Cory Doctorow, +1, ☆☆☆☆


Doctorow makes a useful distinction I wish I’d grasped years ago, the difference between persuasion and targeting.

The problem is that we’re confusing automated persuasion with automated targeting. Laughable lies about Brexit, Mexican rapists, and creeping Sharia law didn’t convince otherwise sensible people that up was down and the sky was green.

Rather, the sophisticated targeting systems available through Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other Big Tech ad platforms made it easy to find the racist, xenophobic, fearful, angry people who wanted to believe that foreigners were destroying their country while being bankrolled by George Soros.

Remember that elections are generally knife-edge affairs, even for politicians who’ve held their seats for decades with slim margins: 60% of the vote is an excellent win. Remember, too, that the winner in most races is “none of the above,” with huge numbers of voters sitting out the election. If even a small number of these non-voters can be motivated to show up at the polls, safe seats can be made contestable. In a tight race, having a cheap way to reach all the latent Klansmen in a district and quietly inform them that Donald J. Trump is their man is a game-changer.

Cambridge Analytica are like stage mentalists: they’re doing something labor-intensive and pretending that it’s something supernatural. A stage mentalist will train for years to learn to quickly memorize a deck of cards and then claim that they can name your card thanks to their psychic powers. You never see the unglamorous, unimpressive memorization practice. Cambridge Analytica uses Facebook to find racist jerks and tell them to vote for Trump and then they claim that they’ve discovered a mystical way to get otherwise sensible people to vote for maniacs.

I’m thinking about all those times I agreed to debates with creationists, and I’d show up at the venue to see church buses lined up outside and a crowd of people clutching Bibles filling the seats. There was no hope that I’d convince them (OK, maybe I deluded myself that I’d win over a few), and really, my role was to play the heel at a fixed match, to draw in the congregation to listen to the face, who got all the adulation. That really got to me at one event, held in a fairly swanky hotel ballroom, where afterwards the preacher who’d brought me in told the audience that my antagonist was staying in a suite there, that they were going to have a dinner with select donors, and that he’d be staying in town to speak at the church the next few days. Then he took me aside, gave me a check for $100, and told me there was a Motel 6 just down the road.

The creationists were smarter than I was. They knew these events weren’t intended to inform or educate; the debate was all about rallying a crowd, drawing in more true believers who wanted to see that university egghead taught a lesson — and it didn’t matter that I wasn’t crushed, because they’d gather together all the conservative Christians and they’d find each other. It’s both sides, too. Debates at atheist events are also a sham, primarily about grooming a particular audience rather than teaching anything new.

Doctorow is focused on politics and the media, but it’s the same old story. The goal isn’t to persuade, it’s to align people with a gang.

He also sees through the game of advertising. How often have you seen a stupid, repetitive commercial and thought to yourself, “What a waste of time, I’m too smart to be fooled by this BS.” Advertisers don’t care. They’re just trying to efficiently glean out the few who are fooled, and tools like Facebook are there to make it easier to sort the profitable wheat from the chaff (and in this game, you’re the chaff.)

It’s fashionable to treat the dysfunctions of social media as the result of the naivete of early technologists, who failed to foresee these outcomes. The truth is that the ability to build Facebook-like services is relatively common. What was rare was the moral recklessness necessary to go through with it.

The thing is, it’s always been obvious that by spying on internet users, you could improve the efficacy of advertising. That’s not so much because spying gives you fantastic insights into new ways to convince people to buy products as it is a tribute to just how ineffective marketing is. When an ad’s expected rate of success is well below one percent, doubling or tripling its efficacy still leaves you with a sub-one-percent conversion rate.

But it was also obvious from the start that amassing huge dossiers on everyone who used the internet could create real problems for all of society that would dwarf the minute gains these dossiers would realize for advertisers.

Now look at the recent elections in this country. Donald Trump didn’t persuade anyone — he can’t, because he’s a bumbling incompetent — he just used the tools provided by media like Facebook and Twitter to pick out and target the 70 million who could be fooled effectively and get them to think that Trump is the widget they must buy, and got them all engaged in a great big gang that would make Trump the focus of their identity.

Great.

We may have gotten rid of Trump, but those 70 million are still out there, and Facebook still has extensive dossiers on enough of them to steer them in whatever directions Zuckerberg feels is most profitable.

Comments

  1. stroppy says

    Advertisers gonna advertise.
    Propagandists gonna propagandize.
    Con artists gonna con.

    The same age old psychopathy operating on the same neolithic brains, just sharper tools and more efficient instruments of mass deception.

    Moo.

