Category Archives: Elections

New Technology and Attacks on Democracy

Free expression, transparent information, and trustworthy and reliable elections are the hallmark of a decent democracy. And although the open and available nature of the Internet is democratizing, it is also easily manipulated in the service of inaccuracies, fake news, and inaccurately represented information. Russia’s full-on assault on American media and democracy is designed to weaken democratic processes and sow confusion. They have engaged in a sophisticated campaign designed to influence the operation and political processes of not only the United States but the Ukraine, the Netherlands, and Western Europe. Their goal is to shake the confidence of democratic institutions, exaggerate differences and divisions amongst groups, and use new technology to underscore a Russian frame and perspective.

This is a form of asymmetric warfare organized around weaker states using their available resources to combat stronger states. Theoretically anyway, it is the same principle as a less powerful ethnic group (e.g. Palestinians, Tamil, Rohingyas, Basques) using terrorist and guerrilla warfare techniques to combat a dominating ethnic group. The United States must now consider these threats as typical and persistent threats to its political existence. And, it is only a matter of time before other countries adopt these techniques and deploy them against other states.

Russia boldly used proxies to set up phony webpages, Facebook accounts, and Twitter messages designed to influence the public discourse surrounding the election between Trump and Hillary Clinton as well as social issues. The perpetrators of these phony web accounts met with little resistance and had their faith in their own hacking skills reinforced. The Russians would find a division in society and then try to exaggerate it for their own purposes. Such instability is very debilitating and contributes to what is most damaging which is a loss of confidence in the electoral process. Few things are more damaging to a democratic system than a widespread belief by participants that elections are not fair. Of course, the Russian goals were not to facilitate rigorous debate but to challenge confidence and maintain social strife. They had ability to manipulate voting patterns and electoral results.

The cybersphere is a perfect environment to operate an anonymous and clandestine project such as this one. Even if they fail to achieve desired results they can still do damage to the confidence and institutions as well as spread distrust and cynicism.

Some answers

First, the electoral process must be reviewed for security breach possibilities with checks and double checks that contain a complete review of the electoral process including access to machines, software, and computer security. This might include the use of paper ballots along with computers to ensure material backup systems.

Second, there needs to be more transparency with respect to funding elections and the nature and integrity of businesses hired to provide electoral services including machines and software.

Third, the tracking of foreign actors and their involvement in US companies should include more monitoring and oversight. This might include attention to various “media buys” and who is supporting them along with an examination of rules and regulations governing foreign control and ownership with respect to financial limitations and elections.

And finally, the detection of deception must be improved. This includes stories containing inaccurate information that seem to be designed to sow discontent and manipulate information. Twitter and Facebook are working on these issues trying to improve their ability to recognize questionable story structures including techniques for “re-informing” the public. Cyber attacks are a new form of threat in an asymmetric conflict that has revealed vulnerability in our democracy. It will require a concerted effort and some thinking “outside the box.”

 

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Trump Has the Keys to the Candy Store: Suicide is Painless

trump-and-suicide

 

 

 

 

Sung to the theme of M*A*S*H

Through early morning fog I see
visions of the things to be
the pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see…
[REFRAIN]:
that suicide is painless
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

 

What madman or anguished society would give the keys to the candy store we call the United States to Donald Trump? No candidate in history has been less prepared and, moreover, does not seem to be bothered by it. His cabinet and advisor appointees make for a ghoulish monster’s ball of Wall Street billionaires who have no experience in government, business executives who think running the government is the same thing as running a business, and ideologues with an agenda that is ironically counter to the mission of the office they are running.

Trump’s election has been regularly compared to populist movements in history and currently around the world. It is in line with populist and nationalistic parliaments in Hungry, Poland, Greece, and the rise of the right in France. And the rhetoric of populism is consistent across cultures. Such rhetoric is often an early indicator of unstable and vulnerable democracies. Truly consolidated democracies are the most resistant and stable forms of government and most likely to be immune to the siren call of nationalism and populism. But less established democratic political cultures, especially those with charismatic strongmen as leaders, are more susceptible to the political discourse that constitutes populism.

