The Rage Games of American Politics

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Maggie Astor of The New York Times devotes a item to the blatant lies that American politicians share with their constituents, not through social media, but through massive email campaigns. They escape the scrutiny of public debate about fake news because they are private communications. But they reach levels of falsehood never seen in social media.


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In his article, “Now in Your Inbox: Political Misinformation,” Astor delves into the electoral logic behind such abuses. She quotes well-known Republican pollster Frank Lutz: “The more burning anger it generates, the more people are likely to donate. And that only contributes to the perversion of our democratic process. This contributes to incivility and indecency in political behavior.

Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:

Searing Anger:

Scientifically researched emotion that effectively replaces unnecessarily time-consuming thinking about real issues and is proven to be particularly effective in raising a candidate’s funds from enthusiastic individual voters, seen as a useful complement to massive corporate cash injections usually channeled through PACs and Super PACs.

Context note

Fake news has been a featured topic in every news cycle since Donald Trump won the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Articles have mushroomed about what could be done to counter the phenomenon. But fake news has always been a staple of American political culture. Technology and the success of social media have simply amplified the effect and visibility of fake news to the point that mainstream media have sounded the alarm in the hope that they will be viewed as bastions of truth and justice. objectivity.

Astor points to the difficulty that “fact-checkers and other watchdogs” face when trying to deal with a particular form of fake news delivered through email privacy. She quotes Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, who worries that “it’s hard to know what politicians are saying directly to individual supporters in their inboxes.” . This supposes that the central problem of democracy can be reduced to the need for an authority capable of “knowing” everything that is said during an electoral campaign. He assumes that filling the environment with fact-checking watchdogs will cure all ills.

Stromer-Galley adds that political professionals, including the high-paying consultancies that handle politicians’ campaigns, “know that this kind of messaging isn’t being watched to the same extent, so they can be more carefree with what they’re saying.” Clearly, Astor and Stromer-Galley believe that effective and presumably pervasive surveillance will be the answer. Some might call this the temptation to set up the equivalent of an election inquisition. Just like President Joe Biden sees policing as the answer to rampant corruption, the Times sees police state measures as the answer to political lies.

Astor identifies two sides of the problem: “the private nature of the media” and the fact that “its targets are predisposed to believe it”. But these are only the superficial effects of something that goes beyond politics and exists at the heart of American culture. It has two components: the belief in free enterprise and the reality of consumerist individualism. Exaggerating the merits of a product or service and creating an emotional connection with it defines the basis of all economic activity. Does it involve lying? Sure. The key is to find a believable line between exaggeration (good) and lies (bad).

The acceptance of consumerist individualism as the model that determines how an entire society interacts turns out to be the most serious culprit. Politicians in the United States are entrepreneurs who sell a product to consumers who want to have positive feelings about their purchase. The product is the future work of politicians, largely unchecked, in government, which will be conducted primarily in consultation with donors and lobbyists. All political professionals understand this. And they know what it takes to make it work. Telling the truth will never be the most important consideration in their minds.

Political discourse has long ceased to be what many idealists would like it to be: that of issues. American culture is simply not designed to encourage a rational presentation of ideas, plans, and projects that serve to improve the environment and the lives of its citizens. Like everything else in American culture, politics is about buying and selling, not debating and governing. And buying and selling is optimizing the flow of money, not for society as a whole, but for those who can secure control of money and the resources that produce it.

Anger itself is a product, and one that consumers are looking for.

Historical Note

The art of spreading disinformation is not a modern phenomenon. Some people imagine that it could not have existed before the advent of social media. In fact, it has been around as long as modern electoral democracy itself. Ancient Athenian democracy was straightforward. Every (male) citizen was called upon to participate at some point in government.

Modern electoral democracy was built on a very different founding principle: the idea that a small number of people with the ambition to exercise political power must convince as many people as possible who do not seek political power to vote for them.

Astor’s findings confirm what has long been the fundamental reality that guides the behavior of every citizen in the United States. The First Amendment allows everyone to engage in persuasion rather than reflection. The competitive system encourages them to do what is necessary to sell their wares. No amount of monitoring or fact-checking will change this basic fact.

Maggie Astor’s article, consistent with the ideology of The New York Times, seeks to achieve two goals. The first is to reinforce the idea that rationality and facts, characteristic of the style of The Times, are the ideal to which everyone should aspire in a democracy. They develop this message even while refusing to analyze the systemic reasons why it will never become the basis of real politics. The second is to confuse Republicans and make Democrats look more honest.

It’s true that Republicans have traditionally been good at cultivating the art of using emotion – and especially anger – to achieve electoral success. They have consistently deployed more talent and fewer scruples than the Democrats to get the job done. It may even be the main reason why voters see Republicans as better able to manage the economy. A vibrant capitalist economy thrives on the ability of smart, ambitious people to laugh in the eyes of consumers. Within these strands of wool are the emotions associated with anger and hatred.

Even Richard Nixon (“Tricky Dick”), champion of dishonesty before being dethroned by Donald Trump, could not do it alone. He needed the help of a real political professional, Murray Chotiner, who declared simply: “The purpose of an election is not to defeat your opponent, but to destroy him.” During the 1950 Senate race against Democrat and former Hollywood actress Helen Gahagan Douglas, Nixon pulled out a series of dirty tricks that included insinuations of anti-Semitism (Douglas’ husband was Jewish) but also more specific acts like calling people in the middle of the night and announcing to the groggy voter, “It’s the Communist Party. We urge you to vote for Helen Gahagan Douglas on election day. Douglas said his worst memory of that campaign “was when kids were picking up rocks and throwing them at my car, at me.”

Nixon, the future senator, vice president and president, laid down ground rules that many Republicans and quite a few Democrats have remembered. Whatever the tactics — whether dirty and outright misleading or sophisticated and imbued with an undertone of insinuation — they are aimed at unleashing the strong emotion that drives voters to the polls.

Today, this emotion overflows on social networks. After decades of anti-democratic practices, the visibility of hate and lies on social media has finally made people aware of what has been there all along. But instead of tackling the real problem – the toxic culture of election logic most often funded by invisible business interests – brave politicians and legacy media are attacking social media itself and the citizens they care about. provoked anger. They want more surveillance, control and fact-checking. As so often when things get dysfunctional, whether in economics or politics, media doctors focus on the symptoms rather than the disease.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.

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