  2. raven says

    Now look at the recent elections in this country. Donald Trump didn’t persuade anyone — he can’t, because he’s a bumbling incompetent.

    That is what I and many also noticed, the incompetent Trump campaign.

    .1. Much of the Trump campaign money was just siphoned off into personal bank accounts in various ways by everyone associated with the GOP and him. This is the downside of pervasive and semi-legal corruption.
    .2. His big campaign issue was…Hunter Biden. It even worked.
    The GOP convinced me to not vote for…Hunter Biden.
    Other than that, no one cared.

    After all that, the election was still way too close considering the US is now littered with a sick economy and sick and dead people, thanks to the GOP, Trump, and Covid-19 virus.

  3. PaulBC says

    This is a little tangential, but I’m reminded of something I wrote on facebook in 2016 about a month after the election:

    The racists don’t worry me as much as people who are thinking “Well, I was getting the hang of multiculturalism, but thank God Trump is in office and I can forget about all this New Age PC moonbat nonsense and go back to being white.”

    I suspect there are tens of millions of people in this category, and they would have been reasonable, helpful partners in what was shaping up to be a new and better normal. Many of them are in positions of influence in the corporate world and the media. Now we may have lost them for another generation.

    …tying it back to Doctorow’s point, it’s clear that nobody ever purged the most virulent bigots from American society, though I admit I probably underestimated the numbers. They were ashamed to be open about it for decades. They’re a lot louder now than they’ve been in decades.

    I think it’s a rare event that anyone is truly “persuaded” and it’s more likely to occur at younger age. On the other hand, if you identify people with existing beliefs and bring them together, it can definitely shift acceptable discourse. This makes perfect sense (but Doctorow’s explanation is astute and I might not have thought about it too hard).

    The vast majority of people aren’t that committed one way or the other, which was my point above. But it worries me when the path of least resistance is set by the very worst among us, as seems to have been happening for years.

  4. PaulBC says

    raven@4 I think “laptop from hell” was an effective approach at the margins. I don’t think it did any harm to Trump, anyway. His turnout effort was also very successful (fake scandals help). Without the pandemic, I think he would have eased right back into office, not necessarily by voters who were consciously voting for the concept of the autocratic president, but who just felt they had personally benefited from the economy and didn’t want to rock the boat.

    The Trump approach of using the campaign primarily as a con game and only spending some of the money on actually getting re-elected probably made perfect sense a year ago. It’s not a mistake as much as part of the whole package. We just “lucked out” by getting hit with a national emergency that woke up at least enough voters to make a difference.

    My feeling after this election is more along the lines of walking away from a serious car crash, apparently with minor injuries. Of course, the car is still totaled. And I definitely would not consider it proof of my excellent driving skills, nor would I want to repeat it.

  5. hackerguitar says

    Excellent points all, and worth thinking about.

    I’ve always liked the Australian idea of mandatory voting. I suppose some knucklehead in this country, probably on the unreconstructed right, would contest such a policy, claiming coercion or some such thing.

    But I long for it – I think it’d take about three presidential cycles to have a meaningful effect.

  6. PaulBC says

    hackerguitar@7

    I suppose some knucklehead in this country, probably on the unreconstructed right, would contest such a policy, claiming coercion or some such thing.

    They are already openly admitting that making it easier to vote will reduce the likelihood of Republicans getting elected, and identifying “illegal votes” with votes cast in cities with a large Black population. The push to decrease franchise right now is so strong, that mandatory voting seems almost laughable (though I agree it’s a good idea). I just think you are underestimating the explicit and loud opposition to voluntary voting by anyone who will go against the rightwing agenda.

  7. Mark Smith says

    The lesson I draw from all this is that you can fool enough of the people, enough of the time. Enough to get away with it. Trump has gotten away with everything, and that would still be just as true if he were thrown into prison this afternoon, he has so little time left.

  8. Artor says

    See also: Nigerian email scams. The bad writing, misspellings, and absurd premises look ridiculous to most people, who chuckle and delete them immediately. But that’s the filter right there. There are people for whom those aren’t obvious flags, and those people are the target. The emails can be sent out by the hundreds of thousands for a cost of pennies, but one dumb American taken for their mortgage payment can provide a good year’s wage for the average Nigerian who isn’t in the oil industry.

  9. edmond says

    “Debates at atheist events are also a sham, primarily about grooming a particular audience rather than teaching anything new.”

    Does the opposing side at an atheist event HAVE anything new to teach?

