It’s like all this video, audio, text and what they seem to depict is combining to form a giant Bruegel painting of the riot — “The End Of The Trump Era” — a unified story of chaos, with a thousand smaller, distinct narratives inside. The same scenes play out in the videos, in the kind of short, contained style everyone knows from Instagram: People break windows, climb through windows, climb up scaffolding, shout each other down, tell their own phones what they saw up close, take those wordless “I’m here” shots of huge crowds, thank police officers, shove police officers, scream at police officers.
It could not have happened like this 10 years ago. It literally couldn’t have — from the horrifying phone video of the mob beating a police officer with American flags on the Capitol steps, to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s late-night broadcast direct over Instagram a few nights later describing her own near-death experience, to Twitter banning the president of the United States. The political violence part is ancient, and American too, but the reverse-engineered tableau — that’s something intrinsic to the time we live in.
A year and a half ago, I wrote about the merging of real life with internet life, and the way algorithmic time has shifted reality. I think it’s overwhelming but value neutral: The phone can deliver great things — it’s not exclusively wrath, grief, and abuse. But in the 2010s, we underwent that change: Phones became the central engine of modern life, from the personal to the political; time seemed to oscillate between an ever-expanding present and, particularly in politics and business, a vague future where scale would triumph, and the indignities of the present would pay off. Now that shift — and other, older institutions — all just look like they were a giant pinball machine built for Trump, who will make a false claim about a religion then lie that he’s still right or that he’d never said the original statement if presented with evidence to the contrary.