Breaking news? Or just broken news?

In the midst of the angst and drama and rage over fake news, Twitter-casting, and Facebook feeds full of lies and useless crap, we would do well to remember that the driving force behind the rapid evolution of online platforms as a substitute for news is our obsessive demand for constant updates on anything that might just possibly prove to be worthy of mass public attention. Led by America’s interactive media industry, the entire world seems bent upon drowning itself in a churning sea of “information”, 99% of which is non-informative in any meaningful or useful way.

Although the interactive platforms are the principal originators of the flood of forgettable info-trash, other parts of the media industry have played a supporting role in the rapid degradation of our public information resources from news suppliers to mass audience manipulation machines. The cable news channels in the US have largely turned into instant reaction puppets, as they attempt to maintain their audience’s attention by assembling mini-panels of topical “experts”, journalists, and public officials or politicians to provide about five minutes of collective perspective on the latest hint of a “breaking news” story. Even MSNBC, which is the sole reliable TV source of news relevant to progressives, now goes whole weeks without any significant mention of major news stories like climate change, over-population, or the relentless concentration of economic wealth in the hands of a tiny minority of the earth’s people.

The vaunted print media are not immune to this pressure to feed the public demand monster with bits and pieces of basically irrelevant or repetitive “news”. The main guardians of our freedom like the Washington Post and the New York Times have become large websites backed up by their print publications. These websites need to be updated with every passing whisper or rumor, and thus fall into the panic-to-publish syndrome.

As the Trump takeover demonstrates, we are more reliant than ever on a free press to protect us from the assault on truth led by the President-Elect and his partners in lying. But a free press that is busy chasing the fickle, largely ignorant, easily bored digital audience is easily distracted from doing its vital job as our public truthtellers. The news media has become the latest victim of the web’s “everything should be free” dictum. When readers and viewers won’t pay to learn the truth, only the “truths” that are free will attract massive audiences. The real journalists, the courageous ones who tell us what we’d prefer not to hear, will be drowned in a rip tide of clickbait, lies, and mindless entertainment. The information we consume may be free, but freedom itself will be diminished.

 

It’s not over until this Democratic Party is over

Sorry to rain on the parade of professors, political scientists, pollsters and pundits, but all this debating over a percentage point here or a population sub-segment there; all the excuse-mongering; all the “if only she’d done that!” wailing and flailing; the (well-deserved) Comey-shaming; all the blame gaming, in short, is missing what this Truthteller suggests is the main question.

Instead of trying to justify, explain, excuse, or condemn the Democrat loss by a few votes in a few states, the real issue is NOT why this contest was won by the Republicans with so few strategically-located votes, but why it was not won by the Democrats with a ten-million (or more) vote plurality and a 50 (or more) edge in the Electoral College.

What enabled the coalition of the ignorant, the religious right, the Hillary haters, the rabid Tea Party and all the other anti-progressives, and, most tellingly, the millions of voters who stayed home in 2008 and 2012 rather than vote for a Black man, to go out and support the worst educated, least qualified, most dangerous, most despicable candidate in our history?

How did what should have been a nation-wide mass rejection of this oafish lout by all the real patriots and serious, educated, issue-conscious citizens turn into a sullen victory by the minority of Americans who hate the very idea of a rational, informed, fact-based approach to governing and public policy?

How did a no-brainer choice, the *obvious* win over ignorance, become literally a no brainer: the victory of a mindless minority composed of only about 25% of our neighbors? We are talking here, fellow losers, of what should have been a historically massive victory of rationality and public spiritedness over a mob.

The answer will not be found in the nit-picking of exit polls, or the insidious vote suppression schemes of the Republicans. The answer will be in understanding why, when faced with a looming disastrous overthrow of our country’s slow march to a progressive society, fully 45% of our citizens would not care enough to vote.

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind. We are a country, not a collection of population samples. Our government has failed *everyone*, not just the angry white men. Seniors, minorities, women, and immigrants have been pushed aside in our relentless march to a brave new progressive world. The Democratic Party has been a significant part of this failure. The party has mainly focused on local or regional causes and written off whole sections of the country along with most of the unfortunate people who happen to reside in them.

We in our coveted Blue liberal safe zones forget too easily that the people in the disaffected class include millions of Democrats, independents, minorities, frustrated young persons, and ignored seniors. More stupidly, we who are living the educated, employed, progressive good life seem to have forgotten there are millions of less-fortunates living in the slums and ghettos and forgotten rural regions of our Blue states and urban areas.