  10. brucegee1962 says

    Mandatory voting seems like a terrible idea to me. It already worries me that there are people who wake up on election morning and say “I guess I ought to find out what the candidates in my district have to say on the issues I care about.” Who say “I’m voting for this candidate because I love that commercial they put out.” Who say “I see a lot of yard signs around for candidate X, so I guess I’ll go along with my neighbors.”
    The problem with America right now is that far too many of the voters are idiots. What is to be gained by forcing more of them into the pool? If you don’t care enough about politics to inform yourself about the issues and candidates, please stay home, I say.

  11. nomdeplume says

    @7 @12 The Australian system is often misunderstood, even by Australians. It is not “mandatory to vote”. It is mandatory to turn up at a polling station on election day (or earlier at other centres, or by mail) and have your name ticked off. You can then, if you wish, stuff your pristine voting paper into the box, or scribble obscenities on it before doing so, or write in a vote for the Easter Bunny, or refuse to vote for more than one candidate. And so on, in other words, having made the effort to turn up at a polling station you can refuse to exercise your vote. Pretty stupid, yes, but, you know, “Freedom”. The big advantage to the system is that there is no component in the election of “getting out the vote” on the one hand or “suppressing the vote” on the other. Everyone has a right to vote and is given every opportunity to do so.

  12. whheydt says

    Re: hackerguitar @ #7…
    Mexico has–or used to have–an interesting system. Want to renew your car registration or your drivers license? First show the receipt that you voted in the last election.

  13. Pierce R. Butler says

    In the US, if one party pushes through mandatory voting, the other party will promise to repeal it – and will win the following election.

  14. drew says

    I can’t stand Trump. That said, he may be a bumbling incompetent but didn’t he accomplish quite a lot through his incompetence? We all know he’s a liar and a crook. He was settling a fraud case for $25M as he entered office! But he manages to wiggle his fat orange butt free of all of that with a little money and some hand-waving every time. He was a huge, obnoxious thumb in the eye of not only all the smug liberals but also a lot of the smug conservatives. That’s what people voted for. Were they stupid to vote for that? Well, he’s been elected President once so far . . .

    It’s worth pointing out even to the most complacent Biden-voters that we did not get rid of Trump. He’s going to be all over the news. He’s probably going to have his own news outlet. If rich guy money can keep him alive for four years, he’s probably running again. And if he does he’ll inevitably get the Republican ticket. After four years of Biden and Obama-style “quiet cronyism,” a pandemic, and an economic collapse, he will look better to many people than he does now. So we have a great deal to worry about.

  15. John Morales says

    drew,

    It’s worth pointing out even to the most complacent Biden-voters that we did not get rid of Trump.

    You got rid of Trump as POTUS.
    He may remain a figurehead, but he won’t have that power.

    Personally, I think there’s an element of “faddism” to this Trump-worship.
    Fads fade.

    After four years of Biden and Obama-style “quiet cronyism,” a pandemic, and an economic collapse, he will look better to many people than he does now. So we have a great deal to worry about.

    He’s clearly in his dotage.
    Four years hence, he will be even more decrepit and incompetent.

  16. says

    So… can we stop pretending that it’s possible to peel off Republican voters, and start actually electing people who will do what the Democratic base actually wants, instead of pro-war, pro-corporate, pro-surveillance dystopian nightmare Republican Lite candidates like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden?

  17. PaulBC says

    drew@16 It’s probably wishful thinking, but I expect Trump to go into rapid decline once he’s out of the White House. He’ll be 78 in 2024. True, Biden is 78 now, and I’m still astonished at how old our candidates are now (I laughed when the Soviets went from Brezhnev to Andropov to Chernenko in rapid succession, but those guys were all 75 or younger).

    The difference as I see it is that Trump craves attention, and he’s not going to take care of himself unless he gets it. He is the most undisciplined person to reach the presidency at least in my lifetime (maybe Warren Harding was a bigger slacker, who knows?). It’s just hard to see what keeps him going if he’s not the center of attention. He’ll try, but I don’t think circumstances will permit it. He’ll also be a private citizen, probably in debt, possibly in legal trouble. He may wriggle out of all that. It will at least be a distraction.

    Anyway, only time will tell, but it’s hardly a foregone conclusion that he’ll be in any condition to run for president in 2024.

  18. John Morales says

    Vicar (the definite article):

    So… can we stop pretending that it’s possible to peel off Republican voters, and start actually electing people who will do what the Democratic base actually wants […]

    You do realise that the Democratic candidates who are elected are those for whom the electorate voted, right? Surely you do.

    It follows that your implication is that the electorate itself is being foolish by voting in the wrong candidates… specifically, those you intimate are insufficiently “Democratic”, which means all extant elected.

