdy we really are, the Internet found love at first sight. In hindsight, I suppose it makes sense; Ken provided a respite from the divisiveness of this horrible campaign—a breath of fresh air in a moist, damp locker room.
What followed was as predictable as a Harlequin romance.
We Find Love
Within hours, people already had their perfect Halloween costume. Ken’s Twitter followers grew from a mere 7 to a whopping 250,000. He got play on the Late Night circuit and for a brief time symbolized all that is right with the world. We wanted to know why he went with a red sweater. We wanted him as a candidate. We couldn’t get enough. Why didn’t we see more of this in this campaign?
I’m not sure Ken knew what predicament he found himself in, but it was pretty much the worse place to be: the Internet’s hero. Once you reach that level, you can only fall, usually with a bruising thud. And when the Internet turns on you, it cuts deep. In truth, we all leave a trail on the Internet. And as we started digging, we found that our shiny new object wasn’t so shiny after all.
Our Hearts Are Broken
The debate question everyone loved…“what step will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?”…wasn’t as innocent as it first appeared. Ken works in the coal industry for a company that opposes climate regulations and has dodged current legislation to be environmentally friendly. In hindsight, his question seemed a little more self-serving.
He took to his fame by hosting a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). Sure, he was a gracious host, and started a T-shirt campaign to raise funds to fight homelessness — but he foolishly used his old username, which made it dead simple for anyone to dig into his past musings. He apparently left a comment on a pregnancy subreddit describing expecting mothers as ”beautiful human submarines.” He confessed to viewing naked pictures of Jennifer Lawrence and, uh…enjoying it. He committed felony insurance fraud and even suggested the shooting of Trayvon Martin was “justified.” He used his fame for a one-off Uber promotion in St. Louis. Just like that, our hero had become an “ignorant bonehead”, and a seedy sell-out.
We Piece Some of it Back Together
With the nasty stuff out of the way, some writers tried to paint a picture of a man—who like the rest of us—has many layers. No single person can be summed up in an Internet meme. This same Ken also wrote that he’s a conservative who likes Obama. He wrote a compassionate response to a rape victim. He condemned Stanford rapist Brock Turner.
Now Ken spends what appears to be considerable effort defending himself. He has clarified some of his comments. “I do not condone the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Justifiable means legal, not right.” His Twitter feed now contains links to threads and articles that defend him. He still has fans who work feverishly to push out a more sympathetic narrative of Ken. But most of us have moved on. We’ve already had enough of Ken. He’s yesterday’s news.
I’ll leave it to Ken and his fanbase to defend his words and deeds. I only highlight his story as an example of how fickle we are. We don’t have time for old news. We move from one meme to the next in just about the same amount of time Usain Bolt runs 100 meters. It’s an unforgiving place—time is never on your side, and people are apt to remember the most negative thing that was last said about you. Never mind the full story or context. That’s boring. We want to be entertained.
But, we’ve gotten to the point where that entertainment is blurry. It’s not fun, even if we try to make it that way. There’s no escaping the slog of this campaign season. There was one symbol—even if we never really took it seriously— that was supposed to provide some kind of light in a dark world. Ken, version 1.0, made the Internet pleasant, at least for a couple hours. Now that light doesn’t shine so brightly. In a way, Ken has become a symbol of this campaign. Whenever we have thought that it might get better, it only gets worse. Everywhere we look, it’s ugly. All of it. And I’m afraid it only gets uglier here on in, no matter what happens on November 8.
On that cheery note, let me get back to what really matters.
As originally published for Navigator Ltd.