Imagine for a second that everything wild that’s happened in politics over the past several years — all the madness from Trump to Brexit and even Rob Ford — could be broken down into three points: pushpins, if you like, punched into a corkboard in a triangle pattern. Those pins have always existed in politics — call them the message, the messenger and the audience. That much hasn’t changed. What’s warped somehow is the relationship between them.
There was a time, not long ago, when there were bounds in politics. The pushpins were connected by string. You could trace the path from messenger down to message across to audience and back up again. The pins existed, in other words, in defined relation to each other. If you pulled any one too far from the others the whole thing would break.
What that meant in a practical sense was that, to succeed, politicians had to sell things that seemed, at least on some level, authentic to who they were. They couldn’t pull the message too far from the messenger and still reach an audience. The two had to seem connected for people to buy in.
Politics doesn’t seem to work that way anymore. Today, that string has become an elastic band. The ties are still there, but they are stretching. The pins are all over the board, and the old ideas of who can sell what to whom are slipping away.