Tuesday, March 07, 2017

With So Many Low-Info American Voters, Did Trump Even Need Putin's Help To Win?


In his column yesterday, Paul Krugman wrote that not only is Trump "the least qualified individual, temperamentally or intellectually, ever installed in the White House," but that "the broader Republican quagmire-- the party’s failure so far to make significant progress toward any of its policy promises-- isn’t just about Mr. Trump’s inadequacies. The whole party, it turns out, has been faking it for years. Its leaders’ rhetoric was empty; they have no idea how to turn their slogans into actual legislation, because they’ve never bothered to understand how anything important works."
At this point, then, major Republican initiatives are bogged down for reasons that have nothing to do with the personality flaws of the tweeter in chief, and everything to do with the broader, more fundamental fecklessness of his party...[W]hat we’re witnessing is what happens when a party that gave up hard thinking in favor of empty sloganeering ends up in charge of actual policy. And it’s not a pretty sight.
And, alas, this says quite a lot-- unmentioned by Krugman-- about half our countrymen, the ones who routinely support Republicans, like, for example, the 62,985,106 (45.9%) who voted for Trump in November. And cry all you want about gerrymandered districts, 63,173,815 Americans (49.1%) voted for congressional Republicans while only 61,776,554 (48.0%) voted for congressional Democrats. What's wrong with them? My theory has always been-- going back to my childhood in Brooklyn, where we had virtually no Republicans in my neighborhood-- that they had low IQs.

Tangent alert: Although Brooklyn went for Clinton 595,086 (79.25%) to 133,653 (17.8%), the neighborhoods I grew up in and near where i grew up in-- which are filled with Russian Jewish immigrants now-- went for Trump:
Ocean Parkway South- Trump- 71.15%
West Brighton- Trump- 68.77%
Homecrest- Trump- 66.56%
Midwood- Trump- 60.62%
Brighton Beach- Trump- 59.35%
Lindenwood-Howard Beach- Trump- 58.99%
Madison- Trump- 56.35%
Sheepshead Bay- Trump- 50.53%
[I threw Howard Beach into the mix for DWT contributor Helen, who grew up there and who may be as shocked as I am to see what happened to the old neighborhood.]

Last May, writing for New York, Andrew Sullivan noted in a piece entitled Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic-- And Right Now America Is A Breeding Ground For Tyranny, that "Those who believe that Trump’s ugly, thuggish populism has no chance of ever making it to the White House seem to me to be missing this dynamic. Neo-fascist movements do not advance gradually by persuasion; they first transform the terms of the debate, create a new movement based on untrammeled emotion, take over existing institutions, and then ruthlessly exploit events."

Those who believed that Trump’s ugly, thuggish populism had no chance of ever making it to the White House--myself included-- did indeed miss a dynamic. This week many people are discussing a Columbia Journalism Review study that came out Friday about how the right-wing media ecosystem altered a broader media agenda. It's an explanation of how Trump won that is "less exotic" than Russian hacking, fake news, and Mercer-bankrolled psychological manipulation by Cambridge Analytica-- although it negates none of those symbiotic explanations. The study-- over 1.25 million stories published online between April 1, 2015 and Election Day-- "shows that a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world. This pro-Trump media sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for the conservative media sphere, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, in particular coverage of Hillary Clinton."
Pro-Clinton audiences were highly attentive to traditional media outlets, which continued to be the most prominent outlets across the public sphere, alongside more left-oriented online sites. But pro-Trump audiences paid the majority of their attention to polarized outlets that have developed recently, many of them only since the 2008 election season.

Attacks on the integrity and professionalism of opposing media were also a central theme of right-wing media. Rather than “fake news” in the sense of wholly fabricated falsities, many of the most-shared stories can more accurately be understood as disinformation: the purposeful construction of true or partly true bits of information into a message that is, at its core, misleading. Over the course of the election, this turned the right-wing media system into an internally coherent, relatively insulated knowledge community, reinforcing the shared worldview of readers and shielding them from journalism that challenged it. The prevalence of such material has created an environment in which the President can tell supporters about events in Sweden that never happened, or a presidential advisor can reference a non-existent “Bowling Green massacre.”

...Breitbart became the center of a distinct right-wing media ecosystem, surrounded by Fox News, the Daily Caller, the Gateway Pundit, the Washington Examiner, Infowars, Conservative Treehouse, and Truthfeed.

