In the bubble economy of pageviews and rageclicks, the reasons for the attention fall away. And so a perpetual attention-generating machine like Donald Trump becomes not just a symptom but an attractor: the news media turned him into a phenomenon in pursuit of attention to their properties, even as the “serious” members of the press denied he could ever become a candidate. After all, all he was was a bid for attention, devoid of any real political program. Alas, such a distinction between politics and attention is no longer meaningful.
Only in a world where raw attention is an ultimate end could Trump have become a presidential nominee. By being deaf to all ulterior motives beyond self-aggrandizement, Trump is oddly incorruptible, apparently unwilling to be tamed by teleprompter or Svengali. By refusing to have any principles, he can’t be manipulated through them, nor can he betray them. “This was clearly madness,” Musil writes of Moosbrugger’s hothouse rhetoric, “and just as clearly it was no more than a distortion of our own elements of being.” Trump’s secret is that there is no secret. He is the Pollock canvas on which we’ve flung our collective vomit and feces. In the chaos that results, we can almost make out our reflection.