As a child of the 1980s, I was a big fan of pro wrestling. Watching wrestling served as my earliest political education. As German political philosopher Carl Schmitt pointed out, the essence of politics lies in the “friend/enemy” distinction: political activity is a recognition and embrace of the forms of association that are beneficial to one’s interest, along with the undermining of associations that frustrate one’s objectives. The friend/enemy distinction is dramatically showcased in pro wrestling: you cheer the good guys and jeer the bad guys—not because they are bad, but because they are not the good guys.
The friend/enemy distinction is dramatically showcased in pro wrestling: you cheer the good guys and jeer the bad guys—not because they are bad, but because they are not the good guys.
In the ‘80s, pro wrestling inculcated this outlook in its viewers by creating narrative frames for the action. These narratives made much use of geopolitical themes: wrestlers like Nikolai Volkoff (who embodied Soviet Communism) and The Iron Sheik (who caricatured Iranian theocracy) were the bad guys. We learned they were bad because we saw how their appearance and behavior contrasted the good guys like “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan or Hillbilly Jim, who represented American virtue, power, and innocence. But more than anyone else, Hulk Hogan embodied this Americanism.
A close family friend, who was Scottish, routinely mocked wrestling whenever I was watching. As a Scot, he was attuned to the propagandistic American jingoism that played out in the ring. He also insisted that wrestling was “fake,” and that I was being duped. I didn’t believe him. I was 8 when I watched Hulk Hogan defeat Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III in 1987, and I had no doubt that Hogan’s apparently supernatural ability to “body slam” his 500-pound opponent derived from his own natural strength, virtue, self-confidence, and superior technical abilities. Besides, he had to win—if only because the fate of the nation was on the line.
By the following year, that Scot had convinced me that it was “fake”—but I still loved it, which frustrated him to no end. With the secret exposed, why did I still spend hours on Saturday watching shirtless men in tights dance around the mat? The fact was that by then, I had learned to enjoy it in a different way. When I was younger, I had watched pro wrestling as a competitive sport. A few years later, I enjoyed it as a particular kind of theater. I was 12 years old before my bedroom posters of The Ultimate Warrior started to be displaced by images of Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins.
As an adult, I followed the political life of our nation in much the same way that I had studiously followed wrestling as a kid. Reading Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72 when I was 19 was an eye-opener. Not only did I learn that politics had all the narrative twists, turns, and back-stabbings of the WWF, the stakes were even higher and the fight was real. What’s more, as the citizen of a democracy with the power of my vote and my voice, I had a small role to play in the fight—a fight waged through public discourse. Realizing this fact drew me to the study of rhetoric and argumentation, which are now my areas of expertise as a professor.
Wrestling briefly recaptured my attention, during my late teens, with the introduction of World Championship Wrestling’s New World Order (NWO) storyline. Hulk Hogan, re-branded as “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, had made a heel-turn. Now one of the bad guys, Hogan had assembled a gang of “unsanctioned” wrestlers to infiltrate the WCW and try to take over the world of wrestling from inside. It seemed a bit overwrought to me, but it introduced a new generation to the glories of pro wrestling.
Just like pro wrestling, American democracy is fake.
Fast forward to Election 2020. In 2016, I had voted for Marco Rubio as a write-in candidate in the presidential contest; by 2018, I was eager to cast a ballot for Trump. I was disgusted by the Russian “collusion” hoax, the smearing of Brett Kavanaugh, and the fake impeachment of the President. Of course, all of this was accompanied by histrionic haranguing from the media about how much the truth mattered.
The aftermath of the 2020 election brought the New World Order back to mind. In the world of wrestling, the idea that a group of “unsanctioned” wrestlers called the NWO (led by Hollywood Hogan) were working behind the scenes to “take over” the WCW was a fictional narrative that was performed for the sake of a passive audience who appreciated the drama on mostly theatrical grounds. In the world of politics, the NWO (“led” by Joe Biden) works with media and public officials in Democrat-controlled urban areas to take over the levers of government.
Ultimately, the emerging global regime requires some democratic theater—if only to manufacture the appearance of public consent. As elections come to function as scripted means to enable the increasingly autocratic exercise of state power, citizens committed to individual liberty will need to re-invent what political participation means in the new order.
Wrestling fans love what is sometimes called a “screw job”—scenarios where someone is unfairly granted a win, either because the referee is incapacitated, or because one wrestler makes use of an illegal object, or because of some other wild turn of events. As I watched the maskless hordes in New York and Washington, celebrating Biden’s “victory” and sharing champagne bottles, it dawned on me: American democracy is fake. Just like pro wrestling, American democracy is fake. For decades, I have followed politics not only because the stakes are high, but because I believed I had a small role in determining the outcome of the contests. But I do not.