...What we find in our data is a network of mutually-reinforcing hyper-partisan sites that revive what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics,” combining decontextualized truths, repeated falsehoods, and leaps of logic to create a fundamentally misleading view of the world. “Fake news,” which implies made of whole cloth by politically disinterested parties out to make a buck of Facebook advertising dollars, rather than propaganda and disinformation, is not an adequate term. By repetition, variation, and circulation through many associated sites, the network of sites make their claims familiar to readers, and this fluency with the core narrative gives credence to the incredible.

...Use of disinformation by partisan media sources is neither new nor limited to the right wing, but the insulation of the partisan right-wing media from traditional journalistic media sources, and the vehemence of its attacks on journalism in common cause with a similarly outspoken president, is new and distinctive.

Rebuilding a basis on which Americans can form a shared belief about what is going on is a precondition of democracy, and the most important task confronting the press going forward. Our data strongly suggest that most Americans, including those who access news through social networks, continue to pay attention to traditional media, following professional journalistic practices, and cross-reference what they read on partisan sites with what they read on mass media sites.

To accomplish this, traditional media needs to reorient, not by developing better viral content and clickbait to compete in the social media environment, but by recognizing that it is operating in a propaganda and disinformation-rich environment. This, not Macedonian teenagers or Facebook, is the real challenge of the coming years. Rising to this challenge could usher in a new golden age for the Fourth Estate.
Where do low IQs fit in here? The study implies that disinformation proliferates on the right because that is exactly what morons-- challenged by the daunting prospect of critical thinking and abstract thought-- are looking for. Going back to Mercer-- the psychotic Long Island billionaire behind Trump, Cambridge Analytica, Breitbart, Media Research Center (and CNSnews)-- there was a project of manipulation that didn't necessarily count on Putin. Normal people-- say someone who gets their news from Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Lawrence O'Donnell-- will instinctively tend to test partisan information against more objective sources. Breitbart readers, Hate Talk Radio listeners and Fox News viewers don’t-- not ever.

In her New Yorker piece a week or two ago, Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds, Elizabeth Kolbert looked at how "new discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason."
Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.

Consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. Of the many forms of faulty thinking that have been identified, confirmation bias is among the best catalogued; it’s the subject of entire textbooks’ worth of experiments... If reason is designed to generate sound judgments, then it’s hard to conceive of a more serious design flaw than confirmation bias. Imagine, Mercier and Sperber suggest, a mouse that thinks the way we do. Such a mouse, “bent on confirming its belief that there are no cats around,” would soon be dinner. To the extent that confirmation bias leads people to dismiss evidence of new or underappreciated threats-- the human equivalent of the cat around the corner-- it’s a trait that should have been selected against. The fact that both we and it survive, Mercier and Sperber argue, proves that it must have some adaptive function, and that function, they maintain, is related to our “hypersociability.”

Mercier and Sperber prefer the term “myside bias.” Humans, they point out, aren’t randomly credulous. Presented with someone else’s argument, we’re quite adept at spotting the weaknesses. Almost invariably, the positions we’re blind about are our own.

...Where it gets us into trouble, according to Sloman and Fernbach, is in the political domain. It’s one thing for me to flush a toilet without knowing how it operates, and another for me to favor (or oppose) an immigration ban without knowing what I’m talking about. Sloman and Fernbach cite a survey conducted in 2014, not long after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Respondents were asked how they thought the U.S. should react, and also whether they could identify Ukraine on a map. The farther off base they were about the geography, the more likely they were to favor military intervention. (Respondents were so unsure of Ukraine’s location that the median guess was wrong by eighteen hundred miles, roughly the distance from Kiev to Madrid.)

Surveys on many other issues have yielded similarly dismaying results. “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration.

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At 7:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The answer to the titular question is... probably... Given the nearly 4 million vote surplus on the D side. And given the certainty that a few bubble states were going to go either way, all "help" mattered. Including the anecdotal and circumstantial evidence of vote-count fraud of some sort that NOBODY outside of some geek sources is talking about.

But der fuhrer and all the hate-value voters on the right should drop to their knees and thank their hate-gawd that the DNC was so hapless as to commit fraud in order to foist the uber-corrupt neolib neocon irrational-Russophobe warmongering shit-for-brains $hillbillary instead of Bernie.

There quite simply are not enough hate-value and limbic-stupid voters on the right to elect the orange Hindenburg. They needed the self-suppression of the DNC picking the worst democrap candidate in history, which made the election boil down to 4 or 5 swing states' electors. With the help of the FBI and Russian hacking and Wikileaks... they got it done. Honorable mention goes to the media's billions in free airtime also.

