If 2016 was the first American election where Twitter became a news leader, what technology will define 2020? Here’s a nomination for twitch.tv, originally a platform where people could watch others play video games but is now morphing into more, an expert recently told me.

Like Chance the Gardener, played by Peter Sellers in "Being There," we Americans “like to watch.” Consider this: a road accident leads to rubber necking and a mile of traffic behind it. Or just ask the recently resigned president of Liberty University, Jerry Fallwell Jr.

What televised sports were for the 20th century, voyeuristic pursuits like watching a gaming celebrity “twitch” their way through an epic match with another leader board climber apparently are for the 21st. The now Amazon-owned (like everything else) platform hosts millions of primarily younger users.

Of course twitch.tv is not political, but think figuratively for a moment. In a first-person shooter game, the player needs have no knowledge of firearms, ballistics or actual combat skills to become good at the game. Now, that virtual first-person shooter gains a fan base that follows gamers all over twitch.tv. What I first learned is that an involuntary reflex is now a prized asset for a gamer who’s good on Twitch.

In the latest Black Ops version of Call of Duty, a popular first-person shooter game, Ronald Reagan appears, invoking players to fight like patriots. The National Review swooned, but The Verge called it incitement to war crimes.

Today, our politics are all about twitch. Donald Trump is a virtuoso of the twitch, just watch him give a speech. His shoulders are also akimbo to the podium, whereas in rhetoric we are taught to have them square.

A good twitcher anticipates the side-shot because he makes a lot of them. Those who suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome still twitch whenever the president is referenced, speaks or tweets. The what-about-isms he’s fond of highlighting can cause his supporters to righteously twitch back.

Political communications are now designed to make us twitch. The fundraising emails I receive from Republicans play to my sense of conscientiousness (yes, I know, that’s a separate story), while Democrats try to recruit me into their latest anxiety. Because I know these tricks, I can stop myself before I twitch and quickly delete them. Often, though, we twitch before we think.

But our political reality is worse than twitch.tv because the first person shooter sequences are becoming real, first in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and more recently in Portland, Oregon. Explicitly or implicitly, the political class is cheering, even egging them on, less politely than the audiences on the gaming platform.

In all other contexts, we’re the audience and it’s the polls on the screen. The other day, I got a pop-up ad of Trump and Biden in karate garb, with Trump in mid-flying kick toward Biden to the caption: “Knock him out for good.”

As the presidential race tightens, expect the rhetoric to get even more contentious still. The side that believes “Donald Trump is the bodyguard of Western Civilization” can see itself either in heroic terms or simply as themselves defenders of rights and freedoms under siege.

At the same time, the side that sees Trump as an “aberration” to our nation’s history seeks his removal by any means necessary. These sides are not talking past one another; rather, they are fueling each another.

Four years ago, I was in a central African nation advising one side during a tense stand-off. The leader of the youth wing of the party noticed I was frustrated — I was largely confined to my hotel — and arranged for me to join him and a few of his pals as they traveled the countryside giving speeches.

I soon realized we were in enemy territory, and my hosts were being deliberately provocative. At our fifth stop of the day, a crowd surrounded our car with ill intent. Stupidly, I let go of the door handle to try and take a photo, opening up a whole new level of trouble. The driver snapped to and got us out, but the whole thing was dumb and could have quickly gone the other way.

Now, as the audience, we might reassess how we respond to twitching by politicians who, on either side, want us to be outraged and offended, reviled and redeemed. Will it matter that we know they just want us to twitch, or are we just so ready to get into the game that we oblige them?

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.