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Culture war games: backfire effects

Walter Lippmann on liberty and the news: A century-old mirror for our troubled times
By Roy Peter Clark

At the time of his death in 1974, Lippmann had achieved a special status among newspaper columnists. He won two Pulitzer Prizes. His opinion was sought out by presidents and thought leaders across the globe. He was a founding editor of The New Republic. Most important, he took journalism seriously, not as a trade or even a profession, but as an instrument of democracy. He coined the phrases Cold War, and the manufacture of consent, and the use of the metaphor “stereotype” to describe thoughtless generalizations.

[On power and importance of objective fact]:

“The cardinal fact always is the loss of contact with objective information. Public as well as private reason depends upon it. Not what somebody says, not what somebody wishes were true, but what is so beyond all our opining, constitutes the touchstone of our sanity.”

“For, in the last analysis, the demagogue, whether of the Right or the Left, is, consciously or unconsciously an undetected liar.”

“There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the information by which to detect lies.”

“It may be bad to suppress a particular opinion, but the really deadly thing is to suppress the news. In time of great insecurity, certain opinions acting on unstable minds may cause infinite disaster.”

“The desire to know, the dislike of being deceived and made game of, is a really powerful motive, and it is that motive that can best be enlisted in the cause of freedom.”

LOL Something Matters
By Daniel Engber

Yes, people do engage in motivated reasoning. Yes, it’s true that we prefer to cling to our beliefs. Yes, we do give extra credence to the facts we’ve heard repeated. But each of these ideas has also spawned a more extreme (and more disturbing) corollary—that facts can force the human mind to switch into reverse, that facts can drive us even further from the truth. It’s those latter theories, of boomerangs and backfires, that have grown in prominence in recent years, and it’s those latter theories that have lately had to be revised.

Skeptics of the boomerang effect have also run afoul of consensus thinking in their field. Guess and Coppock sent their study to the same journal that published the original Lord, Ross, and Lepper paper in 1979, and it was rejected. Then it was passed over four more times. “We’ve reframed it over and over,” Coppock says. “It’s never rejected on the evidence—they don’t dispute the data. It’s that they don’t believe the inference, that backlash doesn’t happen, is licensed from those data.” As a result, their work remains in purgatory, as a posted manuscript that hasn’t made its way to print. (Guess has only just submitted his paper re-examining the echo chamber theory; it’s now under review for the first time.)

Wood and Porter’s study also faced a wall of opposition during the peer review process; after two rejections, it was finally accepted by a journal just last week.

I asked Coppock: Might there be echo chambers in academia, where scholars keep themselves away from new ideas about the echo chamber? And what if presenting evidence against the backfire effect itself produced a sort of backfire? “I really do believe my finding,” Coppock said. “I think other people believe me, too.” But if his findings were correct, then wouldn’t all those peer reviewers have updated their beliefs in support of his conclusion? He paused for a moment. “In a way,” he said, “the best evidence against our paper is that it keeps getting rejected.”

While some colleagues have been reluctant to believe that backfire effects might be rare or nonexistent, there are some notable exceptions. Nyhan and Reifler, in particular, were open to the news that their original work on the subject had failed to replicate. They ended up working with Wood and Porter on a collaborative research project, which came out last summer, and again found no sign of backfire from correcting misinformation. (Wood describes them as “the heroes of this story.”) Meanwhile, Nyhan and Reifler have found some better evidence of the effect, or something like it, in other settings. And another pair of scholars, Brian Schaffner and Cameron Roche, showed something that looks a bit like backfire in a recent, very large study of how Republicans and Democrats responded to a promising monthly jobs report in 2012. But when Nyhan looks at all the evidence together, he concedes that both the prevalence and magnitude of backfire effects could have been overstated and that it will take careful work to figure out exactly when and how they come in play.

Fake News and Bots May Be Worrisome, but Their Political Power Is Overblown
By Brendan Nyhan

Dubious political content online is disproportionately likely to reach heavy news consumers who already have strong opinions. For instance, a study I conducted with Andrew Guess of Princeton and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter in Britain showed that exposure to fake news websites before the 2016 election was heavily concentrated among the 10 percent of Americans with the most conservative information diets — not exactly swing voters.

