The greatest pantomime on earth, also known as the US Presidential election, is getting into full swing as the race for the Democrat and Republican nominations nears its end. This election will mark a significant change in the way the fight for the White House usually pans out.
As cognitive dissonance is a requirement to be a mainstream pundit, you will not hear much about this changed landscape amongst their diatribes. A few writers outside the mainstream consensus have been covering the underlying change, one which goes to the core of the relationship between the media and elections. Understand this, and you will be far ahead of the rest.
Naval Ravikant, the CEO and founder of AngelList, a site for startups, wrote what is probably the most important piece on how to understand the current US election. Called “American Spring”, it briefly covered the development of US politics to the present.
US political parties merged to continuously beat rival groups, until there were just two left, today known as the Democrats and Republicans. These are controlled by the country’s elites, which Ravikant refers to as “merely people that went to the right schools, grew up in the right neighbourhoods, and came from the right money and the right families. It’s not a formal conspiracy – rather an intricate and distributed system, organized by the invisible hand of the market, voting with dollars and newspaper ink, and controlling the country all the same.”
Their tool of control is the media, which is used to help them win elections. “Media literally intermediates reality and programs voters by framing the acceptable parameters of any debate. Mass media costs mass money. The elites, a plutocracy of the top few percent, bought the parties. So cheaply in fact, that they bought both.”
One problem that faces the elites is the election of the President every four years, where hundreds of millions of citizens have a vote. Ravikant asks “what are the odds that the two most qualified candidates to be president out of 300 million people are siblings? Or married?” He says that Obama’s original position was at odds with this process, before he joined the elite, as he could not work around them. That was 2008, and technological advances have created new possibilities for the 2016 election.
Technology has alleviated the two main barriers to the presidency, money and media. This is the reason why two anti-establishment candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, have altered the election cycle. The huge costs of running a campaign are now in their hands, rather than under the control of Political Action Committees (PACs) who can push agendas.
Sanders raises funds online from small donations from his supporters, which allows him to compete against the establishment’s candidate, Hilary Clinton. Trump can self-finance, and is therefore a threat to the traditional Republican financiers. The result? “A mob is pushing Bernie. Trump is pulling one behind him. YouTube killed TV and Twitter ate the news. Donald’s tweeting from his jet and Bernie’s Kickstarter went viral. Software is eating politics and the elites have lost control.
Scott Adams is the cartoonist who created the Dilbert comic strip. At the age of 58, he has re-invented himself as a political pundit. He writes about the US election on his blog. Adams does not support any of the candidates, but is fascinated by Trump.
His main interest centres on Trump’s persuasion skills. Adams is a hypnotist himself, and has been covering Trump’s actions under his “Master Persuader” series. This involves him taking what Trump says and does at a 2D level of politics and revealing its 3D impact at the persuasion level.
Anyone looking for articles on Trump which go beyond the level of ‘Trump is a bad man who says mean things’ should read him. Those who enjoy burying their head in the sand should avoid him. He is, all told, one of the few people producing insightful commentary on the election.
Last week, Adams wrote a post inspired by Ravikant’s American Spring, called “Social Media is the New Government.” In Adams’ view, the US was originally run by smart people who were elected by other smart people. (For example, think of the original debate over Federalism). Those with money then gained influence over the system. They controlled it through the media, resulting in a kind of economic fascism. Adams defines this as the rule of the 1%. As long as they get richer, minor improvements for everyone else is acceptable.
Now, Adams says that the most persuasive people have the power due to social media. Anyone talented in the arts of persuasion can spread a message and gain followers. “A trained persuader such as Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders gains popularity on social media and forces the traditional media to fall in line. That form of government looks more like populism. The majority has more control than it did under a republic or under economic fascism.”
The danger of this system is that control appears in the hands of persuaders, who by definition are manipulators. This leads to mob rule, which Ravikant pointed out. Adams believes social media can help prevent this with its all seeing eye. Taking the example of Trump rallies, he notes that cameras are everywhere, which forces the crowd and protestors to behave and avoid wide-scale violence. Nevertheless, the face of populism has come to the fore and must be explored in detail.
Where does any of this mean for people who are watching the election from across the Atlantic? A simple reminder will help. Remember that politics is just like pro-wrestling. Fight onstage for the crowd, then share a drink in the back afterwards. What are the chances that any of the candidates in an election personally know you, or even care about you? Therefore, whatever your views, seek to understand what is going on under the surface. And always remember, losing friends because you support rival candidates is one of the stupidest things you can do.
- Cian Carton, News Editor