    That sort of insinuation is your modus, and it’s become boringly predictable. Only constant is where you lay the fault.

    Your perseverance at it, remarkable as it may be, is yet far of other obsessives I’ve seen on this blog over years.

    (Slow and steady, that’s your motto)

  19. square101 says

    @20 John Morales

    I would also be someone that would suggest that the Democratic party start looking at issues the public supports and consider supporting more of them openly. For 2 examples I will link the Ballotpedia results for ballot measures in support of some kind of cannabis legalization in 2020 and for measures supporting an increase in the minimum wage over the last 20 years.

    https://ballotpedia.org/2020_marijuana_legalization_and_marijuana-related_ballot_measures

    https://ballotpedia.org/Minimum_wage_on_the_ballot

    This year voters of 6/7 states approved legislation legalizing cannabis in some fashion including known liberal bastions such as Arizona, Montana and South Dakota. Similarly many states including Florida (2020) Arkansas (2018) Missouri (2018) Maine (2016) Alaska (2014) and Arkansas (2014) again approved increases to their minimum wage over the last 3 elections. The minimum wage amendments passed with between 55% and 69% (!) of the vote. Policies like these are EXTREMELY popular with the public and also, ya know, the right thing to do. I would like to see the Democratic party realize this and consider supporting these issues and issues like them instead of thinking the only way to win is to pick the most right leaning candidate the party will tolerate in order to peel off more Republican voters.

    I don’t have links for this, but I remember during the primary that while Joe Biden certainly got the most support when asked what people like about him like his policies or ideas they didn’t really like many, not nearly to the level that would explain his support at least. What they liked was that they believed he had the best chance of winning because the prevailing wisdom of the Dems is that you have to pick a centrist who wants nothing to fundamentally change in order to have a chance. Wanting to better the lives of people in our communities is radical and crazy and if you ever expect anything good to happen in your lifetime your a dumb child. The only “hope” we have is to stall the ever marching force of fascism for a term or two.

    To be clear, I voted for Biden and for a full D ticket because the idea that if we just let fascism happen people will realize it’s bad and usher in a socialist utopia is ridiculous. Fascism has literally never been defeated by letting it win. I am one of the people who voted for Joe Biden but generally disagree with a significant number if not most of his policies. Just because he was elected doesn’t actually mean that the people or even his own voters like any of his policies. As many people here and other places said voting for him was a form of harm reduction so holding up the election of “harm reduction” candidates as evidence of support for their policies would be a flawed reading of the situation at best and underhanded at worst.

    93% of Republicans voted for Trump this time, an increase over the 90% he got in 2016. If there ever was going to be a candidate that should be “too far”, it was Trump. We aren’t going to pull in more voters by trying to chip away at the very very small cliff of Republicans who are uncomfortable with fascism, at least definitely not enough to counteract the new voters the Republicans get by being fascists. Let’s look at what the people (to be clear not just the people who vote in the Dem primary) want and support that (assuming its not bigoted garbage). There are plenty of places, like the seat Amy McGrath ran for, that are basically impossible to win according to prevailing wisdom so why not try something new instead of trying what we know for sure doesn’t work over and over.

  20. Anton Mates says

    Vicar,

    So… can we stop pretending that it’s possible to peel off Republican voters,>

    Uh…why would we do that after an election in which we did peel off Republican voters? Going by the exit polls, 14% of self-styled “conservatives” voted Democratic this time. That is over twice as many votes as the Dems could have gotten by securing 100% of the “liberal” vote, instead of the 89% that they actually did. It’s simple math–appealing to conservatives won Biden more votes than additional appeals to liberals could ever have done.

    Biden made significant inroads with white voters, and with older voters, and with male voters, and with voters without a college education. Without that, he would not have flipped Michigan or Georgia, and possibly not Arizona or Wisconsin either. (He also would not have flipped those states without strong support from the Democratic base, but that’s the point–he managed to get all of those things.)

    I’m still glad I voted for Bernie in the primary, because I’m a progressive and he’s more of what I want in a candidate. But Biden’s supporters argued all along that he was the most electable candidate, and they were clearly right. The guy got eighty million votes, for crying out loud.

    start actually electing people who will do what the Democratic base actually wants

    The Democratic base wants a lot of different things, most of which you seem unaware of. The Democratic base is diverse, and will remain diverse as long as white male land-owners hold so much political power that pretty much everyone else has to band together to balance them out.

    This year, the Democratic base wanted Biden.

  21. John Morales says

    square101, your comment is orthogonal to mine, but sure.
    I am sympathetic to your take on it.