… The total number of shares or likes that fake news and bots attract can sound enormous until you consider how much information circulates online. Twitter, for instance, reported that Russian bots tweeted 2.1 million times before the election — certainly a worrisome number. But these represented only 1 percent of all election-related tweets and 0.5 percent of views of election-related tweets.

Similarly, my study with Mr. Guess and Mr. Reifler found that the mean number of articles on fake news websites visited by Trump supporters was 13.1, but only 40 percent of his supporters visited such websites, and they represented only about 6 percent of the pages they visited on sites focusing on news topics.

Correction: Trump-One Year-Media Story
By Laurie Kellman and Jonathan Drew

Interviews across the polarized country as well as polling from Trump’s first year suggest people seek out various outlets of information, including Trump’s Twitter account, and trust none in particular.

Many say that practice is a new, Trump-era phenomenon in their lives as the president and the media he denigrates as “fake news” fight to be seen as the more credible source.

“It has made me take every story with a large grain, a block of salt,” said Lori Viars, a Christian conservative activist in Lebanon, Ohio, who gets her news from Fox and CNN. “Not just from liberal sources. I’ve seen conservative ‘fake news.'”

Democrat Kathy Tibbits of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, reads lots of news sources as she tries to assess the accuracy of what Trump is reported to have said.

“I kind of think the whole frontier has changed,” said the 60-year-old lawyer and artist. “My degree is in political science, and they never gave us a class on such fiasco politics.”

How Trump’s ‘fake news’ gave authoritarian leaders a new weapon
By Adam Gabbatt

Although Trump has claimed he invented the phrase fake news, and boasted that it was “one of the greatest of all terms I’ve come up with”, the term existed before the president, when it was used to describe deliberately misleading and in some cases completely fabricated news stories.

But by co-opting “fake news” to describe any form of negative media coverage, Trump has helped countries from Venezuela to Syria to Myanmar explain away atrocities and human rights abuses.

In Some Countries, Facebook’s Fiddling Has Magnified Fake News
By Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Casey and Paul Mozur

In Slovakia, where right-wing nationalists took nearly 10 percent of Parliament in 2016, publishers said the changes had actually helped promote fake news. With official news organizations forced to spend money to place themselves in the News Feed, it is now up to users to share information.

“People usually don’t share boring news with boring facts,” said Filip Struharik, the social media editor of Denník N, a Slovakian subscription news site that saw a 30 percent drop in Facebook engagement after the changes. Mr. Struharik, who has been cataloging the effects of Facebook Explore through a monthly tally, has noted a steady rise in engagement on sites that publish fake or sensationalist news.

A bogus news story that spread in December illustrates the problem, Mr. Struharik said. The story claimed that a Muslim man had thanked a good Samaritan for returning his lost wallet, and had warned the Samaritan of a terrorist attack that was planned at a Christmas market.

The fabricated story circulated so widely that the local police issued a statement saying it wasn’t true. But when the police went to issue the warning on Facebook, they found that the message — unlike the fake news story they meant to combat — could no longer appear on News Feed because it came from an official account.

Media companies have a fake follower Twitter problem, too
By Jed Gottlieb

When you look at large media institutions, the numbers of bogus users is staggering. According to the service Twitter Audit, 17 million of the New York Times’ 41 million are fake. So are seven million of Fox News’ 17 million followers. The problem is ubiquitous. About 11% of Breitbart’s nearly one million followers and 17% of the New Republic’s 160,000 are fake.

Ren LaForme, the digital tools reporter at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, likes to think of the Twitter metric in comparison to tracking TV ratings.

“If Nielsen were supplying numbers and it turned out 15% of those number were made up of non-human bots, we would drop Nielsen as a rating system,” LaForme said. “Social network numbers are being used by people as a mark of credibility. If significant amounts of those users are fake, that undermines the credibility of both the news organization touting the numbers and Twitter itself.”

This whole problem could already be headed for a course correction. As more publications successfully mine subscriptions and online paywalls for revenue, the need for advertising, which traditionally supported the bulk of a paper’s budget, drops. As the need for advertising drops, the race for clicks and likes and shares slows. Twitter usage and its influence should decline when more people go straight to media websites for their news.

