Monthly Archives: November 2016
Trump and the American Media Landscape
There is a correlation between the American media landscape and the change in public discourse, especially presidential discourse. Trump represents a different type of person to occupy the office and that is especially true of his language, digital media use, and discursive practices. As more than a few people have noted, we are in a historical period were authority is disrespected and challenged on all sides. Facts just don’t seem to matter. And when we become disconnected from facts it is possible to believe anything. So science is rejected and challenged on the basis of arguments and reasons outside the boundaries of science. Global warming, climate change, the value of vaccinations, etc. are all subjected to a set of criteria and justifications incompatible with proper scientific standards of reasoning.
Trump is a frightening extreme when it comes to ignoring facts and simply making it up or saying whatever he pleases. And the situation is even more egregious when you combine his temperament with a personality disorder. That is, he is so incapable of accepting criticism or recognizing defeat that he digs in his heels and lashes back even more aggressively. The truth be damned. When you combine this disposition with the fact that he actually knows very little and is unschooled in diplomatic, political, and intellectual conversations you have a problem. The mix can be combustible. Remember he said most of his knowledge is based on the Sunday news shows so his political knowledge is about equivalent to whatever information comes in a headline service.
The Media and the Formation of Trump’s Consciousness
What kind of mediascape does Trump live in? His vocabulary, short assertions, egocentrism, and incomplete grasp of the issues have been fashioned as a result of his emergence from a network of communication patterns and exposure to issues situated within the particular media environment. In a word, Trump talks like and processes information like those in his dominant mediascape. Let me be more precise.
Rodney Benson in a paper for Goldsmiths describes “The New American Media Landscape.” Benson essentially posits three segments of the US journalism field. The first is a vast infotainment field that is populated by well-maintained websites such as Yahoo and the Huffington Post. Local commercial television and the innovative websites Vice and Vox are included in this category. These sites produce news in an appealing fashion intended to attract audiences; they do some interesting things but are designed more to attract attention then quality information. A second segment of the mediascape is the partisan media represented by Fox (conservative) and MSNBC (liberal). The political blogosphere is also pertinent here. This is the terrain of biases and shouting matches where slavishly clinging to a political perspective, even if it’s an indefensible perspective, in order to bring down the other side is the primary motivation. And the third territory is the mainstream quality media such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Specialty magazines and academic papers are also part of the quality media landscape.
Trump is always critical of the mainstream quality media because they are issue and data based in an effort to treat issues according to their quality and allowing good solutions to emerge rather than insisting on a political perspective that is forced on everyone else. The mainstream quality media is more critical and analytical and seeks to attract an audience on that basis. Trump’s discourse and primary influences clearly match the second level partisan terrain of the media characterized by distortions and misinformation. His name calling and bombastic style are contrary to what a functioning democracy requires which is a public narrative that recognizes differences.
The image of Trump as a populist nationalist (I will reserve judgment on using the word fascist for now) is increasingly defensible as he continues to appeal to an angry population by stoking the fires of their resentment. His 3 o’clock in the morning tweets make him an active participant in the partisan landscape. Apparently, a couple of nights ago Trump was watching a program on flag burning as symbolic speech. Consistent with his unreflective style he tweeted his immediate emotions which were to assert that burning the American flag should result in either jail time or loss of citizenship. He used new social media (Twitter) to blurt out an unconstitutional and indefensible gut reaction exerting a sense of power. His behavior from the partisan landscape was responded to by the quality media with a lecture for Mr. Trump on the Constitution and the extent to which it protects symbolic speech, of which the Supreme Court has established. This is one thing – maybe even to be expected – from a private citizen but a little scary and disappointing from the President of the United States. I suspect we will see more media territorial framework tensions as Trump’s partisan media style clashes with other segments of the media landscape.
Right Wing Media Bias
This video makes some very strong points and is worth watching. I suggest you click on it now and watch. The video is sponsored by “Media Matters” which is a liberal organization but one that has the interests of our democracy in mind. It is possible to make the case that systematic and consciously perpetrated bias by Fox News governs their organizational identity and has quantifiable effects on voting patterns and political knowledge. The claims of news bias are so pervasive and so self-contradictory that it’s damaging any remnants of news credibility. Everybody believes the news is biased right up until the point the news says something they agree with. And, moreover, people are absolutely convinced that their perceptions are correct and their understanding of the issues and whatever source they came from is accurate. The public is shockingly naive about the frequency and forms of information processing distortions.