    Perhaps you could communicate your idea to the Democratic party.

  22. PaulBC says

    Anton Mates@22 The most significant disappointment this election was the down-ballot results. The loss of House seats was a lot more than expected (but it’s not like we haven’t had years where Democrats lost the House, sometimes by a huge margin).

    I wonder if some of this is subject to over-interpretation with respect to particular groups (Biden’s share of Latinos in Texas for instance). It’s certainly true that some of the Biden votes went to Republicans who are sick of Trump, and they probably still showed up and voted for other Republicans. I don’t think there was a huge untapped share of progressive voters who could have helped Biden in this election. The main reason it was not a landslide for Biden is that Trump’s voters were highly motivated, and more of them came out than Biden supporters might have expected (I sure wasn’t expecting it). It’s just good we didn’t treat this election as “Stay pure and let someone else vote for Biden.”

    I worked out a very simple turnout explanation a few weeks ago as follows: Suppose there are Biden voters, represented by giving Biden a “vote share” of 1, down-ballot Republicans a share of s, and down-ballot Democrats 1-s. There are Trump voters who give Trump a share of 1, down-ballot Republicans a share of 1, and down-ballot Democrats a share of 0 (intentionally ignoring Trump voters who voted for Democrats down-ballot, though I’m sure they exist).

    The choice between Biden and Trump depends on which side comes out in greater numbers. Let x be the ratio of Biden voters to Trump voters.

    Down-ballot Democrats only win if x(1-s) > 1+sx. Doing some simple algebra: x – sx > 1+sx, so x-2sx > 1, x(1-2s) > 1, or finally x > 1/(1-2s).

    To make this concrete, suppose Biden voters include 5% “Never Trump” Republicans. Then s = 0.05. For a down-ballot Democrat to win, we’d need 1/(1-2*0.5) = 1/0.9 = (about) 1.11 or 11% more Biden voters than Trump voters. If it’s anywhere between 1 and 1.11, you get what we saw: Trump loses, but the down-ballot Republican wins.

    I don’t think this explains the situation everywhere, but might it explain the situation in some races, such as California congressional districts that went to Republicans because Trump voters were more highly motivated than Biden voters (who reasonably assumed the election would go to President-elect Biden.)

  23. square101 says

    @ 23

    “Perhaps you could communicate your idea to the Democratic party.”

    Holy fuck, why didn’t I think of that?! Just venmo me the $2000 and I’ll show up an one of those dry chicken breast dinners and tell em.

  24. John Morales says

    square101, you want money?

    You did think of that, since you’ve already claimed “I would also be someone that would suggest that the Democratic party start looking at issues the public supports and consider supporting more of them openly.”

    So you would, but only if I pay you $2000, it now transpires.

    (So, that’s the cost of your convictions)

  25. KG says

    while Joe Biden certainly got the most support when asked what people like about him like his policies or ideas they didn’t really like many, not nearly to the level that would explain his support at least. What they liked was that they believed he had the best chance of winning because the prevailing wisdom of the Dems is that you have to pick a centrist who wants nothing to fundamentally change in order to have a chance. – square101@21

    To say the least, it’s far from obvious they were wrong, if that was the reason Biden won the nomination. (To be clear, if I’d had a vote, I’d have voted – and campaigned – for Sanders; the gain if he had won the nomination and beaten Trump would have been far greater than from a Biden win.) Others have already pointed out that Biden won an unprecedented number of votes, and that some at least seem to have come from Republicans. Would they have voted for Sanders? And we know that Bloomberg was threatening to stand if anyone he didn’t like got the nomination.

  26. kurt1 says

    @22 Anton Mates
    You are correct, all the progressives should have stayed home. Giving Biden their vote without getting anything in return policy or personel wise just means that the only good strategy to win for democrats is going right to scalp off more of them conservative voters.

  27. says

    With traditional advertising — billboards, TV, newspapers — everybody who sees an advertisement sees the same thing. And if an advertisement crosses a line — if it’s racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist or whatever — somebody will complain out loud.

    Individually-targeted advertisements on the Internet can be shown only to a pre-selected audience. When they don’t hear anyone complaining about an advertisement being racist, they assume that must be because the advertisement is not racist; when in fact, it’s simply because the advertisement is being carefully hidden from anyone who might call it out for racism.

    This allows unscrupulous advertisers (but that is a tautology) to appeal to racists, misogynists, LGBTQ-phobes and others, without fear of censure. The false — yet entirely reasonable, and in any case barely conscious — assumption that everybody else is seeing the same advertisement combines with the absence of protest to lend bogus social acceptability to the views it expresses.