That is, the modern populist praises tough and decisive leadership, belittles and distrusts elites and specialists in an effort to alienate the average person from the truly competent, and is critical of institutions. Trump, interestingly, has some new wrinkles for this pattern because although his rhetoric strikes a chord with the struggling and downscale demographics, he has successfully convinced them that he will improve their lives. Curiously, Trump traffics in elitism. And he will soon go about the business of using his own appointees as loyalists who will compromise the media, silence the opposition, and create a threatening discursive environment.  He has already begun to undermine trusted institutions such as the CIA (taking the unprecedented position that the CIA is wrong about Russian cyberhacking), the media (a regular flow of criticism and delegitimization that cast even more doubt on quality sources of information), the legislative history of conflict of interest policy (refusal to release tax forms, challenges to his own business interests), and foreign policy traditions (a more volatile and aggressive foreign policy such as breaking the nuclear treaty with Iran, harsh challenges to China, and name-calling).

The United States’ record of promoting liberalism and generally making the right decisions is strong enough. We commit our military when necessary; typically pass legislation that protects the rights of individuals (whether it be guns or abortions); we continue to make progress on due process and equal protection under the law; and we have a decent history of widening the circle of citizen inclusion with respect to rights and opportunities.

But we momentarily lost our minds when we voted for Trump. It was a reckless mistake that requires a “do over.” Clinical research explains that for successful suicide victims there is only a few seconds in which they will actually pull the trigger or jump. The rest of the time they are holding back but there remains some moment – some brief period when the window is open – in which all of their stress, pressures, and cognitive distortions conflate and they actually step off the ledge or pull the trigger.

So we have the United States and Trump. The American citizenry momentarily lost its mind and pulled the trigger. It’s going to be a crazy few years riddled with mistakes resulting from Trump’s lack of preparation, his long and embarrassing record of bad behavior and misogyny, his refusal to listen to security briefings because he can lone wolf-it, his knee-jerk congenital lying (his loss of the popular vote by almost 3 million was from people casting illegal votes; Russia had nothing to do with hacking or influencing the American election), and his naïveté about world leaders.

I fully expect Trump to expand his control and throw the population a bone or two on occasion, all the while converting the presidency into a postmodern spectacle designed to continue Trump brand recognition.

 

 

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.

Presidential Election

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!

Abortion

3. Should Abortion Be Legal?

4. Top Pro & Con Quotes on Abortion

Felon Voting
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

Gun Control
8. Should More Gun Control Laws Be Enacted?

9. Top Pro & Con Quotes on Gun Control

10. US Gun Deaths, 1999-2014

Immigration
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
Marijuana
14. Should Marijuana Be a Medical Option?

