If the premise is accepted that we are living in a simulation, then binary choices are the foundation of its architecture.
Shortly after Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 shattered preconceived notions of American politics, the then-presidential elect received a call from Chuck Schumer. “I said, ‘You ran against both Democratic and Republican establishments. If you continue to be against both, you might get something done,’” the now-Senate Majority Leader told Time Magazine and other outlets.
To Schumer, and many Americans, Trump represented the breaking of a political establishment—despite the fact that the electoral system is designed to allow populist candidates entry, as evidenced by Andrew Jackson, and some could even argue Barack Obama. Given the short-term memories of Americans, Trump’s election signified a break from the binary pairings constituting the modern political order; he beat both the Republican and Democratic options (X and Y) who together had supported bipartisan policies which had created the basis of our shared political, financial, and social equilibrium; most notably, the invasion of Iraq.
Trump’s breaking of the establishment, however, was always an illusion. Monumental historical events that appear to threaten the system—global capitalism legitimized via the democratic tradition—always reinforce it. The 9/11 terrorist attacks were carried out against the three main symbols that, in a much more significant way than Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, formed the basis of our system; the World Trade Center buildings (financial), the Washington Capitol (political), and the Pentagon (military). Although the attacks were orchestrated as an indictment of the system these symbols represented, the system itself persevered, reinforcing itself through the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan under George W. Bush, and later Syria and Libya under Barack Obama.
“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality,” Republican operative Karl Rove is said to have told a reporter in 2004. “And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
On the scorching streets of Orlando, thousands of Trump supporters aligned the road leading up to the Hyatt Regency, where Trump gave his first speech since losing to Joe Biden. As one of history’s actors, Trump has created his own reality, giving his supporters a framework for seeing their very existences (as all actors of history do). In Orlando, new rhetoric and propaganda was on-display. The earlier slogans which helped Trump attain power, including the iconic “Make America Great Again,” faded into canon and repertoire, serving as the foundation for new messaging refined by political operatives, on which new coalitions are built, new policies promoted, new frameworks and realities put in place.
The only possible evolution of “Make America Great Again” is “Stop the Steal.”
Trump during his speech lambasted his successor for disastrous policies, rarely pointing to specifics. He warned about the dangers to Women’s Sports without saying anything about sexual reassignment surgeries; criticized the White House’s immigration policies, but avoided saying anything about new detention camps opened for children; slammed Biden’s approach to foreign policy, but not the use of targeted drone strikes in Syria. Even by the standards set by Trump, it was a remarkably empty speech signifying nothing but a binary choice within a binary system. The figureheads he decries are all interchangeable avatars, their policies reference points within a monopoly system.
Although many view Biden’s election as a rebuke of Trumpism, it further legitimized his movement as a binary choice. Once he left Washington, Trump’s movement took new form as an opposition party because for the first time it had been defeated by the process it stood against; life is only legitimized through death. Just as the 9/11 terrorist attacks reinforced the totality of the system, giving rise to mass surveillance practices and continued foreign intervention, the storming of the Capitol produced a new enemy for the system to eradicate; a new aesthetic of terrorism, a simulated threat allowing the system to reinforce itself. It’s no surprise that the symbol under siege on January 6th was one of the same symbols targeted on September 11th.
On the road leading to the convention center, a small cluster of counter-protestors held “Black Lives Matter” flags. A representative of this political ideology spoke with a representative of the “Stop the Steal” ideology, as representatives of both ideologies filmed the encounter and blasted it to their respective networks in service of ideology, in service to a greater cause providing the representatives meaning in their lives, as well as performative cosplay wherein they see themselves as history’s actors. The structure of these binary alternatives on the grassroots level is the same as a discussion on cable news between television pundits, or a moderated presidential debate; it is not about changing minds, so much as it is aiming to replace one binary offering with its counterpart within the system’s framework.
As the “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop the Steal” representatives argued in scorching Florida heat, trying to reassert their prepackaged premise over the other as a hybrid of political Darwinism and showmanship retrofitted for social media, more layers of representatives operated throughout the convention center, each separated by varying degrees of access to the binary choice’s interchangeable architects.
Some were more aware of this dynamic than others.