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It can’t be fun to be a Democrat right about now. All of the information, truly all of it, that is coming in about the short term prospects of your party are flashing warning lights. The question isn’t whether your party is going to lose, it’s how badly are they going to lose. And the answer appears to be very badly, maybe even historically badly. It’s looking like those Virginia elections results really were a preview of things to come.
Things are even worse if you’re a left-wing Democrat, i.e. someone who not only sees themselves as left-of-center but a real progressive on the right side of history. If you’re that sort of person then not only are you facing decline, you’re probably being blamed for the coming decline by other, less ideological, members of your own party. It doesn’t seem fair.
Knowing you’re better and smarter than everyone who disagrees with you and facing a big loss is an awkward position to be in. There has to be some explanation, some way to make it all make sense. And while it would be great if that explanation was true and convincing it’s just as important that it avoid bruising your pride. In short, there is clearly a problem but it would be great if the problem was the fault of someone else and not you or other people like you.
One solution that really fits the bill is misinformation. That’s a big topic right now. Concern over misinformation is what’s driving much of the agita about social media in general and about Elon Musk buying Twitter in particular. And so you get overwrought pieces like this one in the Washington Post:
Putting so much power in the hands of one company is bad enough, but putting it in the hands of one person, as is largely the case with Facebook shareholder Mark Zuckerberg and would be the case if Twitter were owned by Musk, would be incompatible with democracy, Zuboff said.
“There are simply no checks and balances from any internal or external force,” she said in an interview. It would leave Musk, like Zuckerberg, with an amount of assembled data about people and the ability to use it to manipulate them “that cannot be compared to anything that has ever existed, and allows intervention into the integrity of individual behavior and also the integrity of collective behavior.”
“Zuckerberg sits at his celestial keyboard, and he can decide day by day, hour by hour, whether people are going to be more angry or less angry, whether publications are going to live or die,” she said.
Even former president Obama has weighed in on the dangers of social media and the threat of disinformation.
In recent years, we’ve seen how quickly disinformation spreads, especially on social media. This has created real challenges for our democracy.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 19, 2022
The Atlantic recently held a whole conference on the topic of misinformation. Editor Jeffrey Goldberg argued it was the story of our age:
Disinformation is the story of our age. We see it at work in Russia, whose citizens have been led to believe the lies that Ukraine is an aggressor nation and that the Russian army is winning a war against modern-day Nazis. We see it at work in Europe and the Middle East, where conspiracies about hidden hands and occult forces are adopted by those who, in the words of the historian Walter Russell Mead, lack the ability to “see the world clearly and discern cause and effect relations in complex social settings.” We see it weaponized by authoritarians around the globe, for whom democracy, accountability, and transparency pose mortal threats. And we see it, of course, in our own country, in which tens of millions of voters believe that Joe Biden is an illegitimate president because the man he beat in 2020 specializes in sabotaging reality for personal and political gain. This mass delusion has enormous consequences for the future of democracy. As my colleague Yoni Appelbaum has noted, “Democracy depends on the consent of the losers.”
He has a point about Russia (and China) where state media ensures that people don’t get anything approaching reality from the news. He even has a point about Trump who lost the 2020 election. But the idea that “mass delusion” is a one-stop explanation for the direction the world is heading is its own kind of belief in hidden hands and occult forces. Indeed, if this were all coming from the right it would certainly be labeled a moral panic. As Matt Yglesias argues today, what it really is is a cope for people who need to explain why they’re losing and losing badly.
I agree with Michael Slaby that the misinformation focus among Democrats feels like a self-exculpatory cope:
Democrats are also seemingly preparing to blame disinformation for an ongoing lack of clarity and imagination, for an unwillingness to see their culpability in losing hearts and minds and failing to win them back, for an inconsistent ability to deliver for people. Failure of leadership is never the answer. The Russians, Trump, McConnell. And now disinformation. Never a lack of imagination, vision, organizing, effective long-term investment, being valuable to people, empathy.
I wish Obama had instead said that there’s no evidence that conspiracy theories are becoming more prevalent, that deactivating Facebook makes people less knowledgable about politics, that poorly informed people have always been with us, and that one part of politics is delivering quality governing results while the other part is meeting people where they are, not pining for some alternate reality where they have totally different beliefs.