15. 25 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC

16. Ranking 20 Drugs and Alcohol by Overall Harm
Minimum Wage
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

One of the most egregious reasoning fallacies is false equivalencies; that is, the claim the two things are equal when they are not. All those who claim there’s nobody to vote for or these are two pathetic candidates for the presidency have fallen into the trap of false equivalencies. By any sensible measure Hillary Clinton is far superior to Donald Trump. That does not mean she’s a perfect candidate but clearly the better of the two choices. In fact, one may disagree with Hillary on political grounds but Trump is just plain dangerous. The below is reprinted from the Forward-Progressive website.
There’s this notion concerning the 2016 presidential election that both choices are terrible and that we’re all simply trying to choose “between the lesser of two evils.” While I know that’s a popular belief among many, the reality of that couldn’t be further from the truth. Look, I’m not here to claim that Hillary Clinton is a flawless candidate. Just because I proudly support her campaign doesn’t mean that I’m not realistic about the fact that she has flaws like any other human being — especially politicians.
That being said, to claim her flaws are on the same level of Trump’s is not only completely inaccurate, but it’s absolutely ridiculous. To prove my point, I thought I’d compare some of the top “controversial scandals” surrounding the two candidates. Let’s start with Hillary Clinton:
Her emails: While her use of a private server was definitely a bad idea, she’s admitted to that fact and has apologized for it, repeatedly. Furthermore, the FBI carried out an extensive investigation that ultimately concluded that she did nothing illegal. The only reason this became a “story” again is because while looking into the Anthony Wiener sexting allegations, the FBI found emails that may (keyword: may) need to be reviewed to determine whether or not they contain classified material. Though at the end of the day, not only was Clinton not charged with a crime, but there’s been absolutely no evidence where her use of this private server led to any sort of national security issues.
The Clinton Foundation: While many have tried to make the foundation seem like some international crime syndicate linked to a pay-for-play criminal empire, ultimately, the foundation has an A-rating from a respected charity watchdog group and spends 88 percent of all the money it raises on charitable causes. Oh, and the Clintons don’t actually make any money from the foundation — as they don’t receive a salary.
Paid speeches: Considering it’s not remotely uncommon for former presidents or politicians to give paid speeches, I’m not sure why this is a big deal. Again, there’s been absolutely no credible evidence that any paid speech her husband gave was linked to any sort of “pay-for-play” scheme while she was Secretary of State.
“She gleefully helped a child rapist go free”: Nope, she sure didn’t. Not only was she ordered by a judge to defend him (she tried getting out of it), but the guy actually went to prison on a plea deal the victim’s mother pushed prosecutors to offer of 5 years — only to have the judge reduce it to one. The audio of Clinton laughing about the case actually came years later when she was discussing how, even though the guy was guilty, he passed a polygraph — and that forever ruined her faith in the test. She was not mocking or laughing at the victim.
Benghazi: Here’s another “scandal” that numerous investigations have ultimately concluded wasn’t her fault. Though if you don’t believe me (or the investigations), then ask the family of the late Ambassador Chris Stevens, who’ve publicly said that it’s unfair to blame her for the attack.
She called “half” of Donald Trump’s supporters “deplorable”: Not only did she immediately apologize for saying this, but she wasn’t really wrong. In fact, “half” is probably underselling how many of his supporters fit into the “basket of deplorables” she mentioned (racists, bigots, sexists, Islamophobic, homophobic, xenophobic). Now if you think I’m going to entertain the absurd conspiracies about her having multiple people killed, or that I’m going to hold her husband’s issues against her, you’re sadly mistaken. If you’re someone who actually believes that insanity, then you’re clearly someone who can’t be reasoned with. But those are the main attacks I’ve seen Republicans and the media obsess about throughout her campaign.
Now let’s move on to Donald Trump: Mocked a man with disabilities. Attacked the parents of a fallen American hero. Belittled POWs and the war record of Sen. John McCain. Lied about how much money he raised for veterans. Called a former Miss Universe “disgusting” and fat, telling his Twitter followers to find her non-existent sex tape. Accused an American-born federal judge of being unfit to do his job because of his Mexican heritage. Likely avoided paying taxes for nearly two decades. Called most Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, even though that’s not remotely factual. Lied about seeing “thousands and thousands” of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey on 9/11. Lied about getting a letter from the NFL complaining about the debate schedule. Tried to exploit the death of an African American woman in Chicago to say that’s why black voters will support him. Found the “bright side” to tragedies because his poll numbers tend to go up. Settled with the Department of Justice after his company was found guilty of racially discriminating against minorities. Has cheated on at least one wife. Was discovered on video admitting that he not only tried to cheat on his current wife, but he attempted to do so with another married woman. Had his first wife publicly say that he did nothing when it came to raising their children until they were old enough to talk business. Tweeted that women should have expected to be sexually assaulted when they mixed males and females together in the military. Said he wants to target the families of terrorists. Stated that he wants to ban an entire religion. Praised a Russian president who obviously hates the U.S. and Americans. Encouraged the Russian government to commit espionage against Americans. Insinuated that another Republican’s wife was ugly. Tried to implicate another Republican’s father in JFK’s assassination. Sought out the help of former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes after he was fired following multiple allegations that he had sexually harassed women for years. Made Breitbart’s Steve Bannon one of his top campaign people. Had a former campaign manager abruptly resign after a report came out linking him to pro-Russian groups that were directly trying to undermine U.S. policy in eastern Europe. Called Carly Fiorina ugly. Has said climate change was a hoax created by the Chinese — then denied saying it. Was a leading conspiracy theorist when it came to the racist-driven birther conspiracies against President Obama. Dismissed nearly eight years of accusing the president of not being an American with a less than 30-second statement where he didn’t apologize for any of it. Re-tweeted anti-African American propaganda created by a white supremacy group. Played dumb about knowing who former Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke was. Skipped a presidential debate because he was scared of a moderator. Called a husband doing things like changing diapers and helping with the children, a man “trying to be the wife.” Has said he wants more countries to have nuclear weapons. Said he can’t release his tax returns because they’re currently being audited — even though the IRS said that’s a lie. Feels he has the right to sexually assault women. Is currently battling a fraud lawsuit where victims allege he created Trump University to scam them out of tens of thousands of dollars. Used funds raised by his charity foundation to pay his personal legal fees. Said that one of the women accusing him of sexual harassment wasn’t attractive enough for him to have assaulted. Has a long history of not paying contractors for doing work they had already completed. His bankruptcies benefited him, while ultimately leaving many people to which he owed money out to dry. Outsources most of his company’s manufacturing jobs to other countries. Has said that all the women accusing him of sexual assault are liars. Refused to say if he would concede the election if he loses on November 8th. Allegedly asked military advisers why we can’t use nukes since we have them. After being told that our security experts know that Russia is behind the hack of the DNC and American citizens, continued to deny that they knew anything, effectively defending and taking the word of Russia over believing and trusting our own intelligence agencies. Once said that women who have abortions should be “punished.” Alluded to the size of his penis during a presidential debate. Mocked the looks of Ted Cruz’s wife. Was accused of planting a fake story in the National Enquirer concerning Ted Cruz having multiple affairs. Currently has a court date set for allegations he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old. Claims he’s donated millions to charity but refuses to prove it. Called Hillary Clinton a “nasty women” when she factually called him out for tax evasion. Evidence seems to indicate that he bribed the Florida attorney general to avoid the state joining the fraud lawsuit against Trump University. Has admitted to trying to buy off politicians. Following his meeting with the Mexican president, he lied about being told that there was no way Mexico would pay for his wall. Has repeatedly advocated for committing war crimes. Said he knows more about terrorism and the Middle East than our generals. Has repeatedly said that our NATO allies are going to have to “pay up” for our protection. Said more countries should have nuclear weapons — then denied saying it. Has, on several occasions, suggested he finds his daughter attractive. Tried to blame Hillary Clinton for his racist birther propaganda. Said, with a straight face, that nobody has more respect for women than he does. During an interview said that “a flat-chested woman can never be a 10.” Asked how stupid the people of Iowa could be for supporting Ted Cruz.

