Monday, October 24, 2016

A Watched Pot

I'm curious about this: "[Trump]’s given up trying to expand his appeal to women, minorities and college-educated Republicans. Instead he’ll tear into Mrs. Clinton in an attempt to demoralize her voters and motivate his." Does that really work? Will Trump's attacks "demoralize her voters," or will it just get their backs up? Is this a damned pro-wrestling match? (Well ... yes, I knew that.) Is that how voting works? (Well, yes, I guess I knew that too.) How damn hard is it, one you've chosen your candidate, to go to your polling place, sign in, get your ballot and cast your vote? How much morale does that take? 

It seems to me that if anything is "demoralizing," it's the endless media coverage that treats the campaign as a horse race, and of course the hysterical babbling of the partisans, which we can now hear / see every day on Facebook and other social media. If I find anything demoralizing (but don't worry, I've already voted -- absentee), it has been the vicious, almost demented squabbling of the Democrats I know. I already knew that Republicans are vicious and demented, and to be honest, I knew from past elections how bad the Dems were. But it's even worse this year, truly.

Here's another example of what I'm talking about. The SF writer and blogger and Twitterer John Scalzi wrote today that this election cycle has hurt his productivity because he spends so much time reading election coverage, including and the polls. Many of his readers agree: it's the polls. I can't think of anything less useful than following the polls. It's like thinking that the stock market is a sign of economic health and watching the Dow Jones when you're not even an investor.

For example, this commenter:
It’s so distressing that Trump has even been considered a serious candidate that I’m constantly checking my Google Now feed to see if he’s made any new stupid or damning statements, and when he does, I check in hopes of seeing his estimated chances of winning dwindle some more.
Or the guy who wrote that he doesn't "have time to read all the comments because I’m too busy jumping back and forth to 538, HuffPost Pollster, TPM Polltracker, and RCP." All this seems to me like picking endlessly at a scab to see if it has healed yet.

One person commented as follows: "... it was because the opposition to my personal ideals was making me physically ill." I think I know what she's talking about, but knowing that there is opposition to your personal ideals is the price you pay for living in a more or less free and pluralistic society. I think a lot of Trump fans could say the same thing, though: even knowing that there are people who don't share their beliefs makes them ill. I sympathize with both sides, but in this case they are the problem, not the people who oppose their personal ideals.

Similarly, a commenter wrote "I gather that Muslim is a very uncomfortable thing to be, just now" -- as if the past 35 years hadn't happened. Yeah, Trump's campaign has probably made things worse, but Muslims (and people mistaken for Muslims) have been under attack in this country at least since the fall of the Shah in 1979.

Personally, I agreed more with another commenter:
It has been a serious distraction. On the positive side, all the research I’ve done to rebut fallacies seen on social media has made me a better informed person (as if I wasn’t already) with a much more complete set of data source bookmarks and reaction gif memes.
A number of the commenters (like the one who's physically ill) have written about the fear they feel. Some are immigrants, some are trans, some are trans immigrants, some are Muslim or ethnic/racial minorities. They have good reason to be afraid, but Scalzi and most of his commenters don't fall into any of those categories. Something else must be going on.

In the early 1990s, a study of media coverage of the First Gulf War found that the more people relied on TV news, the more misinformed they were.
While most respondents had difficulty answering questions about the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, 81 percent of the sample could identify the missile used to shoot down the Iraqi Scuds as the Patriot. That media consumers know facts relating to successful U.S. weapons but not about inconsistencies in U.S. foreign policy, the researchers argued, “suggests that the public are not generally ignorant—rather, they are selectively misinformed.”
"Selectively misinformed" is ambiguous.  Since people are not merely passive receptacles of information, even from the media, I think it's fair to suspect that people selectively misinform themselves, choosing what they want to know.  Where a war is happening, the events that led up to it, even that the people on the receiving end of our bombs and missiles are people with interests of their own rather than mere obstinate obstacles to American interests, just don't interest most people.  "Facts relating to [more or less] successful American weapons" do.

You can see this not just in supposedly uneducated, emotional Trump supporters but in supposedly educated, rational Clinton supporters.  Mention Libya to a Clinton loyalist, for example, and they will immediately assume you are talking about Benghazi, not about the validity of the NATO bombing itself.  The Podesta emails are both obvious forgeries and trivial reminders that a Clinton presidency will be business as usual -- nothing to see here, folks, move along.  What is important is that, contrary to the sinister Putin-funded corporate media conspiracy to try to convince you that she's unlikable, Clinton is really cool, adorable, and progressive.  Voters are idiots who know nothing about the issue and care less, while elite Democrats care about important issues like hot and dreamy Barack is, and how "he and Michelle really adorn the White House. As a couple they are just...well...magnificent"; the gnarly old Rethuglicans are just jealous.

Recently Bodhipaksa at Fake Buddha Quotes noted that "some Buddhists are preferentially drawn to Fake Buddha Quotes. When they do blog posts based on the Buddha’s sayings, or when they quote the Buddha in an article, they’re far more likely to post fake quotes than those found in the scriptures."  I've noticed this too, and not just among Buddhists -- you'll have seen this coming of course -- but in discussions of US politics; and not just among the drooling masses but among the wise elites whose job it is to be informed.

I'm with the commenter who jeered "You guys are going to make Trump TV really popular…"  Yup, and he was addressing people who oppose Trump.  Even after the election, even after Trump has been defeated, people will still obsess.  Pick that scab.  And after it's healed despite your best efforts, keep scratching at it until you've opened it up again.