By ZACH NOBLE
In 1776, the printing press enabled Americans to buy and read tens of thousands of copies of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, the equivalent of roughly 10 million copies today.
In 2016, the internet enables Americans to instantly read the ad hominem ejaculations of Donald Trump, whose Twitter account has 10.5 million followers.
What a waste.
It's such a stark demonstration of how stupid or lazy we Americans have gotten, and how we're squandering the internet, the greatest technological achievement in hundreds of years.
Prognosticators of the recent past thought we'd do better than this.
In his 2007 book A More Perfect Constitution, University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato hoped that America would shed its ruling elite and become more little-d democratic -- something many Trump fans say they're out to do.
"Enlightened populism, by energizing the citizenry, can overcome inertia that has lasted for generations," Sabato wrote.
Nine years ago, Sabato also had high hopes for the web.
"The Internet provides the welcome mechanism for widespread citizen participation, both to stimulate creative discussions about constitutional change and then to help organize mock constitutional conventions throughout the country, which can eventually lead to the real thing," he imagined.
Orson Scott Card was similarly optimistic in 1985's Ender's Game.
While the titular character fights space bugs, his siblings on Earth post serious political essays, under the pretentious pseudonyms "Locke" and "Demosthenes," on a proto-internet. (Card says he didn't predict the internet with his book; he just predicted it would be used for politics.) They eventually help create a whole new government of the strength of their ideas, which the people of Earth consider carefully.
The real life story of politics and the internet is nothing so cerebral or cheery.
Trump has used Twitter to lob puerile insults at political opponents, which average citizens have bizarrely interpreted as him "telling it like it is." Elderly Republicans trade typo-riddled conspiracy theories via AOL accounts. We all retreat into partisan bubbles on Facebook.
It's a sad failure of technology and ideas in the city on a hill.
Two hundred and forty years ago, a highly literate and politically engaged American population leveraged the printing press to cast off foreign oppression and forge a free nation.
“Without the pen of the author of ‘Common Sense,’ the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain,” John Adams once wrote.
Today, many disaffected voices call for change.
But the American people are busy reading insult porn.
Zach Noble is a former journalist and current law student. He's been wrestling to reconcile his bleeding heart Catholicism with his pragmatic libertarianism since that freshman year love affair with Ayn Rand. He tweets erratically as @thezachnoble.