ELECTION INTERFERENCE: FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC, REAL AND IMAGINED
Although journalists constantly cautioned the public that it may take “days or weeks” to determine the winner of the election, it was only 6 days before the mainstream media unilaterally announced its “projection” that Joe Biden had “won” the presidency. Biden’s path to this “victory” is worth reviewing. After President Trump’s victory in 2016, state actors colluded with mainstream “journalists” to assiduously undermine public confidence in the legitimacy of his election. For the first time in American history, losing candidate Hillary Clinton promised to lead a “resistance” against the President.
For the first time in American history, losing candidate Hillary Clinton promised to lead a “resistance” against the President.
For two years, we heard weekly “bombshell” reports about “foreign election interference” and the myriad ways that Trump’s team supposedly worked to spread “misinformation.” Although Mueller reportedly knew by the summer of 2018 that there was no evidence for these accusations, he conveniently withheld that information for months in the lead-up to the 2018 elections. With the President under an omnipresent cloud of suspicion, Mueller’s decision not to dispel this cloud ensured that the House flipped back to Democratic control. Weeks after the collusion hoax was finally put to bed, Pelosi’s majority conjured up grounds to impeach President Trump. This, with an assist from a “whistleblower” who conveniently benefited from newly revised rules for whistleblower complaints, which previously would have disqualified the complaint.
Meanwhile, the “objective” media continued to pin every problem in America on the President, while dutifully observing nearly total silence on President Trump’s successes. A booming economy was attributed to luck (or Obama), major movements towards peace in the Middle East were ignored, the revision of North American trade agreements were dismissed.
Then, COVID-19 hit. In the early days of the pandemic, so little information was available about the transmission and fatality of the virus that some lockdowns appeared justified. Those lockdowns had the unfortunate (but from the left’s perspective, favorable) effect of destroying much of the economic progress made since Obama’s recession had been conquered. But long after the scientific data showed that the fatality and transmission rates of COVID-19 did not justify inflicting further economic catastrophe, the news media and Democrat-aligned officials decided that life would be disrupted at least until the election—and longer if Biden’s advisors get their way.
As the election approached, media polling ensured us that Joe Biden was poised to win in a landslide, accompanied by a massive “blue wave” in Congress. Meanwhile, voting rules were radically changed in battleground states, and cities controlled by Democrats were blanketed with mail-in ballots, ostensibly to accommodate voters who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) face the negligible risk posed by the virus. In the battleground state of Wisconsin, the New York Times touted polling four days before the election that showed Biden with a 17-point advantage. By 9pm EST on election night, it was already clear that the polls had been wrong.
America woke up on Wednesday and Biden had mysteriously received just enough votes to take the lead in Wisconsin and Michigan.
Election night, it appeared President Trump was cruising to a second term. He led in PA, GA, NC, WI, and MI. Then, the counting mysteriously stopped. America woke up on Wednesday and Biden had mysteriously received just enough votes to take the lead in Wisconsin and Michigan. In the days that followed, enough Biden ballots were found to flip Pennsylvania. Georgia flipped at almost the same time. Although there exists significant evidence of fraud and tallying abnormalities (I ran out of words in this sentence to use for hyperlinks, so I added some more here), let’s make the unlikely assumption that all of this was on the up and up.
If every institutional power in American society spends 4 years relentlessly attacking the President at every opportunity for both real and imagined offenses in a ceaseless effort to manipulate public opinion, and then deliberately skews polling to further manipulate the public opinion that it purports to measure, then that is not conducive to a free and fair election. If any news that is “potentially harmful” to the Democratic candidate’s prospects is ignored and denied by reporters and censored and scrubbed from social media or labelled a Russian disinformation campaign without evidence, that is not conducive to a free and fair election. And if a public health crisis is leveraged and instrumentalized to inflict as much economic damage as possible, and is then cited as grounds to change election rules in key states in ways that will clearly favor maximizing the votes in the Democratic base… well, this is not what anyone can reasonably call a “free and fair” election.
Although recounts in critical states remain to be done, the media took the extraordinary step of “calling” the election for Joe Biden—a move clearly meant to engineer the public acceptance of the inevitability of a Biden win, and to demoralize the opposition as they seek to challenge the results in court. To top all of this off, a medical miracle! A highly effective COVID-19 vaccine was announced—a development that apparently happened weeks ago, but curiously remained unreported until Biden surrogates were making calls to foreign officials, planning for the transition of power. If these are the contours of what counts as a “free and fair election,” then this has staggering implications for American democracy.
