David Von Drehle, writing yesterday in the Washington Post:
Steve Jobs gave us President Trump
That is quite the headline. And you can probably see where it’s going already, can’t you?
Von Drehle compares Sen. Mitch McConnell to an abbott in a monastery, dutifully hand-writing and binding Bibles, then spends the next several paragraphs drawing the requisite comparison between the introduction of the iPhone to Gutenberg’s printing press, and how that helped fuel the Enlightenment and, by extension, the founding of the United States.
But one thing is clear after the election of 2016 — the first American election truly dominated by mobile communication and the social networking it sparks […]
Is it, though? Von Drehle’s use of the word “dominated” seems rather loose: the last U.S. Presidential election was huge on Twitter — if not at the same scale as this one, though I couldn’t find an equivalent official news release. The Atlantic specifically cited the effectiveness of Barack Obama’s social media strategy in their photo essay of the night, while one of the biggest stories of the night was Trump’s multi-tweet rant about the president losing the popular vote while winning the electoral college, despite that being false.
We saw last year that the power of the smartphone is vaporizing these [traditional functions of a political party]. Donald Trump captured the Republican ballot line even though he had no appreciable connection to the Republican Party. Nothing like it had ever happened to an American political party. Trump had his own access to television after decades as a public performer and provocateur. More important, though, was the way he leveraged his celebrity via smartphone. His millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook became a rapidly growing Party of Trump. His supporters felt a personal and authentic connection that left no room for mediation by GOP elites.
Considering this, it seems completely arbitrary to me cite Apple’s introduction of the iPhone under Steve Jobs as the single key thing that got Trump the presidency. Why not cite Heinrich Hertz for discovering electromagnetic waves, or Tim Berners-Lee for inventing the World Wide Web, or Jack Dorsey, et. al., for creating Twitter, or whoever was the project lead on the Samsung Galaxy S3, Trump’s personal phone?
It doesn’t need to be stated that the iPhone had an overwhelming impact on the industry. But its introduction did not make Trump president any more than it made Obama president. Citing Jobs as being a singlehanded force in either’s election is clickbait, and nothing more.
Moreover, it’s highly uncertain how much compromise is possible in this new age of direct connectivity. Any Democrat who votes for legislation that frees McConnell from a jam and gives the president an occasion to brag is likely to face a storm of Internet opposition.
In short, Pennsylvania Avenue is not the place to read the future of politics. Look instead toward Cupertino, Calif., where on Sept. 12 a new iPhone will remind us that change is the new normal.
I like the Post; I’m even a subscriber. But this should never have moved past an editor, let alone be given the headline it ended up with. I would be fascinated to read an investigation of how direct connectivity enabled by social media gives the false impression of a celebrity like Trump being a relatable and personable guy. But slapping that headline on the article and devoting half of it to a meandering exploration of McConnell as an abbott turns this into empty clickbait more than a zeitgeist review.