Let’s pay attention for a moment to this issue of news bias and try for some rigor and conclusions that result from data and controlled studies. I’ve grown weary of everyone complaining about the news and biases especially when all the complaints are simply self-serving. It borders on fascinating how few people see their own distortions and biases. Every Trump supporter is convinced the New York Times and the television media – minus Fox News – favored the other side and was critical of Trump while being charitable toward Hillary. And Hillary supporters (although in much smaller numbers) lamented the fascination with Trump that brought him so much free media time.
I would call your attention to a study directly confronting this issue of Fox News and its impact in the news sphere. The authors examine the impact of media bias, the persuasiveness of a particular media, the likelihood of voting, and mobility rates. Moreover, and something most citizens don’t think about, the review of the studies includes conditions of the receivers. In other words, the same news programming does not have the same effect on everyone. So, on the basis of survey research the authors found that 22% of the population believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but 33% of Fox News viewers believed he had weapons of mass destruction. The findings hold even after controlling for party identification.
Additionally, exposure to conservative media has an effect on voter choice including being responsible for switching some Republicans to Democratic voters. The results are slightly conditioned by the psychological state of receivers. Those watching Fox news for the first time were more persuadable than viewers who watched consistently. This particular study focused on Fox News and conservative media but I would presume that the pattern of results apply to liberal media as well even if the effects are stronger or weaker.
My concern here is not to repeat the pernicious effects of Fox News or biased media but to sound the alarm for increasing pressure to both find quality outlets of information, as well as “educate” the public a little more about the nature and exposure to bias and what to do with it. Fox News is responsible for taking partisan positions and making some extreme even outrageous claims; these then get repeated and spread throughout the population thus multiplying the distorted effects.
Turning more toward public media rather than commercial media is one response to this situation. Public media presents more in-depth and critical news about domestic and international affairs and is capable of increasing citizen engagement as well as quality information.
Trump and Israel – He’s Confused
The problem with trying to understand Trump’s relationship to Israel and the Middle East in general is that he knows nothing about either, and has no foreign policy record. His positions are confused and contradictory especially with respect to Iran and Saudi Arabia. He seems to care very little about most places except Iran in which he has threatened to pull out of the US-Iran nuclear agreement. And this is particularly dangerous if Trump surrounds himself with a Secretary of State such as Bolton or Giuliani both of whom are bellicose and more capable of inflaming differences then cooling them. Trump is sufficiently confused such that he is publicly critical of Iran but supportive of Bashar al Assad in Syria. Soon it should occur to him or his advisors that supporting the Syrian governing regime bolsters Iran, not to mention being on the wrong side of the ideological spectrum.
Israel primarily wants two things from the United States – its regular military aid, and the support and recognition that comes with our cultural and democratic affinities. Both of these can be in potential danger depending on which planks of Trump’s tangled platform end up emerging as the strongest. Trump has, on the one hand, signaled a lack of interest in the Middle East and an almost isolationist sensibility. In his businessman’s language, he does not see it as a “good investment.” On the other hand, Trump is committed to defeating ISIS and does not seem to fully realize the central role Israel must play with respect to intelligence and support. Moreover, continuing his confusion, he has taken highly inflammatory and unrealistic positions by expressing support for the settlements and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. At other times he just wants to remain distant from the issues. The Forward has suggested that Trump will probably reduce America’s involvement in the Middle East. This is generally not good news.
His conservatism is not yet fully honed because Trump sometimes appears to be the isolationist who does not want to be the world’s policeman, and at other times he seems to resonate with neoconservatives who want to assert American political and military power. Trump has a lot to learn and it is the type of learning that requires some development and maturation. He cannot see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as just one negotiation trick away from resolution. He is more comfortable with business deals and negotiations which are subject to more rational marketplace considerations. “The art of the deal” is governed by a logic that requires one to maximize benefits and minimize losses and the deal is done when both sides can accept their gains and losses. This is not the governing logic of asymmetrical ethnopolitical conflicts that are intractable; in other words, the issues of sanctity, identity, fractured history, violence, and deep emotions are not part of the rational model of the “art of the deal.”
I suspect Trump’s limited experience in international affairs blinds him to the type of communication necessary to solve problems such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which does not profit much by seeing it only through a prism of rational exchange. I fear that when he becomes fiercely entangled with the knotty issues that characterize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict he will see it through a narrow American prism rather than a broader global and cultural one. And the tools that enabled him to succeed in business will not serve him so well in the arena of international conflict.
The Republican Party is generally more blindly supportive of Israel but for now all we know about Trump is the blind part.
The Right Is the New Left
Have you noticed that it’s the left end of the political spectrum that is now defending the status quo. Obama and Hillary supporters are the establishment and described as a continuation of the past and the mainstream of politics. It’s the Trump supporters and those on the right who are the critical outsiders. They are the ones who want to take down the “establishment” and remove the government. It used to be that the left had an oppositional relationship with society, and the right was mainstream conservatism and the defender of national values; it used to be the left that engaged in cultural terrorism, and the right was associated with maintaining American values and traditions. So, what happened?