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

How the Trump Monster Slouched toward the Republicans

Note the data in the table below from the Pew Foundation. There have been more than a few stories written about how Trump is a monster created by the Republican Party. Let’s take a closer look at just what the Republican Party has created and why. There are lots of reasons but let’s focus on two. First, the Republicans have simply failed to appeal to Hispanics and minorities even though their after action report from the 2012 election recognized this problem. They did little or nothing about it. 86% of Republicans or those leaning that way are White where only 57% of Democrats are White. Curiously, the Republicans should be able to appeal to Latinos who are family oriented, religious, and patriotic to the extent that they oppose leftist regimes. There are two prominent Republicans in Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio who could be electable if conditions were right. The Democrats have begun to include minorities more into the family tent and these minorities recognize their own progress – Donald Trump’s claims that their schools and inner cities are a mess notwithstanding.

Moreover, the Republicans began to run more on moral and social (guns, God, and gays) issues then on economic ones. The angry less educated white male strand of Republican has countered any genuine Republican attempts to include minorities because of their racism and general rejection of the argument that immigration is good for America rather than bad. The foreign-policy hawks in the Republican Party are an attractive appeal for many Americans, and can resonate with American strength, but this group has essentially been co-opted by Hillary Clinton.

Bill Clinton moved to the party to the center and brought in more professionals leaving working-class whites to find a place in the Republican Party. These working-class whites have been frustrated by the Republicans who promised to look after their interests but haven’t done so very successfully. So this group had one more reason to radicalize and movements such as a Tea Party began to emerge and differences between minorities and whites and Republicans and Democrats began to polarize even further.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The table below strongly illustrates this polarization. The blue dots represent Clinton supporters and the red dots Trump supporters. Look at the differences between the two on a few key issues that are ideological in nature. Statements about how wasteful government is and should be smaller are dramatically associated with Republicans (83% and 87% agree). And statements about how government should help the needy and regulate business (most associated with Democrats) are strongly supported by Democrats over Republicans (72% and 70%). These patterns in the electorate are the reason Donald Trump was so successful in the primaries. Moreover, rather than finding a candidate who genuinely coalesced around cultural and economic issues Trump represents fear and nationalism. How is a political party supposed to get anything done when they express such disdain for government?

Trump’s populist nationalism makes us particularly vulnerable because the public currently has so little confidence in many American institutions such as the courts, the presidency, public schools, and banks. When the golden haired man comes on TV and tells you that nothing is your fault – it’s all the fault of immigrants, elites, and the media – there’s plenty of people who will listen.

voters-who-say-gov-too-big

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump and “Muted Eloquence”

women-accusing-clinton

In the classical literature on rhetoric there is a concept called “muted eloquence.” The term is attributable to Rousseau and is part of the common distinction between reason and emotion or appeals to rationality versus attempts to arouse interests and stir passions in order to induce conformity. There’s always been this argument between those who champion the unadorned use of reason – as if humans were all mind – and persuasion that induces change through baser and more primitive appeals to passions. We can see this distinction borne out between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump with Hillary more oriented toward (although not completely) defensible reason and Trump who was almost completely consumed by stirring tribal emotions as opposed to reason-based policy analysis.