    It essentially bypasses all regulations. Individually-targeted advertisements cannot, by definition, be properly checked to ensure they are legal, decent, honest and truthful. And when advertising doesn’t even look like traditional advertisements, but like opinions expressed in a conversation between human beings, it becomes even more insidious. Just pure propaganda.

  28. square101 says

    @26

    Sorry I didn’t respond seriously enough for you to your genius argument of:

    “WhY doNT yOu TeLL theM AbouT It tHEn.”

    You responded to my comment with a certain level of seriousness and I responded in kind. The $2000 is the cost of responding to people who are, as the British would say, just taking the piss out of me.

  29. square101 says

    @27

    I’m not saying they were wrong, although I will say that predicting in January who has the best chance of winning a presidential election is nearly impossible. What I would say is that Joe Biden was also running against the one of the worst presidents in history and a significant number of people have said that their vote was against Trump not for Biden, i.e. they would have really voted for any warm body with a D next to their name. While I’m sure that not all of the small number of Conservatives who switched from Trump to Biden would have voted for Sanders (remember a higher percentage of Republicans voted for Trump this time then last time, 93% to 90%) what my point is I don’t really care about pealing off Republicans. Millions of people choose not to vote every year for a variety of different reasons but a lot of it boils down to the benefits they see not out weighing the costs in lost wages. I’m not saying those are more morally correct then anyone else, although I do think just dismissing them as too stupid to worry about does the democratic party a disservice. What if we had a candidate that told them they wouldn’t get sent to jail for smoking weed and that we would expunge the records of people they know who did get caught. What if we told them that they could go to a doctor for their back injury they got lifting heavy boxes for UPS who would do more then give them a script for Hydros. So many people in this country are suffering and I’m tired of watching the party that I think is supposed to be the Good Guys TM quibbling over how much we can spend to try and help them when we are shooting $300,000 missiles at weddings.

    To be clear though, I’m glad Biden won, he will definitely do less bad things then Trump would have and that is a good thing. I just would really like to see good things done not just less bad things.

  30. square101 says

    @31

    And, begrudgingly I will admit Biden will probably do some actually good things and that having a Black-Indian woman as the VP is a great step because representation is important. I just wish I could have more faith in them doing great things but I would love to be proven wrong.

  31. PaulBC says

    I voted for Sanders in the CA primary. I was convinced at the time that he was a stronger candidate against Trump. I don’t know if that view was correct, but it also depended on very different conditions. The Trump administration was already a complete shit show, but it took a pandemic to turn the entire election into pure play “stop this shit show” referendum. Biden handled that well enough by making entirely unrealistic promises to bring everything back to normal somehow, and reduce Trump’s tenure to a bad dream we can wake up from.

    This will not happen, but it might have been the only campaign message that could bring together a disjoint coalition. Sanders clearly would have had a much more ambitious agenda.

    It’s also true that 74 million people came out to vote their enthusiastic support for keeping the shit show going another 4 years. I don’t think they did it by “mistake”. We could pretend it was like that in 2016, but this time around, it’s what they want: the rapid descent into a failed state in which they believe (correctly or not) that their interests are the ones that will prevail.

  32. kurt1 says

    I wonder if Sanders would have won. With the pandemic hampering the Sanders campaigns strategy of having tons of volunteers knocking doors, he had to make up the anti-Trump conservatives that Biden got. The mainstream media and establishment Dems have already shown that they are opposed to Sanders. Maybe if Sanders is the nominee and Trump lies about election fraud, they would be more inclined to let him have 4 more years. Biden is safe because he will not upset the stataus quo, corporate looting and exploitation can continue.

  33. PaulBC says

    kurt1@34 I think it’s inaccurate to suggest a return to the pre-Trump world is even possible. The combination of Brexit and Trumpism have smashed an intricate assembly of global deals, some protecting exploitive trade, which the leftwing rightly criticizes, and others making the world more open (e.g. for students and researchers) or taking at least a few steps in the direction of combating global warming. The pandemic has also taken its toll, but I think the globalist program was already suffering.

    This doesn’t mean anything will be better, just that the left really needs to update their list of bugbears. “Davos man” no longer reigns supreme. There are no longer international conspiracies that attempt to determine how the elites will run everything. We’re back into competing elites and renewed nationalism. Biden cannot do anything about that.