Free news gets scarcer as paywalls tighten
By Rob Lever

A study last year by the Media Insight Project found 53 percent of Americans have paid for at least one news subscription. A separate report by Oxford University’s Reuters Institute found two-thirds of European newspapers used a pay model.

“Services like Netflix and Spotify have helped people get into the habit of paying for digital content they used to get for free,” said Damian Radcliffe, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon and a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

“People recognize that if you value journalism, especially in the current political climate, you need to pay for it.”

Newspapers seeking to make a transition from print to digital have found it difficult to replace the advertising revenues that were long the staple of the publications.

News organizations are unable to compete against giants like Google and Facebook for digital advertising, and are turning increasingly to readers.

‘It’s going to end in tears’: Reality check is coming for subscription-thirsty publishers
By Lucia Moses

The reigning perception is still that most online news can be gotten for free. A 2017 Reuters Institute survey found 16 percent in the U.S. paid for online news in 2017, up from 9 percent in 2016. That sounds impressive, but 79 percent still said it was “somewhat or very unlikely” that they’d pay for online news in the future. And those who will pay are most likely to pay for news reporting, less so lifestyle and entertainment news.

Recognizing a lot of news is commoditized, some publishers (Digiday included) have moved to memberships that bundle a lot of products and perks together. In theory, that makes it harder for a subscriber to quit, reducing churn. But pulling off a model like that takes a customer-focused approach than most publishers aren’t used to.

Paths to Subscription: Why recent subscribers chose to pay for news
By Media Insight Project

  1. Quality and accuracy matter to nearly every subscriber group, especially after they subscribe. When asked for the most important reasons they use the newspaper, now that they subscribe, people are most likely to cite a publication’s accuracy (78 percent), its willingness to admit mistakes (69 percent), and its dealing fairly with all sides (68 percent) as most important.
  2. The findings offer an opportunity and also a warning for publishers. They suggest that cutting back on newsrooms now (as many publishers do to maintain profit margins against declining revenue) imperils any long-term subscription strategy. Publishers may have to accept a smaller, or in some cases no, margin of profit now to invest in the content quality that potential subscribers demand.

Why Free Speech Matters
By Jacob Mchangama

From 1980 – 2003 the number of countries with a free press grew from 51 to 78. This increase was also proportionately significant. In 1980 34% of the world’s then 161 countries had a free press. In 2003 41% of the world’s 193 countries had newspapers free to criticize their own governments and inform their citizens without censorship. Those of us growing up in that period thought we belonged to a generation that could take free speech for granted and see this principle become universally entrenched. But 2004 would mark the beginning of a constant decline in global press freedom lasting until this day.

From the high-water mark in 2003, we’re down to 31% of the world’s countries where journalists don’t have to worry about being imprisoned (262 reporters were behind bars in 2017). Or put differently: Only 13% of the world’s 7.4 billion people enjoy free speech. 45% live in countries where censorship is the norm. Venezuela, Russia, and Turkey are among the worst offenders. But In liberal democracies, free speech has also become a sometimes toxic issue. The President of the United States has consistently called for stricter laws against libel targeted at the “fake news media” which is “the enemy of the people”.

As German hate speech law sinks Titanic’s Twitter post, critics warn new powers go too far
By Attila Mong

Even the law’s architect, Justice Minister Heiko Maas appeared to fall victim to his own project: he told Bild that Twitter informed him it had deleted one of his tweets from 2010–in which he called a politician who wrote a controversial book on Muslim immigrants “an idiot”– after receiving complaints.

The spotlight on the removal of posts in the first weeks of the legislation illustrates the concerns that press freedom and rights groups raised about the law.

A lack of judicial oversight in the process was highlighted in June by David Kaye, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, who said that the deadline to remove content, coupled with a high fine, could lead to over regulation. CPJ has also warned that the law would put decisions about what is illegal content into the hands of privately owned companies that may be inclined to over-censor in order to avoid potential fines.

Another risk is that NetzDG will set a dangerous precedent internationally. In countries with little to no independent press or where leaders censor critical reporters, social media is a valuable platform to share and report news.