CHOREOGRAPHED DEMOCRACY, ON THE ROPES
As I watched these developments, my mind returned to wrestling. Certainly, America had staged a contest, but in the face of all the factors described above, it seems pretty clear that the winner was predetermined. How else to explain that election officials in Pennsylvania stated publicly the day before the election that “if” all the votes were counted, then Biden would win the state? How else to explain that only a week after the New York Times had tweeted (and later deleted) that the media’s role is to determine the winner of an election, the same media outlet took the extraordinary step of naming a winner before recounts are complete and results are certified? It’s no coincidence that Biden ran behind Hillary’s 2016 numbers in every major American city except Atlanta, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Detroit—the power centers of the states that tipped the election for Biden.
American democracy is fake. But there are critical differences between it and pro wrestling, notably this: pro wrestling is willing to wink at you when the theatrics are exposed.
Widespread “ballot-harvesting” where political operatives “assist” private citizens in completing ballots before collecting them? Allowing mail-in ballots without signatures and without any selections in down-ballot races (a common feature in tranches of fraudulently cast ballots)? Allowing mail-in ballots to count as long as they are received within 3 days of when the election is “completed” and after the “results” are announced? Allowing ballots that arrive without a postmark after the election to count on the presumption that they arrived by election day? Reports of post office employees being asked to manually backdate ballots that arrived late? An unexplained decision to stop counting in multiple critical states where one candidate is leading, only to learn hours later that the other candidate received just enough votes to take the lead in each of those states? Partisan dictates about who will (not) be allowed to observe the counting of ballots? These are features of elections that occur under authoritarian dictatorships. The fact that most journalists—the people who are responsible for conveying these abuses—refuse to acknowledge any of this indicates that we effectively have the same state-aligned media that props up tyrannical governments around the world.
American democracy is fake. But there are critical differences between it and pro wrestling, notably this: pro wrestling is willing to wink at you when the theatrics are exposed. It allows adult viewers to stop appreciating the contest as a competitive sport, and begin to appreciate its status as performance art.
In contrast, our political discourse shows that even when the theatrics of the contest are exposed, the media, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, the university, and every other major center of cultural power insist not only that you continue to view the competition as legitimate, but also that you participate in it as such; that you continue to vote, that you recognize the “winner” was determined by a fair, rule-governed procedure, and that you re-enter the public discourse next election season with the untarnished assumption the outcome is not yet determined.
AUTHENTIC POLITICAL AGENCY IN THE NEW WORLD ORDER
In short, the New World Order is here. Unlike in wrestling though, the NWO of politics creates a fictional narrative that it demands the audience concede as real. So, while in fact many voters have as much involvement in the outcome of the election as TV viewers have in influencing the outcome of the wrestling match, the powers that determine the winners in politics nevertheless demand that the audience of their spectacle behaves as though they are active participants in democratic “decision-making.” Citizen participation in these charades are a critical means by which the performance is legitimized. The cabal that is advancing the new global regime (which Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau enthusiastically called “the Great Reset”) needs you to keep voting because your vote is your tacit acknowledgement that the process is something more than pure symbolism—a symbolic routine that keeps the “Democracy” label on an American order that actually embodies a much different model of governance.
If we truly value our freedom, and we believe in our dignity as American citizens, we need to care more, not less.
Our emerging order looks to be something like authoritarian technocratic oligarchy driven by a capitalist marketplace which is beholden to cultural Marxism— which bodes poorly for the future of liberal society. The only solution that’s readily available seems to be conscious resignation: to accept that your voice only matters insofar as it echoes the agenda of the oligarchs, and to stop voting out of a cynical determination to treat theater as theater, passively watching until pre-scripted denouement unfolds.
But resignation is just another form of consent—and consent is all that autocracy asks from us. If we truly value our freedom, and we believe in our dignity as American citizens, we need to care more, not less. We need to reject the spectatorship that the great powers of our society offer to us under the name of “participation.” The question now is how to act under the new regime in ways that affirm individual agency and transcend the symbolic forms of participation that allow the system to maintain the veneer of democracy.
Put differently, we must re-envision what “participation” in political life means.
For too long and too many, the mere act of casting a vote every two years was extolled as the highest exercise of citizenship. We now know that will not be enough to reclaim America from those who would “fundamentally transform” it. In all likelihood, some of the forms of authentic participation available within the new order will feel quite unnatural for conservatives. But we need to learn them, and quickly. If we can’t or won’t use whatever means are available for us to reclaim what we have lost, then we will know that we never really valued those things anyway. In another narrative twist, amid so many distortions and lies, we find ourselves at a moment of truth. What now?