The swamp will win
by Doc Searls Friday, February 3, 2017

The best marathon reading of anything, ever, was Tolstoy's War and Peace, on WBAI in New York, in 1971. The Pacifica Radio archive describes it this way:

On December 6, 1970, more than 170 people from all walks of life came together to read from one of the great novels of all time, over the airwaves of Pacifica station WBAI 99.5 FM. Nearly five days later, the legendary actor Morris Carnovsky read the famous last words to Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, ending what was at the time the longest continuous broadcast in radio history. One of the more ambitious radio broadcasts ever undertaken, with one of the largest casts, listeners struggled to stay awake so as not to miss a single sentence, and emptied New York bookstore shelves in pursuit of a companion novel for this historic reading.

The cast of readers included Dustin Hoffman, Ann Bancroft, Mel Brooks, Julius Lester, Abbie Hoffman, William F. Buckley, Buck Henry, and dozens of others.

It changed my life. I read and re-read War and Peace many times after that (though not in recent decades). 

Apparently the original is not available. (Does it even exist? It'd be a shame if it didn't.) But you can buy a copy of a two-hour re-visit, in two pieces, here and here.

I bring it up because I think there is no way, short of literature or poetry, that any of us can get our heads fully around the massively strange, attention-sucking, opinion-inducing all-tantrum Trump presidency.

Those inclined to wonder if Trump is actually leading us somewhere would do well to take in Tolstoy's argument in War and Peace against the Great Man Theory: one I am sure Donald Trump subscribes to. It is thanks to Tolstoy that I see Trump winning the White House as today's equivalent of Napoleon winning the Battle of Borodino, and his troops occupying Moscow as winter sets in.

Washington is Trump's Moscow. He won't "drain the swamp" from Washington any more than Napoleon drained winter from Russia. But big things are indeed afoot. There is a revolution going on, and it's a digital one. During the election, Trump took great advantage of digital technology, especially social media. Better to think of Trump, however, as a phenomenon that would never have been possible in the pre-digital world. In that sense he is less a product of himself than of his time and place: one that is very new to all of us, and we're only beginning to understand.

From David Foster Wallace's This is Water: "There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys, how's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, 'What the hell is water?'" The water in which we now swim (right here, right now) is digital. It's not spoken word, or written by hand, or printed, or broadcast. It's something else. Trump was lucky to be lifted by its tide. 

But that doesn't mean he knows what he's doing with it. In fact, it's pretty clear that he hardly has a clue about how the office he occupies actually works, or what it was designed for.

So I don't think he'll be able to enjoy the same success in the White House as he enjoyed getting there. Because the digital world is one in which all of us can participate, and all of us have agency. That alone may prove to be more than any leader can handle, especially one with Trump's flaws.

So we'll see how it goes. If the Internet is the world's largest clue exchange (and it is, among a zillion other things, most TBD), maybe something like democracy will come out the other side. Or maybe some kind of massive self-mutating crazyocracy where everything will be way more fubar than it already is. Time and space will tell.