Brussels fake news body meets for first time but has yet to sort out definition of fake news
By James Walker

When asked if the group had a working definition of fake news, Gabriel said: “That is one of the issues that the group will be working on.

“We already touched on this this morning during the first meeting. We have set ourselves the goal of looking at how to define fake news.”

Top news outlets have already produced definitions of fake news, namely that it is entirely fabricated stories told for financial and political gain.

In her opening speech, Gabriel said fake news was “spreading at a worrying rate” and “threatened” the reputation of the media and democracy.

She continued: “With the support and involvement of all, we have to draw approaches to controlling and limiting the circulation of fake news.

“We fully support freedom of expression and the right to access information. Nobody is forcing citizens to believe or not believe a particular piece of news.

“However, if we don’t take the appropriate measures against fake news at EU level, there is a great risk that the situation will get worse.”

Earlier today the EU commission tweeted: “We need to find a balanced approach between the freedom of expression, media pluralism and a citizens’ right to access diverse and reliable information.”

Three publications are suing the EU over fake news allegations
By Daniel Funke

The kerfuffle, which will go to trial in Amsterdam March 14, is an example of how state-led efforts to counter online misinformation often end up in politicized controversy. In Italy, the recent creation of an online portal where citizens can report fake news to the police received widespread criticism from journalists, while similar efforts in the United Kingdom and France have also attracted ire. Even student-led projects to catalogue mistruths have backfired.

In EUvsDisinfo’s case, Burger said the tendency to label anything remotely pro-Kremlin as disinformation is damaging to everyday journalism.

“The very fact of a news medium quoting this man without noting that his claims were false, is everyday journalistic procedure (although a fact-checker would probably disagree),” he said of the Der Gelderlander story in question. “For EUvsDisinfo, it equals spreading disinformation.”

How white nationalists fooled the media about Florida shooter
By Shawn Musgrave

Donovan called this an instance of “source hacking,” a tactic by which fringe groups coordinate to feed authoritative sources such as ADL researchers with false information. These experts, in turn, disseminate the information to reporters, and it reaches thousands of readers before it can be debunked.

“It’s a very effective way of getting duped,” Donovan said.

Retracted: How an Alt-Right Bot Network Took Down Al Franken
By Newsweek Staff

Newsweek has retracted its story about a conservative botnet effort to force the resignation of Senator Al Franken.

The initial report was based on research conducted by Unhack The Vote, a group examining outside influence in U.S. elections and politics. It alleged that a “decidedly alt-right” botnet “weaponized” anti-Franken stories and amplified pressure on Franken to resign after allegations of sexual misconduct. Newsweek was unable to independently verify their claims after a further review of their work.

Newsweek regrets the error.

Newsweek Staffers Threaten to Resign, Claiming Company Tried to Silence Investigation of Owners
By Maxwell Tani

On Tuesday evening, Newsweek published a story about previously unreported ties between Newsweek Media Group (which also owns International Business Times) and Olivet University’s efforts to develop a campus in upstate New York. Olivet, which is affiliated with a mysterious religious sect called “The Community,” has numerous connections to former leaders of NMG.

But not before several reporters and editors made it clear to management that they would quit if Newsweek did not publish the story.

The team of journalists including Newsweek deputy editor Ross Schneiderman, news director Cristina Silva, politics editor Michael J. Mishak, and IBT reporters Josh Keefe and Josh Saul mulled resigning in protest on Tuesday if the article was not published.

Why Is the Manhattan DA Looking at Newsweek’s Ties to a Christian University?
By Celeste Katz, Josh Keefe and Josh Saul

Updated | Note From the Editors: As we were reporting this story, Newsweek Media Group fired Newsweek Editor Bob Roe, Executive Editor Ken Li and Senior Politics Reporter Celeste Katz for doing their jobs. Reporters Josh Keefe and Josh Saul were targeted for firing before an editor persuaded the company to reverse its decision. As we continued working on the story, we were asked to take part in a review process, which, we ultimately learned, involved egregious breaches of confidentiality and journalism ethics. We believe that subjects of the story were shown parts of the draft, if not the entire piece, prior to publication by a company executive who should not have been involved in the process. At an on-the-record interview with the subjects of this story, a company official asked editors to identify confidential sources. On-the-record sources were contacted and questioned about their discussions with Newsweek Media Group reporters. We resisted their efforts to influence the story and, after learning of the review’s ethical failings, the reporters and editors involved in this story felt they would be forced to resign. At that point, a senior Newsweek Media Group executive said the company’s owners would ensure independent review and newsroom autonomy going forward. This story was written and edited Tuesday, free of interference from company executives.