  34. square101 says

    @35

    It is also important to realize that the “pre-Trump world” is exactly what lead to Trump. If we go back to that, with the idea that Trump was some sort of anomaly, what is there to stop another Trump from gaining popularity. Trump taught a good portion of the GOP that they don’t have to even pretend to play nice and openly being a huge asshole to the right people can get you power. I worry about someone like Tom Cotton, for example, repeating what Trump did but without the blithering incompetence.

    https://eand.co/this-is-how-trumpism-happens-all-over-again-4d08c5a282f8

    That article really articulates a lot of my fear and ideas pretty well. I am privileged in some ways and was sheltered from a lot of the problems in the US before 2016. I started to notice them more over the last 4 years and realized that a lot of those problems were chronic, not started by Trump. If the plan is to just go back to the status quo ante then I worry we’ll just see this again whether its 2024 or if they wait till 2028.

  35. John Morales says

    square101:

    If the plan is to just go back to the status quo ante then I worry we’ll just see this again whether its 2024 or if they wait till 2028.

    Leaving aside how inscrutable their plan may be, I refer you to my #17.

    Consider it a helpful pre-emptive response with which to assuage your fear.

  36. square101 says

    #37

    I certainly hope you are right and I would love to find out that Trump was just a fad and it won’t get that bad again anytime soon. But I remember thinking Trump was a fad in the 2015-6 Republican primaries and later thinking he was a fad in the 2016 election and he came out with significantly more lifespan that a lot of people expected. I think that Trump himself is clearly not tooooooo long for this world and I’m not actually super worried about Donald J. Trump running and winning again. I am worried that the movement he woke up in this country and especially in the Republican party will bank on “Trumpism” as an American brand of fascism. I don’t think they need a master plan, they just need more people angry and scared of the people Republicans want them scared of. They have built systems to inspire this fear and anger, and unless those are actually dismantled I worry they will bubble under the surface, hidden by the targeting methods Doctor mentioned. Over 70 million people were convinced to vote for him in November and while I would love it if they all calmed the fuck down I don’t expect it.

  37. John Morales says

    square101, worth noting that nobody seriously thought he’d have the chutzpah to actually do what he did. Now, the element of surprise is gone. Everyone has wised up. The reality of relying on norms and ethos and character has been exposed. Nonetheless, at least this time, the system has held up, however tottery.

  38. KG says

    I’m not saying they were wrong, although I will say that predicting in January who has the best chance of winning a presidential election is nearly impossible. What I would say is that Joe Biden was also running against the one of the worst presidents in history and a significant number of people have said that their vote was against Trump not for Biden, i.e. they would have really voted for any warm body with a D next to their name. While I’m sure that not all of the small number of Conservatives who switched from Trump to Biden would have voted for Sanders (remember a higher percentage of Republicans voted for Trump this time then last time, 93% to 90%) what my point is I don’t really care about pealing off Republicans. Millions of people choose not to vote every year for a variety of different reasons but a lot of it boils down to the benefits they see not out weighing the costs in lost wages. – square101@31

    I completely agree with your first two sentences – I meant those who thought Biden was the candidate most likely to beat Trump may well have turned out to be right, not that they had adequate grounds for that belief back in January! But I’m certainly glad enough Republicans did apparently peel off to get Trump out (as we know, down-ballot Republicans did significantly better than Trump). I very much doubt they would have voted for Sanders, particularly if Bloomberg was running as a spolier, which he probably would have done. I’m also doubtful they could have been replaced by enough non-voters to give Sanders a win; as it is, many previous non-voters came out to vote, on both the pro-fascist and anti-fascist sides. Admittedly, turnout was still not high by European standards, but particularly with the pandemic limiting rallies and grassroots organizing, I think it’s remarkable it was as high as it was (about 67%, compared to 59.2% in 2016, itself the highest since 1968).

    PaulBC@35,
    That’s an astute point, but I think Biden will certainly try to resurrect the “globalist program”, and the most impotant EU leaders, Merkel (and whoever succeeds her) and Macron will be keen to help him. The mere removal of Trump will strengthen their hand against the far right at home, within the EU, and against Putin and the UK*; and I’d expect to see the TATP revived. But the key international relationship over the next decade is likely to be that between the USA and China, where Biden probably doesn’t differ much from the line Trump has taken recently, but will pursue it more consistently.

    *Johnson was, a year ago, betting on Trump’s re-election, which might well have happened without the pandemic. It’s not clear he’s bright enough to adjust his course – if he had any sense, he’d have asked for the Brexit transition period to be extended. But at a deeper level, Brexit doesn’t make sense without an effort to break up the EU, reverting to the centuries-long UK foreign policy principle of preventing western Europe being unified under a single power.