The distinction is also one made between “persuading” and “convincing.” Again, persuasion is affecting change through typical appeals to emotions, passions, and the like; and convincing is the act of completely reconstituting the psyche and will of the other by giving them new content and reconstituting their consciousness. Classical scholars argue this point because they were deeply divided with respect to the primary avenue of change that citizens were capable of. Some argued that the highest form of reason was convincing which led to the purest and most accurate formation of preferences and opinions. Others challenge the ability of humans to be reasonable in the purest sense and argued that legislators and leaders needed to find a way to “persuade without convincing” because the only way to effect change was through appeals to the passions on an equal level with reason. Most people were deeply flawed, as the argument went, with respect to their ability and receptiveness to “pure” reason. Persuasion could be musical and non-rational even at the risk of potential fanaticism. Charismatic leaders aroused deeper and more immediate passions in listeners, and their oratory was musical in the same way that chanting could be prophetic of charismatic religious figures. They did not use rationality to convince but persuasion to move. Mohammed and Moses are examples of the link between reason and passion and illustrations of how stirring the passions can lead to fanaticism.

I certainly would not call the oratory of Donald Trump musical but it does function the same way in that it is processed holistically and produces a gut pre-rational passion. “Muted eloquence” is when a visual sign has a sense of immediacy and impact. It is when some physical object or image communicates with a powerful effect. So, for example, The King cuts down the tallest flowers in the garden as a message to kill his enemies. In the movie “the Godfather” when a smelly fish wrapped in newsprint arrives at the door the character Tessio explains “it means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.” The message that Luca Brasi is dead and his body dumped in the ocean is semantically ratified by the dead fish. It is a mute wisdom that speaks clearer and more powerfully than a long discourse.  These visual signs are a form of persuasion that differs from the ideal of reasoned discourse.

We pivot to Donald Trump surrounded by three women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault. They were then seated in the audience for the debate. The presence of these women was supposed to attenuate Trump’s behavior and signify sexual malpractice in Hillary’s case in addition to Trump. And even though these women are accusing Bill Clinton not Hillary just the image of sexual impropriety is supposed to be a form of muted eloquence designed to associate blame and shame with Hillary, and as a piece of evidence that Trump is no different than anyone else. Even though Trump is the sexist perpetrator here he sought to bathe himself in the victimhood of other woman.

The alleged rapist of one of the women, Kathy Shelton, was defended by Hillary and acquitted. Hillary was little more than the court-appointed attorney and she was fulfilling his constitutional right to legal counsel. But such argument seeks conviction rather than persuasion. Her innocence in the Kathy Shelton case is logically and rationally undeniable, but the muted eloquence of Trump’s debate has closed off appeals to conviction.

The brazen and stunning stunt struck at the core of our unhinged national consciousness, a consciousness increasingly reason-free.

 

 

What To Watch for Monday Night in the Clinton – Trump Debate

hillary-trump

Word around the campfire is that the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump this Monday night the 26th might be the most watched television program in history. Both candidates have an appeal to the various audiences that make up the United States (not to mention the world) beginning with Trump’s narcissistic populism and rank self-aggrandizement, and including Hillary’s “bitch persona” as Andi Zeisler explains in the New York Times.

The debate will devolve into two general strategic thrusts. One, we will at least fantasize about meeting our expectations on policy and issue stances. There will be some attempts to win debate points by a rather straightforward exchange of a few facts and arguments. But don’t expect this to last long and while this clearly favors Hillary it could work against her. Hillary Clinton is soaked in policy issues and Donald Trump doesn’t stand a chance. She is the grown up version of the high school debater carrying around a large suitcase of information and just waiting to pull out a little 3 x 5 fact card. I’m sure, bless her heart, she still thinks this form of discourse matters much. Somewhere in her soul she still believes that if she has one better fact than Trump, or makes the slightly better argument then she will “win.”

The problem is people don’t pay much attention to this form of communication any longer. Most of the population is incapable of taking part in such argument and, more to the point, don’t want to. Paradoxically, Hillary’s superior control of the substantive issues will do little more than classify her as “boring” or a “Washington policy wonk” who doesn’t understand the needs of real people. Moreover, Trump can escape this aspect of the debates unscathed because the expectations for him on these matters are so low. Even when it turns out he doesn’t know the difference between Turkey and his Thanksgiving meal he will emerge undamaged.