But thank you for validating what I've seen happening for 40 years now. Americans are, quite simply, dumbfucktards. Dumbfucktardier than anywhere else I've traveled... Canada, France, Netherlands, Italy, Bahamas... even dumbfucktardier than Mexico and Belize.

Everywhere else I've gone, people will consider a question before answering. In America, it's reflexive; conditioned by hate media, hate churches and 40 years of dog whistle/hate politics and rule by corrupt fascist simpletons. Compassion and Empathy are on display everywhere ELSE I've been... but rarely in the us... unless it's whites being compassionate to other whites (who are not poor, sick, elderly or children, all of whom get no compassion from anyone). The worst places for thinking and compassion I've seen are TX, KS and every single rural town you can name (nb: I've not spent enough time in other southern states to form an opinion).

At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Krugman can be so painfully dense or monumentally negligent in his "journalism." The GOP knows enough about how government works to accomplish their goals. Any form of what is commonly referred to as "governance," much less responsible governance on which 330 million people rely and depend, simply has never been considered among the goals of any office-holder, from dog catcher to the top, with an "R" after his/her name.

They DO know government collects and disperses large piles of money. Their sole intent is to direct as much of that money as possible into their bank accounts and those of their supporters. Of course, the Dems have implemented the very same "theory of governing" ... instead of revealing the GOP theory to the voters (then credibly rejecting it) and thereby taking total control of government well into the future.

On the foreign policy side, if the controlling parties were to be characterized as the Mercier and Sperber mouse, our politicians would have to be considered mice that think
a) anything that moves is a cat and b) cats can only be dealt with by war.

Interesting "votes for congress by party" figures. Could it be that voters decided that HRC, if elected, really could not be judged on her boast that she "would get along with the GOP"*** unless they provided her with a GOP-controlled congress?

*** Among her bold, vote-grabbing memes as: "$12/hr, basta!," "deplorables," "effin' frack forever" and "I bring indubitably different anatomy," does anyone remember her asking the voters to send her to the WH with Dem majorities in both houses? I'd suggest her McCarthyite, anti-Russia howling gained her more votes, by far, than Putin could have ever dreamedt to steal from her .... assuming of course that the CIA's major buyer of Afghan opium is Vlad-the-devil, himself.

John Puma

At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Hone said...

Howard Beach has always been a somewhat racist place, Howie, so no surprise that many went for Trump. It was Irish, Italians (including mafiosi such as Gotti) and Jews. A lily white place. Henry influenced many of the teenagers, though, against the Vietnam war.

Hillary would have been eons better than Trump, with all of her faults. Surely the state department would be functioning. Now it is being gutted, with no work going on. No more diplomacy, Trump does not believe in it. Just threats and bullying. We will bring the whole world down with us.

What a mess we are in. Is there any way forward out of this disaster?

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hone, no, there is no way forward.

The political "parties" are long gone. We're seeing the true nature of republicans from the voters up through the congress and WH and neo-Nazi staff of der fuhrer. This is who they truly are... and have been for a century.

The Democraps have been a relatively recent loss. In the very early '80s, in response to the Reagan landslide, they took it upon themselves to sell their souls and everything else to the same money that created the Reagan puppet. They've been nothing if not devoutly true to their new ownership, even as they continue with the façade of pretense of still being the party of FDR.

Fortunately for both so-called "parties", the electorate are 125 million of the dumbest fucking shitheads ever to collect within one border and 120 million who never participate either because there is nothing positive to participate for or because they recognize the futility of participating in the election charade any longer... or both.

No way forward. We're all along for the ride the 125 million dumbfucktards are dragging us on.

At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Dem's new leadersip just voted to keep corporate funding; rather then reject it. They still have undemocratic super Delegates. The first problem of an addict is to recognize they have a problem. D'Nile ain't a river in Egypt, it's this confused corporate junkie that may have once been a respectable party.

At 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:22, what, you expected THEM to self-immolate for the good of the nation? You high?

And THIS is what Blue America and almost all the rest seem to think we can resist with?

Hone asked if there was a way forward... clearly not with these asshats.

The best we can get from these corruptards is to tread water for a cycle and then let the Rs win again and off we go again.

With this utter and enthusiastic corruption, there *IS* *NO* *WAY* *FORWARD*.


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