  39. Anton Mates says

    @20 John Morales,

    We aren’t going to pull in more voters by trying to chip away at the very very small cliff of Republicans who are uncomfortable with fascism, at least definitely not enough to counteract the new voters the Republicans get by being fascists.

    Sure. But that’s only true of registered Republicans. As I said above, 14% of self-styled “conservatives” voted for Biden this time—that’s mostly conservative independents, and the odd conservative Democrat. Conservative & moderate independents are exactly that huge pool of American voters who are uncomfortable with naked fascism, but pretty comfortable with slightly-veiled patriarchy and white supremacy. They’re relatively uniformed, they’re relatively politically disengaged…and until the demographics shift, we need some of them.

    so why not try something new instead of trying what we know for sure doesn’t work over and over.

    But it does work. It’s worked seven times out of the last eight elections! Like, do you think it’s easy for Democrats to win the popular vote almost every time? It didn’t used to be. It took those nasty war-hawk, corporation-loving New Democrats to make that happen.

    Since Republicans discovered the Southern Strategy, appealing to the center on economics, crime and foreign policy has won Democrats the presidency about half the time. Appealing to progressives on those topics has won Democrats the presidency exactly never, so far as I can see. The only president to be even vaguely left-wing on economics and foreign policy was Carter, and he only won a first term because half of America knew nothing about him except that he was really Southern and really Christian.

    I hope this pattern will change in the future, as America browns and anti-Communist paranoia continues to fade. But it hasn’t changed yet.

    Oh, and the fact that some left-wing policies are increasing in popularity doesn’t really change the rules that much for presidential candidates. As we saw in Florida, independent voters were perfectly capable of supporting a minimum wage increase and rejecting Biden as a “socialist” simultaneously. Many Americans, even the vaguely liberal ones, want a president that’s more conservative than they themselves are. That’s what happens when your image of the ideal leader is basically America’s Daddy.

    @24 PaulBC.

    The most significant disappointment this election was the down-ballot results. The loss of House seats was a lot more than expected (but it’s not like we haven’t had years where Democrats lost the House, sometimes by a huge margin).’’

    Yep. Of course, doing worse than expected after decades of Republican ratf*cking and gerrymandering should probably be, well, expected. Personally, I don’t think the polls were all that wrong; the GOP has just been quite successful at decoupling electoral outcomes from actual public opinion.

    Democrats clearly made some strategic errors in places like Florida, but I don’t think their overall campaign was poorly executed.

    @28 kurt1,

    You are correct, all the progressives should have stayed home. Giving Biden their vote without getting anything in return policy or personel wise

    Okay, so when you say “without getting anything in return,” that implies that you see the Biden administration as offering nothing. I’m not talking about their promises or what we hope they’ll achieve, I’m just talking about the most basic obvious stuff that other New Democrat presidents have pulled off without trying too hard. A more rational federal policy toward pandemics and climate change. Federal science agencies that are still halfway functional and un-gagged. An administration that is not openly allied to virtually every dictator on the planet. More representation for women and people of color. That means nothing to you? Just checking, Mr. Progressive.

    just means that the only good strategy to win for democrats is going right to scalp off more of them conservative voters.

    Trouble is, when Democrats are hurting for votes in the general election, going right is always the only good strategy to win. This fact does not depend on whether progressives play nice or threaten to stay home; either way, we are simply too few and too politically marginalized to dominate at the national level. We will only ever win as part of a larger, more politically centrist, alliance. And if that frustrates you, you have company; black Americans have faced that reality since they had a vote.

    (You may object, “But the Republicans are an extremist minority who manage to dominate politics anyway!” That’s because the Republicans represent the interests of the most privileged minority bloc in the country. They are the only party that can make their focus so narrow, and their positions so extreme, and use methods so openly unscrupulous, and still (sometimes) manage an Electoral College win—not because they’re evil geniuses, but because the entire apparatus of government has favored their base since this nation was founded.)

    So no, progressives should never “stay home.” Instead, they should provide a reliable voting bloc so that Democrats don’t have to appeal so hard to the center in the general election, just as white evangelicals have done for Republicans these last 40+ years. When Democrats are less worried about electability, they’re more willing to give progressive candidates a chance, both inside and outside the party. We saw that in 2016 with Sanders and Stein, and in 2000 with Nader and Bradley. Both of those elections happened after eight years of a centrist Democratic presidency, which made bluish voters start to believe that Democratic rule was kind of inevitable. Want to bring that political climate back? Want liberal and moderate voters to be confident enough about the country’s trajectory that they dare to experiment with going far left? Then always vote for the blue guy. Presidentially speaking, at least.

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