Political discourse, 2020

I see why you’re a Sanders supporter I said to the Sanders supporter. You don’t have to insult me, she said. I said it wasn’t meant as an insult. I meant that based on your stated positions, I see why you support Bernie Sanders. Well it sure sounded like an insult, she said.


The George Bush chimp meme set off the meme wars, if only because he was president when Facebook took off in a big way. As soon as Obama was elected the Right–especially the Tea Party–went nuts with their own vicious memes. And now with Trump we return the favor. And it’ll keep happening because each side holds the other side to rules that they themselves do not abide by. Which is nothing new, the pamphlets and newspapers in the 18th and 19th century were incredibly offensive and insulting and just as low brow as anything you see on your iPhone today. And both sides back then raged the same way we are all raging now, mortally offended by what the other side posts and finding all sorts of excuses for posting their own. Calls for censorship abounded, like they abound now, though the First Amendment prevented that for the most part. Now, though, with Facebook and Twitter essentially privatizing communication in ways that Ronald Reagan never imagined, wholesale censorship is possible in social media because the internet is somehow not considered to exist in the same heady constitutional air as the airwaves. Funny seeing the conservative stance on the internet suddenly condemned by outraged conservatives bewildered by the First Amendment. And funny too watching progressives defend social media as privately owned and free from those First Amendment restrictions. Meanwhile memes are fading, replaced by furious bursts of words. Not particularly intelligent words, necessarily, but words nonetheless. We’re getting oddly literate in the Age of Trump, even as Trump himself can barely tweet a coherent sentence.

The undumpable Trump

Why Can’t Republicans Distance Themselves From Donald Trump? Jamelle Bouie asks in his latest Slate piece. They’re Afraid, he says. Afraid of power, afraid for their careers, afraid of Donald. Which is all true. It’s a fascinating piece (as are all his articles), but I think he missed a key point about what makes them afraid. It’s Facebook. I think that something the media regularly misses (because they spend most of their time on social media with other pundits) but politicians do not miss (because they read social media from their constituents every day) is the power of Facebook to drive politics. Defying Trump can be disastrous for a Republican politician, because it could set off a tsunami–even a series of tsunamis–of incredibly angry, out of control, and crazily inaccurate Facebook posts that can severely damage a politician. When you have a tidal wave of furious Trump supporters calling Paul Ryan a RINO–he the lifelong Republican and they mostly recent converts–you can see just how dangerous a thing Facebook can be if you are on its wrong side.

The Tea Party was dangerous for Republicans, too, but it was an email phenomenon, and as such a Republican could confront it because Tea Partier’s frenzied emails would be seen by relatively few. Hundreds at most. But taking on Trump’s followers can expose you to literally hundreds of thousands of virally angry people, and there is as yet no way to safely contain that. This is anger several orders of magnitude beyond that of the Tea Party. An anger that actually crushed the Tea Party candidate, Donald Cruz. And while the media understands that the media itself has been instrumental in making Donald Trump the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, it doesn’t quite understand that it was not just the media,  not all that free television they gave him, but that television in conjunction with Facebook. The impact of an analog appearance on television would expand exponentially in the digital universe that is Facebook. Trump would be everywhere on Facebook, pro and against. He seemed to dominate it. Even progressives were overwhelmed by Trump related posts. While all his opponents were spending big money in traditional campaigns, Trump sucked up all the Republican oxygen on Facebook. Each opponent smothered and died. Trump became not only the presumptive nominee, but became the Republican Party as far as Facebook was concerned.

Now, Facebook also went a long way to propelling Bernie Sanders too, but unlike the ethnically homogenous Republicans, Hillary had a firewall of Black and Hispanic voters who were not in the same Facebook universe as all those angry white progressives. Facebook dominance only works if everyone is Facebook friends with each other. But Facebook connections between blacks and whites are few, and between whites and Hispanics are few. The tsunami of pro-Bernie posts (and they were overwhelming) stopped at that racial/ethnic line. Bernie people never seemed to notice this and the Bernie Sanders phenomenon wound up a white people thing, as you could see from the faces at his rallies. As the campaign went on Bernie began picking up support across color lines from under thirty voters, but this was past the time of that first critical explosion of Berniemania. Hillary’s firewalls had held fast just about everywhere and Bernie’s campaign was on the mathematical ropes after the Southern primaries. The battle lines hardened and Bernie’s revolution never really expanded beyond his base of white progressives. It was that demographic topography of Democratic and Democratic leaning independent voters that limited Bernie Sanders’ success to mostly small states (he won eleven of the states with under thirty delegates, and two of the thirteen with over one hundred delegates), and failed at all to shake the confidence of the Democratic establishment. Only one Senator endorsed Bernie. A handful of congressmen. A few unions. He barely made a dent in the establishment at all. Voters over fifty had little use for him. Hispanics rejected him by two or even three to one. Blacks by four to one. Bernie’s Facebook world was a swirl with passionate intensity, a passion that had not been seen in American politics in generations, but it was mainly among white people under age forty who never noticed that so few outside that demographic were sharing their posts.