I suppose it is possible that Trump will pull an all-nighter and study for his big exams but I doubt it. This would be too against character. In fact, it might not serve him well because it would be contrary to his authenticity image which is based on a lack of fancy knowledge. Trump will do well if he just maintains some sense of equanimity. Then again, this too is against character.

But the name calling, personal attacks, and bullying will be the real fun. Both candidates have been wounded often enough that they take the shots pretty well. Trump will clearly try to bully Hillary but she’s also capable of being tough. This worked for Trump in the primaries and I’m sure he will continue to do “what got him here.” Trump will be at some disadvantage because of the moderator system rather me rabble rousing crowds. This is likely to subdue him which does not work to his advantage.

Hillary has to continue to drive home the theme that Trump lacks the manners and temperament to be president. Following the convention when she unleashed an aggressive series of ads around this theme was the time in which she had 10 point leads in the polls. These leads began to dissipate as soon as she scaled back that message. If Trump is calm on Monday night and even slightly appears presidential then that will be the best argument against Hillary’s claim that he is unfit for the job.

Unfortunately, the only way for Hillary Clinton to gain ground during the debate is to cause Trump to lose his temper or say something so outrageous that it reinforces Hillary’s claim that he is unfit for the job. Considered policy analysis and reasonable arguments that take place in the shiny and clean debating halls of justice are Hillary’s strength, but she’ll have to play outside in the dirt to beat Trump.

 

Change Hillary’s Campaign Slogan from “I’m with Her” to “She’s with Me.”

poll Clinton Trump

The results of the most recent Washington Post-ABC News Poll are in and the news is certainly good for Hillary. She leads Trump by double digits and he seems to be declining precipitously. In a head-to-head matchup Clinton leads Trump 51% to 39% among registered voters.The results are informative and the poll also shows some interesting data that should be useful for Hillary.

If you are a Republican hoping to defeat Hillary Clinton in the fall you must be pretty dispirited. I mean Hillary is beatable – or at least it appears she was beatable. Her high negatives coupled with all the people who dislike her for reasons justified or not seemed at one point insurmountable. But then along comes the Republican Party and they behave the way the Democrats usually do. That is, when they want to form a firing squad they get into a circle. No political party choice has been so tin-eared about the temperament and qualifications of a candidate since McCain chose Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers and what they probably or potentially mean.

The most troubling data in the survey for Hillary is the net “new direction” data which indicate that 56% of those polled would like to set the nation on a new direction. This makes it difficult for Hillary to identify herself with the President and as a candidate that will continue Obama’s policies. But on the other hand, President Obama’s approval ratings at 56% are higher than since the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Obama is more popular than Bush was during the last days of his presidency. So using the President during the campaign – dependent of course on audiences and context – will generally be a safe bet for Hillary.

Just about two thirds of Americans think Trump is unqualified to be President. They believe his temperament is insufficiently stable and his comments about ethnic groups and women are unacceptable. It doesn’t matter if such comments are defined as racist or “politically incorrect” because his comments are considered inappropriate. The intensity of criticism for an opponent does not have to rise to racism; inappropriate is good enough. It marks the user as insensitive at best and incompetent at worst with no facility for basic civility or contextual awareness.

The majority of the populace considers Trump unqualified and astounding 64% do not believe he has the credentials to be President. Still, there’s a group of people who consider Trump unqualified for the job and disapprove of his comments about women, minorities, and Muslims but they plan to vote for him anyway. These are the people composed of two characteristics: extreme Obama hate which means they’ll vote for anybody who isn’t Obama or is associated politically with Obama, and those who want the country to move in a new direction. Hillary can probably safely pay little mind to one of these groups. The Obama haters are probably tinged with a little racism (at best) and it would be difficult to make progress with them.

But she has to convince the electorate that things are going to change for the better and new directions are in the offing. Hillary is the establishment candidate and easily defined as just “more of the same.” She shares an elite form of discourse with Obama and those of her politically competent generation which stands in contrast to Trump’s populism. Then again, she has Trump’s bumbling verbosity working to her advantage; that is, Trump could capitalize on the populist message if he knew how to communicate it. But my guess is Trump will continue to fail his party and his supporters by refusing to understand the difference between himself and his message. He will substitute authenticity for communicative effectiveness. And for Hillary to move toward stronger identification with supporters she should convince them that “she is with them” rather than “they are with her.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Group Membership Distorts Political Thinking and the Impossibility of Quality Political Communication

intergroup biasWatching citizens yell at one another during debates and political discussion has reminded me of something more than the loss of civility. It prompts me to recall the distorted communication that occurs so often during political conversation. These distortions in meaning and argument result from the ingroup mentality of belonging to a particular political party. People cling to their own beliefs as driven by reasoned analysis of the real world while the beliefs of others are the result of ideology, emotions, and biases. We easily divide political rivals into simplistic binary categories: red states or blue states, Democrats vs. Republicans, liberals and conservatives. Add to this the combustible mix of bloggers, talk radio hosts, and TV pundits and political discourse becomes hot and hostile rather than deliberative and respectful. Actually, labeling oneself as a member of a preferred group (e.g. “I am a conservative” or “I am a Democrat”) is dangerous and results in information distortions.