Newsweek in Turmoil: Probe Into Finances and Ties to Bible College Widens
By Lukas I. Alpert, Mark Maremont and Rebecca Davis O’Brien

The Manhattan district attorney’s office also is looking at whether Newsweek defrauded advertisers, the people familiar with the matter said. That part of the probe was triggered by a Feb. 1 report released by ad-monitoring consultancy Social Puncher that alleged Newsweek Media Group juiced its numbers by purchasing web traffic generated by bots, or software programs that mimic the web-surfing of humans, and tried to conceal it from advertisers.

The company has challenged the report’s findings. “Newsweek Media Group does not engage in any kind of traffic gaming techniques,” the company said in its statement.

Former Newsweek employees say as the parent group’s financial picture darkened, the pressure to employ the traffic-boosting techniques used at sister outlet increased. These include publishing quick recaps of other outlets’ news, and entertainment and lifestyle “listicles.”

In early 2017, as IBTimes began seeing its traffic sink, it began shifting its editors to Newsweek to train writers there in its online tactics, the former Newsweek employees said. Newsweek has now overtaken IBTimes in traffic, according to comScore Inc.

“I was told to get a million hits a month, with the implication that the company could fold if we don’t,” one Newsweek staffer said. “’If you don’t hit the targets you’ll lose your jobs’ was the implication. People became just like a churn farm.”

Surprise: Voters Aren’t More Polarized than Ever, Only Pols and Media Are
By Nick Gillespie & Alexis Garcia

Gillespie: What are the areas where there are large majorities, where people on culture war issues, where Americans actually agree but then the way that it gets filtered through the political process, people are like, now this is absolutely we’re at the barricades.

Fiorina: Sure, the social issues are the best example that most Americans can take [Roe v. Wade] as it is out there and say “I can live with that.” That they don’t want to outlaw abortion, they’re a little uncomfortable with some of the third, well more than a little uncomfortable with third trimester stuff, but basically they can say, “We can live within this middle ground.” Same thing with gay rights. On the one hand they don’t wanna see a baker forced to bake a cake for a wedding, on the other hand they wanna see gays have equal rights. So they basically can sort of be in a comfortable middle ground. Big majorities… Guns are another thing. Most Americans can, even NRA members can sort of support what are called “common sense” gun control. But in each case we have activists groups in each party’s base, the pro-choice/pro-life, pro-gun/anti-gun, pro-gay rights/anti-gay rights, which spouts much more extreme positions than populations as a whole.

Avoiding the echo chamber about echo chambers
By Andrew Guess, Benjamin Lyons, Brendan Nyhan, and Jason Reifler

Why, then, does the narrative of technology-fueled echo chambers continue to hold sway? One reason is that polarized media consumption is much more common among an important segment of the public — the most politically active, knowledgeable, and engaged. This group is disproportionately visible online and in public life.

Of course, we would not claim that all is well with American media. Though the phenomena of selective exposure and echo chambers are less widespread than feared, the potential for a balkanized future remains. Moreover, the content of the media that people consume still matters. Even if echo chambers are not widespread, partisan media can still disseminate misinformation and increase animosity toward the other party among a highly visible and influential subset of the population. In this sense, the danger is not that all of us are living in echo chambers but that a subset of the most politically engaged and vocal among us are.

The media exaggerates negative news. This distortion has consequences
By Steven Pinker

… a recent literature review cited “misperception of risk, anxiety, lower mood levels, learned helplessness, contempt and hostility towards others, desensitization, and in some cases, … complete avoidance of the news.” And they become fatalistic, saying things like “Why should I vote? It’s not gonna help,” or “I could donate money, but there’s just gonna be another kid who’s starving next week.”