The nugget of truth here is that as blue collar workers migrate toward the Republican Party and college-educated people migrate toward the Democratic Party, it becomes easy to argue that education is a key to everything. But here again, Yglesias points out that the people who say this now never seemed to say it when the situation was reversed.
…10 years ago, the late Rush Limbaugh had a running gag about “low-information voters” based on the (true!) observation that at the time, Republicans were meaningfully better-informed about basic political facts than Democrats. That’s because in addition to educational attainment, political knowledge correlates with age (young people are less informed than old people) and with gender (women are less informed than men). Ten years ago, there was a strong tendency for less-educated white people to vote Republican, but that was offset by Obama’s huge margins with Black and Latin working-class people. So in the 2012 alignment, Obama voters were not better educated than Romney voters, but women and young people did lean left while men and old people leaned right, which meant that Obama voters were worse-informed than Romney voters.
So if you agree with Rush Limbaugh that Obama won thanks to misinformation, then I’m happy to see you apply that to voters who’ve swung toward Trump. But I think that if you resist Rush’s interpretation of Obama’s popularity, you ought to resist that interpretation of Trump’s.
This seems to me to be entirely reasonable and a good example of someone on the left refusing to take the path of least resistance, i.e. our side is losing because our opponents are ignorant and evil and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. That’s a cope, a way to avoid taking any real responsibility for the position Democrats are in but the focus on misinformation at least has a veneer of logic to it. It’s a cope coming from the ego of the party.
And then there’s Alex Pareene, the former editor of Gawker. If the Atlantic‘s misinformation conference is the party’s ego response to looming disaster, Pareene is the id response. His most recent piece is a defense of the Washington Post‘s decision to reveal the identity of the person behind the Libs of Tik Tok Twitter account. I’m not going to walk through all of this. Just read the first and penultimate paragraph:
On Tuesday, Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz published a story about a repulsive creep who uses her large online following to, essentially, subject random LGBTQ people (and especially trans people) to harassment, and worse. The piece is meant to help explain who is behind the right’s furious anti-trans moral panic, how the right’s propaganda machine finds the “main characters” that help stoke that moral panic, and how this creep used that propaganda machine to grow the following that now helps provide her with new people to feed into the meat grinder…
It’s not even that the right needs people to lose “trust” in traditional news organizations to win elections or start wars. That already happened and they won. It’s more like they need people to just randomly trust whatever bullshit feels right, to get them to fall for scams and believe propaganda. In the grandest dreams of the pathetic people doing most of the unpaid work, the end game is the eradication of “deviance” from public life. And that is a real threat that the people opposing this should take more seriously. Upstairs from them are the people whose job it is to make sure old people set up recurring payments. Upstairs from them, the goal is that no one finds the boss’s shell companies or offshore accounts. The mission is mainly to prevent, stigmatize, and delegitimize the discovery and confirmation and dissemination of information about how a few people got their money, where they keep it, and what they do with it—like spending it on subsidizing bigotry about trans people and getting gay teachers fired.
This is the left’s id right now. It starts with the premise that opponents are part of a nefarious propaganda machine and from there goes to a kind of even grander conspiracy theory involving capitalism and some sort of secret cabal. This is almost literally the gnomes planning to steal underwear. Step one: Highlight videos some far left people put on Tik Tok. Step 3: Offshore accounts! It doesn’t need to make sense, it just needs to scratch the itch of readers who are convinced that if their side is losing it’s because of all the evil and often invisible hands arrayed against them. It tells them that they may lose but they’re still right and good.
The truth is a lot less apocalyptic and also simpler. The left has moved itself pretty far from the concerns of a lot of ordinary people pretty quickly. It did so with defund the police and the idea that parents shouldn’t have a role in what’s taught in their kids’ schools. And that didn’t work out too well, not even in San Francisco where there aren’t enough Republicans to fill a city bus. But a lot of people would rather find someone or something else to blame, anything other than themselves and their ideology which they absolutely know is superior. There’s probably going to be a lot more lashing out from the ego and the id of the party between now and November because it’s just not much fun to be a Democrat right now because coping with looming failure is hard.
Source: This post first appeared on HotAir