One of my favorite books Being There by Jerzy Kosinski. In this 1970 novel the writer explores a satirical view of the absurd reality of America’s media culture. It is the story of Chance the gardener, a man with few distinctive qualities. To Chance the whole world was a garden, but others mistake this simpleton’s description of an actual garden for an extended metaphor about the economy. Chance emerges from nowhere and suddenly becomes the heir to the throne of a Wall Street tycoon and a presidential policy adviser. His simple and straightforward responses to popular concerns are praised as visionary despite the fact that no one actually understands what he is really saying. The book was turned into a famous movie with Peter Sellers.
Today in the context of the Donald Trump’s presidential campaign Kosinski’s words seem prescient. For example Trump said that he would build a wall along the border between Mexico and the U.S. to curb illegal immigration — and has vowed that Mexico would foot the bill. Trump said, “It’s gonna be a great wall. This will be a wall with a big, very beautiful door because we want the legals to come back into the country.” When Trump “speaks from the heart” you cannot be sure if he is being literal or metaphoric. We are left thinking that Trump is either a simpleton way out of his element who is not fit to be the president or an evil narcissist who should just never be allowed to have any more power. In either case we need to look in the mirror and ask how he got to be a candidate for the most powerful office in the world. What is the nature of our media driven culture that would allow the rise of Chance?