Relentless negativity can have other unintended consequences, and recently a few journalists have begun to point them out. In the wake of the 2016 American election, the New York Times writers David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg reflected on the media’s role in its shocking outcome:

Trump was the beneficiary of a belief— near universal in American journalism—that “serious news” can essentially be defined as “what’s going wrong… For decades, journalism’s steady focus on problems and seemingly incurable pathologies was preparing the soil that allowed Trump’s seeds of discontent and despair to take root. .. One consequence is that many Americans today have difficulty imagining, valuing or even believing in the promise of incremental system change, which leads to a greater appetite for revolutionary, smash-the-machine change.”

Populism is poisoning the global liberal order
By Francis Fukuyama and Robert Muggah

Several factors are enabling the spread of this virulent strain of populism. First there are economic factors associated with the decline of the Western middle class and hyper-concentration of wealth in the hands of the elite. Next are the intrinsic political weaknesses of democracies themselves, dependent as they are on fractious coalitions and divided electorates. These shortcomings are routinely exploited by charismatic strongmen. Just as important are cultural factors related to the resentment of newcomers and the feeling by some that the country has been claimed by foreigners.

These factors explain why immigration, at least in the West, acts as a lightning rod for populism. The surge of migrants and asylum claimants over the past decade – partly a result of failed military interventions in the Middle East and flawed immigration and border controls – has exacerbated anxieties about rapid cultural change in areas of the U.S. and Europe. It is no surprise, then, that identity politics – whether over ethnicity, language, religion or sexuality – is fast displacing class as the defining characteristic of contemporary politics.

How America’s identity politics went from inclusion to division
By Amy Chua

As Vassar professor Hua Hsu put it in an Atlantic essay called “The End of White America?” the “result is a racial pride that dares not speak its name, and that defines itself through cultural cues instead.”

In combination with the profound demographic transformation now taking place in America, this suppressed urge on the part of many white Americans – to feel solidarity and pride in their group identity, as others are allowed to do – has created an especially fraught set of tribal dynamics in the United States today.

Just after the 2016 election, a former Never Trumper explained his change of heart in the Atlantic: “My college- age daughter constantly hears talk of white privilege and racial identity, of separate dorms for separate races (somewhere in heaven Martin Luther King Jr. is hanging his head and crying). . . . I hate identity politics, [but] when everything is about identity politics, is the left really surprised that on Tuesday millions of white Americans . . . voted as ‘white’? If you want identity politics, identity politics is what you will get.”

The revenge of the places that don’t matter
By Andrés Rodríguez-Pose

In recent years, some of the places that ‘don’t matter’ have increasingly used the ballot to rebel against feelings of being left behind, of lacking opportunities or future prospects. Researchers who focus on interpersonal inequality (such as Piketty 2014) might have predicted this reaction – for which there had been precedents in Thailand and some Latin American countries (Roberts 1995) – would set rich against poor. Instead, lagging or declining regions voted differently to prosperous ones.

We can see this revenge of the places that don’t matter (Rodríguez-Pose 2018) in the 2016 Brexit vote in the UK, the 2016 election of Donald Trump in the US, the 2016 Austrian presidential election, the 2017 French presidential election, and the 2017 German general elections.

Why Is It So Hard for Democracy to Deal With Inequality?
By Thomas B. Edsall

In recent decades, there has been a large increase in the number of people who contribute to political campaigns: In 1980, there were 224,322 individual contributions, the four authors write, and by 2012, that number grew to 3,138,564.

On the surface, those numbers would seem to suggest a democratization of campaign financing. In fact, as the courts have steadily raised the amount an individual can contribute, megadonors have become all the more influential, a process my colleagues Nicholas Confessore, Sarah Cohen and Karen Yourish have documented in detail.

The accompanying chart shows that the share of contributions donated by the top 0.01 percent of the voting age population grew from 16 percent in the 1980s to 40 percent in 2016.

In other words, if money buys influence over policy, the top 0.01 percent bought nearly triple the influence in 2016 that it purchased in the early 1980s.

