Read the NYT column here. My commentary here is basically a walk through the article.
As the forces of reaction outpace movements predicated on the ideal of progress, and as traditional norms of political competition are tossed aside, it’s clear that the internet and social media have succeeded in doing what many feared and some hoped they would. They have disrupted and destroyed institutional constraints on what can be said, when and where it can be said and who can say it.
Who are these “many” that feared the internet? Who set up these constraints on speech? What gives them the authority to do that? Why should anyone abide by such restraints? Who gets to define what “progress” is, what is their definition, how did they arrive at that definition, and why are we required to move in the direction they want? Why can’t we move in our own directions and be our own masters?
Even though in one sense President Trump’s victory in 2016 fulfilled conventional expectations — because it prevented a third straight Democratic term in the White House — it also revealed that the internet and its offspring have overridden the traditional American political system of alternating left-right advantage. They are contributing — perhaps irreversibly — to the decay of traditional moral and ethical constraints in American politics.
“Alternating left-right advantage?” Considering the Boy Scouts now allow trannies to enter the troop, I fail to see what advantage “the right” has had for the past 50 years. The country has overwhelmingly moved leftward. And how is the Internet responsible for the “decay” of moral and ethical constraints in politics, when it’s leftist terror squads that are threatening to “punch Nazis” (hint: if you’re white, you’re a Nazi to them).
Matthew Hindman, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University and the author of “The Myth of Digital Democracy,” said in a phone interview that “if you took the label off, someone looking at the United States would have to be worried about democratic failure or transitioning toward a hybrid regime.”
The fact that the Deep State is actively working to thwart Trump’s presidency proves we already live in a hybrid system. They are a shadowy, unelected fifth branch of the government (the fourth being the Federal Reserve). There is one set of laws for the financial, political, and media elites. There is another set of laws for the rest of us.
Such a regime, in his view, would keep the trappings of democracy, including seemingly free elections, while leaders would control the election process, the media and the scope of permissible debate. “What you get is a country that is de facto less free.”
Scott Goodstein, the C.E.O. of Revolution Messaging, has run online messaging for both the Obama and Sanders campaigns. When I spoke to him in a phone interview, he argued that the internet has been
a great thing for getting additional layers of transparency. It was true for Donald Trump as it was for Bernie Sanders; the internet ended smoke-filled back rooms, deal-cutting moved from back room to a true campaign, with a more general population. Maybe an unwashed population, but that’s the beauty of American politics with 350 million people.
Goodstein noted, however, “a horrible development on the internet” last year:
In this cycle you saw hate speech retweeted and echoed, by partisan hacks, the Jewish star used in neo-Nazi posts. There is no governing body, so I think it’s going to get worse, more people jumping into the gutter.
Heaven forfend a Jew be upset by something he saw on the Internet! Alright folks, that’s a wrap! Can’t have free speech anymore – some Jewish people got offended! Wrap it up and take it home! We gotta have speech police now so Jews won’t be offended!
The use of digital technology in the 2016 election “represents the latest chapter in the disintegration of legacy institutions that had set bounds for American politics in the postwar era,” Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford, writes in a forthcoming paper, “Can American Democracy Survive the Internet?”
What “democracy” do we have? We have a wholly rigged financial and political system that masquerades as having the people’s mandate via elections tilted heavily toward incumbents.
According to Persily, the Trump campaign was “totally unprecedented in its breaking of established norms of politics.” He argues that this type of campaign is only successful in a context in which certain established institutions — particularly, the mainstream media and political party organizations — have lost most of their power, both in the United States and around the world.
That is a good thing.
The Trump campaign is the most recent beneficiary of the collapse of once-dominant organizations:The void these eroding institutions have left was filled by an unmediated, populist nationalism tailor-made for the internet age. We see it in the rise of the Five Star Movement in Italy and the Pirate Party in Iceland. We see it in the successful use of social media in the Brexit referendum, in which supporters were seven times more numerous on Twitter and five times more active on Instagram. And we see it in the pervasive fears of government leaders throughout Europe, who worried well before the American election that Russian propaganda and other internet tactics might sway their electorates.
The Western media is already propaganda. Propaganda is here to stay. It is the means by which the popular will of a nation-state is programmed. Edsall is just unhappy that him and friends will no longer be the programmers.
Issacharoff was even more concerned about the future of democratic politics in a talk, “Anxieties of Democracy,” that he gave in February at the University of Texas law school.
“We are witnessing a period of deep challenge to the core claims of democracy to be the superior form of political organization of civilized peoples,” he told his audience:
The current moment of democratic uncertainty draws from four central institutional challenges, each one a compromise of how democracy was consolidated over the past few centuries. First, the accelerated decline of political parties and other institutional forms of engagement; second, the weakness of the legislative branches; third, the loss of a sense of social cohesion; and fourth, the decline in democratic state competence.
Two developments in the 2016 campaign provided strong evidence of the vulnerability of democracies in the age of the internet: the alleged effort of the Russian government to secretly intervene on behalf of Trump, and the discovery by internet profiteers of how to monetize the distribution of fake news stories, especially stories damaging to Hillary Clinton.
The Democrats lost because they ran a weak candidate against a strong candidate, and alienated the Bernie Sanders vote by throwing Bernie under the bus. She didn’t lose because of “fake news” – though Trump did win in spite of plenty of it.
There is good reason to think that the disruptive forces at work in the United States — as they expand the universe of the politically engaged and open the debate to millions who previously paid little or no attention — may do more to damage the left than strengthen it. In other words, just as the use of negative campaign ads and campaign finance loopholes to channel suspect contributions eventually became routine, so too will be the use of social media to confuse and mislead the electorate.
“Confuse and mislead the electorate”? What the hell does Edsall think the major news networks are doing 24/7?