Party identifications are the result of people categorizing themselves as a member of an ingroup defined by certain characteristics. By categorizing myself as say “a Republican” I adopt characteristics of similar others, and embrace a list of appropriate beliefs and behaviors. I start to speak and behave in ways that I believe are consistent with my membership in this group called “Republicans.” When my group membership is coupled with motivations to enhance my own group’s self esteem, then I will produce favorable judgments and evaluations about my own ingroup, and unfavorable evaluations about outgroups. Thus, as a Republican I would consider myself a patriot and Democrats as socialists. This is a dangerous situation that produces serious errors and failings in political discourse. Let’s examine a few.

One thing that happens with strong group identification is that the social norms of that group become overly influential. If I identify as a “Democrat” then I will be more than usually influenced by how I imagine Democrats think and behave despite the merits of an issue. I will be more influenced by party membership than policy. In one research study Democrats and Republicans were given a policy statement and told that the policy was supported by either a majority of Democrats or Republicans. Subjects in the study disproportionately favored a policy when it was identified with their own political party. This means that political judgment is too influenced by group identification and not sufficiently the result of objective consideration and analysis.

Secondly, being a member of a political party causes partisans to make biased conclusions. People explain and judge political behavior on the basis of their own political worldviews. Hence, a conservative when confronted with someone from poor economic circumstances will easily attribute this to laziness or lack of ability where a liberal will cite unfavorable social circumstances. Again, the explanations for political events should be based on deep consideration of issues and more complexity (many things explain poor economic circumstances), not simply on consistency with my own group’s ideology.

Excessive suspicion and negativity toward politicians is a third bias of political party membership. During the healthcare debate Obama was called a socialist and even likened to Hitler (a strange confluence of political ideologies!). These extreme negative judgments about a politician’s character result when a politician from the other party (the outgroup) presents a position inconsistent with your own group’s position. Under these circumstances there is a tendency to exaggerate differences and attribute personal blame to the other.

Finally, political party favoritism has a strong emotional reaction because partisans are so motivated to favor their own group. For Democrats, their strong negative emotional reaction to George W. Bush diminished their ability to arrive at logical conclusions. If Bush was for something, Democrats were against it.

The healthcare debate, for example, has to be won on its merits. The above problems can be overcome by increased communicative contact with members of the other party and a widening of goals such that people see themselves more interdependently. Proper political communication is difficult and challenging but given the alternative it is a challenge we must meet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Pay Attention to the Data: Hillary Clinton is fundamentally Honest and Trustworthy

Hillary

I hear plenty of people blurt out that Hillary Clinton is “untrustworthy” or “they don’t like her” or even that she is a “liar.” But when I press them on this, when I say give me examples and ask them to explain why in any detail they usually can’t tell you. The least prepared will say something like, “I don’t know, I just don’t like her.” (That’s a compelling analysis!) Others will rush to the examples of her email or Benghazi, or if they’re old enough they will mention Whitewater and Vince Foster. These are all attacks on Hillary Clinton designed to damage her even though they have no basis in truth or blaming her is unjustified. It is about time she combats this image with more enthusiasm. The below is as good start and is re-posted from The Guardian

It’s impossible to miss the “Hillary for Prison” signs at Trump rallies. At one of the Democratic debates, the moderator asked Hillary Clinton whether she would drop out of the race if she were indicted over her private email server. “Oh for goodness – that is not going to happen,” she said. “I’m not even going to answer that question.”

Based on what I know about the emails, the idea of her being indicted or going to prison is nonsensical. Nonetheless, the belief that Clinton is dishonest and untrustworthy is pervasive. A recent New York Times-CBS poll found that 40% of Democrats say she cannot be trusted.

