Saturday, July 6, 2024


Though politics is not one of my favorite topics, because most political discussion is frivolous and this is a serious blog, I do feel obliged to write about it occasionally. To some extent, I have used political thinking as an example of human cognitive limitations, with evidence practically slapping us in the face on a daily basis. In my view, you have to allow that it might be possible for well-informed, rational voters to make viable political decisions, but you hardly have to observe the actual political process to see that rationality plays almost no role in the decisions of most voters. There have been two recent trends in news coverage that make politics especially frustrating. On the one hand, there are news outlets that are purely commercial and take no journalistic responsibility for their news content, and, on the other hand, there are unbiased news outlets that take their neutrality to such extremes that they never report on the strengths and weaknesses of individual political candidates; they prefer to limit their political discussions to poll results. I might add that the "neutral" news outlets usually have corporate and other sponsors, and can therefore hardly be considered completely neutral. With the backdrop of uncontrolled misinformation and intentional disinformation campaigns on the internet, false information has been given a significant advantage and now has a disproportional effect on election outcomes. 

I'll comment on Donald Trump first, because this is probably the best example in American political history of the news media dropping the ball. There was some basis for Trump's presidential victory in 2016. He appeared to be a successful businessman and had the showmanship of a television personality, though, if you had dug a little deeper, even then there was plenty of evidence of his various deficiencies.  He benefited from the weaknesses of Hillary Clinton as a candidate: she was uncharismatic, and her political background connected her to decades of ineffective Democrats who had essentially ignored the growing economic pressures on the middle class. Furthermore, she had lived in such a rarefied, wealthy liberal environment that she did not anticipate the effect of her "basket of deplorables" phrase, which permanently alienated many voters. By 2016, class consciousness was firming up, and she was tone-deaf. Also, this is still a sexist country, and that worked against her. Even so, I think that Clinton could easily have won if the news media had provided appropriate reportage on Trump. In 2016, it was already well known that Trump was politically ignorant, probably didn't even care about politics, was generally a business failure, habitually abused women, and had conspicuous psychiatric disorders related to narcissism. There were many signs of his habitual dishonesty by 2016.

While the 2016 presidential election result may have been a fluke, there is no excuse for those in the news media today who shy away from critiquing Trump or discussing what might be expected if he is reelected. Since Trump isn't really very smart, has little interest in political ideology, and is probably already very tired of politics, he might not do much damage. On the other hand, he has a strong incentive to pardon himself of any potential criminal charges, though the Supreme Court has just relieved him of some of that responsibility. At the moment, the greatest threat of a second Trump presidency could be the empowerment of his wealthy backers, who, through the Heritage Foundation, are supporting the conversion of the U.S. government to a conservative autocracy. This one is really crazy, because a vote for Trump could be a vote for a Russian-style voting system, not to mention the end of free speech. Was this part of our American heritage?

The other major presidential candidate now, Joe Biden, is also problematic, but his weaknesses are fairly obvious, even though the liberal news media, which is now openly anti-Trump, has been somewhat protective of Biden. My view is that Biden was already showing signs of senility during the 2020 presidential primary. I voted for Elizabeth Warren in the primary, but was forced to vote for Biden in the election, with Trump as the alternative. Biden does have a lot going for him, and I think that his extensive political experience has been a benefit to the country. I think that future historians may rank him fairly highly compared to most recent presidents. But he has also been a bit lucky, following the worst president in American history. Furthermore, just from watching him speak, it is obvious that he lacks the mental flexibility to properly address the varied and complex issues currently facing the country. He should be thinking at least twice as fast as he now does in public. My impression is that he tries to speak quickly in public in order to seem sharp, but that this backfires because his brain can't keep up with his mouth. In my view, the Democratic Party has been mismanaged for years, and it should have been developing a replacement four years ago. We are now looking at another Ruth Bader Ginsburg age-denial event that could result in an unnecessary step backwards for the country. Biden may still win if he remains a candidate, but the risks are so great that I don't think that the decision should be left to a senile old man.

There are still several months left until the presidential election, and more positive events could occur by then. I was pleased by the sudden ouster of the Conservatives in the U.K., following the ouster of Boris Johnson. With the design of the American political system, the same could not occur here, but there are ways in which the Democratic Party could increase its appeal.

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