It was impossible to find a framing image for what we were witnessing. A circus? A TV reality show run amuck? A schoolyard brawl magnified by gigantic TV screens? We were swept up by what decades ago Jean Baudrillard called "hyperreality" – a flood of sensory fragments, rumours, digital images that imitated reality but were more intense and alluring than everyday life.
Now the primaries and conventions are over. The campaigns will be uglier but more familiar. Two of the most unpopular candidates in history will compete in a contest that won't even pretend to be polite or civilized.
In this rare moment of calm it might be useful to take a look backward to try to understand what we've just gone through. It might even help to take a glance farther back in history to see if Clio, the most neglected of the Muses, has anything to tell us about how we got here and where we're heading.
At the first Republican debate on 6 August 2015, an incredible 17 candidates showed up to run for President. By any standards, they were a gang of dunces and rogues.
Among many others, there was Jeb Bush, reputed to be the "intelligent" brother in the Bush dynasty, who quickly proved to be so meek and confused that even his supporters cringed whenever he opened his mouth. There was first-term Senator Ted Cruz, who made so many enemies in a few years in Congress that the outgoing Speaker of the House called him "Lucifer in the flesh" and a "miserable son of a bitch". There was Carly Fiorina, who had mismanaged all the companies she'd headed-Hewlett-Packard was the most prominent-while walking away with huge severance packages.
And there was the Donald, a clownish figure whose name was emblazoned on gaudy condo buildings in Manhattan and who played a version of himself on a TV reality show. But however comical his public persona, his past history was in the US vein… read more