But among Republicans and Republican leaning independents on Facebook, there were no barriers to Trump at all. Compared to Democrats, Republicans are an endless flat plain of ideologically very similar people, differing in little but their accents, and you don’t hear accents on Facebook. The Donald’s presence just kept growing and growing, flowing like water in all directions, and it seems now to have no limits within Republican voters. There are no firewalls stopping him. There are certainly no ethnic divisions. Everybody can share everybody’s posts. And as a result, Republican politicians are much more at the mercy of outraged people on Facebook. They can’t hide, like Hillary, in all the places where white Millennials do not digitally congregate, because Trump supporters are anywhere and everywhere. And I think to a large degree this explains the fearful reticence of Republican politicians to cross Donald Trump. Even John McCain doesn’t want to cross Donald Trump. Trump could level him with one tweet, a tweet pasted onto Facebook and posted from one end of the party of Abraham Lincoln to the other. And McCain’s own Arizona Republican constituents love Donald Trump. He has to tread very carefully now. That RINO POW McCain and the Mexican judge both gotta go, someone might post, and the likes would pop up like dandelions after a spring rain.

But has Trump gone too far quintupling down on that judge? Could Trump be dumped? The media seems to think so. You can see the reporters and analysts and the scary bald GOP strategists and the lovely Nicole Wallace convincing each other of this on panel shows. You cannot be a racist presidential nominee howls an outraged Joe Scarborough. But I suspect it is far too late to dump Trump. I think that the press sees more change in Republicans than is real. I think they take the hopeful and logical and thoroughly unracist opinions of some valiant Republican politicians far too seriously. Because a poll today showed that a majority of Republicans do not think that Trump has been racist going after that judge. And it is that majority of Republicans, across that immense flat and seamless plain of Republicanism, and not the press corps and their favorite talking heads, who will be going nuts on Facebook every time faint of heart Republicans try to dump or even distance themselves from The Donald. Facebook dominates the GOP rank and file right now, and any politician who knows how to dominate both the media and Facebook will rule the Republican Party for the foreseeable future. Republican politicians are right to be afraid of crossing Donald Trump. He has too many Facebook friends.

Two huge universes full of people who would like to punch each other in the face

(February, 2016)

Since everyone so long ago unfriended everyone whose politics differs from their own, right now you have millions of passionate Trump devotees–the kind who would not object, he says, if he shot someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue–and millions of passionate supporters of Bernie Sanders, and yet each could scarcely name a handful of people they know personally, I bet, who are supporters of each others candidate. Maybe in real life they could, guys at work, or family members they never agreed with anyway, but on Facebook they see none of each other’s posts, memes, blog articles, and puff pieces. Two huge universes full of people who would like to punch each other in the face if they ever met on Facebook, but they don’t. Instead both are surrounded overwhelmingly by people who feel exactly like they do, who all like the same memes, agree with the same bloggers, believe the same conspiracies. And each side, the Trump people and the Bernie people, is convinced that most people in America, the good people of America, think like they do, and support their candidate. Each sees itself in a revolution, an overwhelming tide of history that will sweep their enemies before them. And each sees a vast media conspiracy to deride their candidate and spread lies because the media is in the hands of the establishment. Continue reading

Trump hating

The very same people who are demanding that the media quit running stories about Donald Trump are the same people who can’t seem to stop reading and sharing and commenting on all those stories about Donald Trump. The audience for Donald Trump stories consists of two basic demographics….the conservatives who really, really like Donald Trump and the progressives who really, really hate him. As there are more Americans who can’t stand Trump (including me, actually) than there are those who like him, it’s the Trump haters who are driving most of the media frenzy. After all, Trump lovers are mostly following him on FoxNews. Trump haters are following him across a wide spectrum of news media. If those Trump haters would stop obsessively following his campaign, stop commenting in such vast numbers on the stories, and stop the incessant sharing and posting of everything Trump on Facebook and Twitter…then the  monetary value of Trump news would plummet…less ad revenue, less page hits, less fundraising value on public radio and television. Right now, though, you have to be nuts to not cover Trump as much as possible, especially since Trump haters are by far the most high value advertising demographic. Trump lovers, on the other hand, are a relatively low value advertising demographic, if only because they make so much less money than Trump haters. It’s  Trump haters that are driving this media explosion because every time television news, public radio, newspapers, news weeklies, blogs or news sites run a Donald Trump story it draws the very audience that pays the bills…Trump haters. Only FoxNews is the exception to this. Which means the only way to end the Trump media frenzy is if the very people who demand the media stop running Trump stories stop watching or reading those stories. But they can’t, because they are as addicted to Donald Trump as they were to Mad Men. And it’s hard to tell right now where the political news ends and entertainment begins, and how many people now can tell the difference.