We assume that, just because a person is ignorant, they cannot think. Too many young progressives assume that seniors are out of touch with reality, when many of these same seniors are distraught at the prospects of their grandchildren coming face-to-face with climate change, in a country impoverished by Republican financial excesses. Too many of us assume that, just because a person is white and poor, they must be a racist, or anti-progressive, or unsympathetic to, or even resentful of, the plight of Black and Latino people, their fellow-sufferers in poverty.

We claim to be the champions of public education, but have done nothing as a party to educate the public.

We lost this election because we failed to mobilize all the people from ALL the population segments who want a progressive future for their children. Drunk with our own clever numbers, we ignored the more important ones:

  • Two thirds of Americans fear global warming and want our government to take action to mitigate it
  • More than 80% of our citizens want gun safety implemented
  • More than 80% of our citizens want a fair, universal, comprehensive national health insurance scheme
  • More than 80% of our people accept the principles of women’s equality, voting rights, LGBT rights, and criminal justice reform
  • Most of our people want employment in all the country, not just the thriving pockets of the educated class.

Instead of forcefully and consistently pressing these issues, we allowed our candidate and leadership to campaign on the singular theme of “We’re not him, or the Deplorables, morally bankrupt Republicans, and hypocritical Christians who support him.” We let our political leadership run away from the real issues for fear of offending some small population segment or special interest group.

We sat back and mocked Trump and his rally-goers, sure that all the other rational folks would crush him and his misogynistic, White Nationalist, anti-science, jingoistic followers. We gave them no reason to get off their duffs and go out and stop him. We simply said, “We’re not him.”

And guess what!? The vast majority already knew that they were not “him”, either. They obviously felt that we’re so much “stronger together” that they need not do anything unpleasant, like voting. Or assumed they could fritter away their vote on ineffectual independent candidates.

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind, an answer for all Americans. And it needs to be based on the commitment of the Democratic Party to utterly reform itself, top to bottom.

We do not need a Democratic Party led by career politicians who are committed to a Democratic party, instead of to democratic principles. We will not win with a party that is reformed in name only, after ideological cosmetic surgery. It needs to become the natural and national party for all those who want a progressive future for their children. It has to include fierce progressives, independents, seniors, and millennials alike, of all colors and cultures. It needs to include the struggling poor as well as the successful professionals. It needs to work, in every sense of the word. It needs to become the Progressive Democratic Alliance.

For days, recently, I’ve listened to good people like Joy Reid of MSNBC hound their pundit and political party guests with one question: “What is the message that can reform, revitalize, and redirect the Democratic Party? What is the one thing 65, 75, even 85% of the people can agree with and take to their mind and hearts, and carry to their polling place?”

It’s this, for me: “Change that works”, period.

 

Is Trump trying to lose? — Part One

Over the past two months, this question has occurred to me several times. Other commentators have raised it, too, and I’m not speaking of the many joking suggestions that Trump is actively scheming to throw the election so he won’t have to stop playing golf.

For me, the nagging suspicion he might not want to be President began with his apparent disinterest in working on a campaign launch in the weeks after locking up the Republican nomination. Trump boasts endlessly about his skill as a builder. The planning and preparatory steps before a major building construction project can begin are time-critical. But in spite of his alleged savvy as a builder, Trump showed no evidence he was even thinking about the urgent tasks that were required to run a professional campaign.

  • He put off the replacement of his Primary campaign manager, who was not qualified to run a full general election campaign
  • When he finally did appoint a “Campaign Chairman”, he selected a lobbyist with no campaign management track record
  • He neglected to build a professional, proven campaign team that could potentially rival the top-grade legion Clinton’s managers had already assembled in Brooklyn
  • He repeatedly bashed polling professionals, saying he didn’t need them
  • He trashed the Republican National Committee and the Republican leadership in Congress — an odd thing to do since he sorely needed their support and material help
  • He failed to establish and foster a relationship with the RNC on the workaday staff level
  • A self-styled media and TV giant, Trump twiddled his thumbs as, all through June and early July, the Clinton organization pounded him with devastating TV ads in the swing states
  • He was content to make overblown promises about the fast-approaching Republican Convention, while doing little to ensure the show would be successful
  • Most incredulous of all, Trump failed to field an effective fund-raising machine and failed to secure funding from traditional Republic wealthy donors — Trump’s constant crowing about being “self-funded” was turning out to be true, and, after an alleged $50 million investment, Mr. Self was backing away from being Mr. Funding.

As the convention approached, the Trump team, what there was of it, was in full disarray. The antagonistic relationship with the RNC was deteriorating. Trump had no policies, no powerful surrogates, no plan, no swing state ground strategy, no advertising, and, we soon saw, no top-name supporters for the convention. What the Trump team had was baseball caps, which he wore proudly to rallies, with little evidence of a serious brain in the head underneath.