The Destructive Dynamics of Political Tribalism
By Amy Chua

Trumpism is part of a global pattern, but Europe’s right-wing nationalist movements aren’t the only or even most apt comparison. American politics today has as much in common with the developing world as it does with Europe. Time and again, vote-seeking demagogues with few political credentials have swept to power in developing countries by tapping into deep-seated resentment toward a market-dominant minority. President Trump is neither the world’s first “tweeter-in-chief” nor the first head of state to star on a reality TV show. That would be Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

Venezuela, too, has a market-dominant minority: the light-skinned, insular elite that historically controlled the country’s corporate sector and its staggering oil wealth. Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Chávez swept to victory in 1998 on an anti-establishment platform, attacking the mainstream media, the “rotten oligarchs” and a slew of “enemies of the people.” He won over millions of the country’s have-nots with unscripted rhetoric that struck elites as vulgar, outrageous and often plainly false. But Venezuela’s majority saw in Mr. Chávez a leader who looked and spoke like them.

Seeing coastal elites as a market-dominant minority is sobering. In my research, I’ve found no examples of countries successfully overcoming this problem. On the contrary, all over the world, when this dynamic takes hold of a nation’s politics, a result has been an erosion of trust in institutions and in electoral outcomes. Countries lurch toward authoritarianism, hate-mongering and an elite backlash against the popular side of democracy.

America Is Not a Democracy
By Yascha Mounk

It is true that to recover its citizens’ loyalty, our democracy needs to curb the power of unelected elites who seek only to pad their influence and line their pockets. But it is also true that to protect its citizens’ lives and promote their prosperity, our democracy needs institutions that are, by their nature, deeply elitist. This, to my mind, is the great dilemma that the United States—and other democracies around the world—will have to resolve if they wish to survive in the coming decades.

We don’t need to abolish all technocratic institutions or merely save the ones that exist. We need to build a new set of political institutions that are both more responsive to the views and interests of ordinary people, and better able to solve the immense problems that our society will face in the decades to come.

Is Ignoring Trump Voters a Sign of Privilege?
By Eboo Patel

  1. This African American student/soldier was basically saying he didn’t have the luxury to disengage from people with whom he disagreed, or even that he found offensive. Another word for luxury is privilege. Is stating that you will not engage with forty to fifty percent of the country really a statement of massive privilege – that you are able to control your life in a free and open society so fully that you can substantively ignore a significant set of your fellow citizens rather than figuring out how to work with them?
  2. The reason the student/soldier couldn’t walk away was because he judged that the collective endeavor with which he was involved (the military) mattered more than the offense caused to his personal identity. Also, said collective endeavor has clear norms and rules regarding how its participants will engage one another. What other institutions in American life bring together people from a wide range of racial/religious/ethnic/gender/sexuality identities where the collective endeavor is so important that you will not walk away from someone whose views insult your identity? Hospitals? Schools? Athletic teams? Colleges? (If colleges are not on this list, should they be?)
  3. What happens when people draw their “walk away” lines closer and closer, and do in fact exit crucial collective endeavors because they decide they cannot work with someone who insults their identity? In other words, what happens if a Jew and a Muslim, because of their differences on the Middle East, decide they can no longer perform heart surgeries together? Co-teach an accounting course? Coach a Little League team?

Doesn’t a diverse democracy depend on a robust set of collective endeavors that bring people from different views and identities together in a set of activities that they judge to be more important than their personal identities? Isn’t the alternative much much worse?

Have our tribes become more important than our country?
By Jonathan Rauch

Psychological research shows that tribalism can be countered and overcome by teamwork: by projects that join individuals in a common task on an equal footing. One such task, it turns out, can be to reduce tribalism. In other words, with conscious effort, humans can break the tribal spiral, and many are trying. “You’d never know it from cable news or social media,” Chua writes, “but all over the country there are signs of people trying to cross divides and break out of their political tribes.”

Tribalism is humans’ default mode. De-tribalizing requires effort. Americans’ atavistic impulses got the better of us because we grew complacent. Progressives failed to imagine that identity-mongering and victim-worshiping would not only take over the academy but could help elect Trump to the presidency. Now they know. Conservatives failed to imagine that rage-mongering and conspiracy-theorizing would not only take over conservative media but could help elect Trump to the presidency. Now they know. Those who hold with what Chua calls group-transcending values were caught flatfooted and are only beginning to gather their forces and find their voices. But they are assembling, and the tribalists have lost the advantage of surprise.

Posted in Games.

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