For decades she’s been portrayed as a Lady Macbeth involved in nefarious plots, branded as “a congenital liar” and accused of covering up her husband’s misconduct, from Arkansas to Monica Lewinsky. Some of this is sexist caricature. Some is stoked by the “Hillary is a liar” videos that flood Facebook feeds. Some of it she brings on herself by insisting on a perimeter or “zone of privacy” that she protects too fiercely. It’s a natural impulse, given the level of scrutiny she’s attracted, more than any male politician I can think of.

I would be “dead rich”, to adapt an infamous Clinton phrase, if I could bill for all the hours I’ve spent covering just about every “scandal” that has enveloped the Clintons. As an editor I’ve launched investigations into her business dealings, her fundraising, her foundation and her marriage. As a reporter my stories stretch back to Whitewater. I’m not a favorite in Hillaryland. That makes what I want to say next surprising.

Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.

The yardsticks I use for measuring a politician’s honesty are pretty simple. Ever since I was an investigative reporter covering the nexus of money and politics, I’ve looked for connections between money (including campaign donations, loans, Super Pac funds, speaking fees, foundation ties) and official actions. I’m on the lookout for lies, scrutinizing statements candidates make in the heat of an election.

The connection between money and action is often fuzzy. Many investigative articles about Clinton end up “raising serious questions” about “potential” conflicts of interest or lapses in her judgment. Of course, she should be held accountable. It was bad judgment, as she has said, to use a private email server. It was colossally stupid to take those hefty speaking fees, but not corrupt. There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor.

As for her statements on issues, Politifact, a Pulitzer prize-winning fact-checking organization, gives Clinton the best truth-telling record of any of the 2016 presidential candidates. She beats Sanders and Kasich and crushes Cruz and Trump, who has the biggest “pants on fire” rating and has told whoppers about basic economics that are embarrassing for anyone aiming to be president. (He falsely claimed GDP has dropped the last two quarters and claimed the national unemployment rate was as high as 35%).

I can see why so many voters believe Clinton is hiding something because her instinct is to withhold. As first lady, she refused to turn over Whitewater documents that might have tamped down the controversy. Instead, by not disclosing information, she fueled speculation that she was hiding grave wrongdoing. In his book about his time working in the Clinton White House, All Too Human, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos wrote that failing to convince the first lady to turn over the records of the Arkansas land deal to the Washington Post was his biggest regret.

The same pattern of concealment repeats itself through the current campaign in her refusal to release the transcripts of her highly paid speeches. So the public is left wondering if she made secret promises to Wall Street or is hiding something else. The speeches are probably anodyne (politicians always praise their hosts), so why not release them?

Colin Diersing, a former student of mine who is a leader of Harvard’s Institute of Politics, thinks a gender-related double standard gets applied to Clinton. “We expect purity from women candidates,” he said. When she behaves like other politicians or changes positions, “it’s seen as dishonest”, he adds. CBS anchor Scott Pelley seemed to prove Diersing’s point when he asked Clinton: “Have you always told the truth?” She gave an honest response, “I’ve always tried to, always. Always.” Pelley said she was leaving “wiggle room”. What politician wouldn’t?

Clinton distrusts the press more than any politician I have covered. In her view, journalists breach the perimeter and echo scurrilous claims about her circulated by unreliable rightwing foes. I attended a private gathering in South Carolina a month after Bill Clinton was elected in 1992. Only a few reporters were invited and we sat together at a luncheon where Hillary Clinton spoke. She glared down at us, launching into a diatribe about how the press had invaded the Clintons’ private life. The distrust continues.

These are not new thoughts, but they are fundamental to understanding her. Tough as she can seem, she doesn’t have rhino hide, and during her husband’s first term in the White House, according to Her Way, a critical (and excellent) investigative biography of Clinton by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, she became very depressed during the Whitewater imbroglio. A few friends and aides have told me that the email controversy has upset her as badly.

Like most politicians, she’s switched some of her positions and sometimes shades the truth. In debates with Sanders, she cites her tough record on Wall Street, but her Senate bills, like one curbing executive pay, went nowhere. She favors ending the carried interest loophole cherished by hedge funds and private equity executives because it taxes their incomes at a lower rate than ordinary income. But, according to an article by Gerth, she did not sign on to bipartisan legislation in 2007 that would have closed it. She voted for a bankruptcy bill favored by big banks that she initially opposed, drawing criticism from Elizabeth Warren. Clinton says she improved the bill before voting for passage. Her earlier opposition to gay marriage, which she later endorsed, has hurt her with young people. Labor worries about her different statements on trade deals.

Still, Clinton has mainly been constant on issues and changing positions over time is not dishonest.

It’s fair to expect more transparency. But it’s a double standard to insist on her purity.

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