I will tell you what happened. The left has made serious progress on its goal of creating the “culturally correct” man. This was accomplished methodologically by the process of criticism of society with the goal of transforming the historical power structure of American society. The angry, violent, and revolutionary voices come more from the Trump camp than the Hillary camp. Even Bernie Sanders’ liberal constituencies quietly and obediently returned to their lives rather than organize and revolutionize. What is this methodological process that creates the “culturally correct” man? It is commonly known as political correctness. The angry American (of which angry white males are the most typical) feels oppressed by political correctness such that he or she is now in a more radicalized oppositional relationship with the political process. It’s the right that is intensely and more violently critical of American society.
Political correctness has its roots in Marxist social theory and the goal of revolutionary transformation. Detailed examination of Marxist criticism is beyond our concerns here but suffice it to say that a whole line of destructive criticism – emanating mainly from the Frankfurt School – challenged the fundamental elements of American society such as patriarchy, capitalism, patriotism, morality, family, gender, and religion. The transformations of the economy and the changing nature of work and manufacturing have combined with cultural criticisms to position a significant segment of the right into a revolutionary stance.
Working class white males, exemplified by what has become known as the typical Trump supporter, have suffered the most from pressures to upset the patriarchal order (e.g. intense demands to change gender reference language; acceptance of same-sex marriage), change the Christianity-capitalism authoritarian structure (ordination of women; the misguided belief in the efficacy of their own individualism), and the steady substitution of white males by women, immigrants, and the government.
The pressure on middle-class white males has been relentless. The culture increasingly speaks a new language that has been stripped of its traditional power and substituted by a neutral and more inclusive vocabulary that clearly does serve the goal of diversity but at the expense of the traditional institutions of authority.
Even though more inclusive culturally sensitive language is a laudable goal, it resonates more with the cosmopolitan liberal than the traditional conservative. Multiculturalism is the true enemy of this group on the right and can be seen as breaking up traditional cultural values, taking jobs, and dismantling American society. Interestingly, this group values rugged individualism and small government but still expect government to provide social safety nets. Many of these working-class white males have roots in the Democratic Party and still retain some party identification but most of them fit into the Pew Research Center political identity category termed “hard-pressed skeptics.” They are low income and express negative attitudes toward immigrants and are distrustful of government. The combination of factors has resulted in a communal rather than ascribed identity makes them a politically critical outside group.
One Final Attempt at Quality Information before Voting
Dear blog follower:
During this election, more than any other, trying to get some facts right is difficult. The below is from ProCon.org a nonpartisan educational organization, that helps everyone to make informed decisions regardless of how or for whom you vote. The degradation of the political process, the volume of ignorance floating around, polarization, and the incivility and impertinence of the candidates is of historic proportions. Most of us never imagined Trump as a Republican candidate and we certainly didn’t imagine the debates – which were supposed to be an informed and intelligent portrayal of the candidates – as a showcase for marital and sexual indiscretions paraded in front of the opponent and the world.
So, I offer the below as the clearest and most objective side-by-side comparison of the candidates and their stance on issues. You may have made up your mind already but at least check your thinking against the information presented.
1. Compare 2016 Presidential Candidate Positions: A Side-by-Side Comparison Between Candidates on Key Issues
2. 2016 Presidential Election Candidate Quiz – Find Your Match!
4. Top Pro & Con Quotes on Abortion
5. Should Felons Who Have Completed Their Sentence (Incarceration, Probation, and Parole) Be Allowed to Vote?
6. State Felon Voting Laws
7. Number of People by State Who Cannot Vote Due to a Felony Conviction
8. Should More Gun Control Laws Be Enacted?
9. Top Pro & Con Quotes on Gun Control
11. Should the Government Allow Immigrants Who Are Here Illegally to Become US Citizens?
12. Illegal Immigration, Population Estimates in the United States, 1969-2014
13. Demographics of Immigrants in the United States Illegally
14. Should Marijuana Be a Medical Option?
15. 25 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC
16. Ranking 20 Drugs and Alcohol by Overall Harm
17. Should the Federal Minimum Wage Be Increased?
18. Top Pro & Con Quotes on the Federal Minimum Wage
19. State-by-State Minimum Wage Levels
20. And, just for fun, Top 10 Most Surprising Things in the 2016 Presidential Candidates’ Online Stores
The Problem of False Equivalencies
But, please, tell me again how “both candidates are the same” and they’re “equally as flawed.” Because if that’s what you really believe, then you’re choosing to ignore reality and believing whatever the hell you want to believe.
Read more here