As a manager with national project roll-out experience, my conclusion became firm: Donald Trump had become the Accidental Candidate, and was not sure what to do about it. In spite of his decades of bluster, I remain convinced Trump knows he is a terrible manager, not very bright, and incapable of learning. He dare not confess any of this, but the record of his actions, failures, lashing out like an adolescent, and dumb remarks shows it to be true.

By the end of June, he had found himself faced with a mountain of work and hundreds of decisions to make. Trump does not like to work, nor has he the patience with reading or learning enough to make a rational decision. Licensing his name is not “work”, and requires no more than a few accountants and lawyers to do the actual thinking. Donald can simply fly around in his jumbo jet and play golf in his own country clubs, all in the name of “promotion”.

Life as President would be a form of imprisonment, by contrast.

His wife was not happy with the crazy notion of trading their isolated, private, leisurely luxurious life for the 24/7, minute-by-minute regimented, fishbowl existence of a President and his First Lady. His children may have been opposed, too, but we’ll never know the truth since they’re totally intimidated by their authoritarian father. Not to mention they have the prospect of receiving a hundred million dollars or more each for going along with him.

He was being pulled, maybe dragged, along by his advisors and associates, each of whom had a great deal to gain on the remote chance he could win in November, and as much to lose if he dropped out. Would Trump want to run if the only potential beneficiaries were a bunch of sleaze merchants and political opportunists? I very much doubt it.

All these factors must have given Trump grounds to simply walk away from the nomination before the convention bestowed it in mid-July. But, in my view, all these arguments to quit while he still could paled before a much larger reason.

Along with all his other personal characteristics, like them or dismiss them, Trump is a fighter. He has gotten himself into positions since he was a young man where he had to dig himself or lie his way out from under. In many cases, these situations ended up (or began) on the front page of New York’s tabloid newspapers. He loves publicity, especially when he’s winning a fight, or thinks he is, or thinks he can persuade his fans and detractors alike that he is.

But he’s had enough scrapes in the public eye to know that running for President would be the biggest fight he’d ever face. No doubt, back in the early primaries days, he relished this new kind of battle. Mano-a-bunch of manos! Wow! Knocking them off like so many dumb animals, trophies for his photo wall, proofs of his manliness. It must have been highly energizing for this self-centered, egoistic TV “star”.

Then, after Clinton secured her nomination and turned the focus of her army and her dozens of bigly backers and surrogates on Trump, his view must have changed.

He must have finally understood that the fight with her was not going to be anything like his lightweight battles with the Stumbling Sixteen. He surely realized that every little screw-up or fraudulent or shoddy business deal, and his trail of bankruptcies was going to be brought to light by Clinton’s people or a ravenous media, hungry for signs of the mucky clay under Trump’s feet. He may have suddenly recalled all his bigoted, misogynistic, racist, sexist, mean-spirited remarks that were recorded or videotaped, and that would be dredged up and sprayed on him until even he had to hold his nose. Months of calling Hillary Clinton names were about to return to haunt him. Rally-fuls of absurd claims and lies were now going to be paraded by the national media, and in ads from Florida to Ohio. Years of casting doubts on our President’s citizenship were now going to be used as so many missiles of truth, making him nothing but a cheap White supremacist buffoon, and delivered by the very President he had tried for five years to humiliate.

Mocked mercilessly in his own words as he went down to possibly the greatest loss in American political history — that is what Trump faced as he looked down from his golden palace on the millions of people beneath supremely important Him. The vision of how all those millions he had dominated for so long now seeing his naked shallowness, greed, and utter fecklessness as a person, and worse, laughing at him where once they trembled in his presence: that vision is what, in your Truthteller’s judgment, gave him the most pause in the disorganized weeks before the Republican convention.

We will likely never learn how he mastered his anxieties and continued the quest. But we should not assume that his fears and frightening visions of the coming war were buried forever…

Whoever says it last, and loudest

What is the truth?

Whatever the last speaker says it is.

Or so many might feel in the overwhelming torrent of words and images that floods our TV, phone, game box, blog feed, Twitter stream, Facebook feed, and, oh yes, for those that still can bear to listen, radio. It isn’t that someone or some group of someones are consciously trying to bury the truth, so much as competing with thousands of others to command your awareness, lest some competing “source” get control of your attention.

For that has become the object and purpose of distributing information: to ensure that all who are connected to any given stream of “content” will be totally absorbed in it.

Not so they can be informed, rather, so that the content can be monetized.

Why is this a problem? Well, if the purpose of the content is to entertain, maybe it isn’t. But when the ostensible purpose of the content is to inform, as we assume news or journalistic content is, then the unrelenting need to monetize can become a major issue.

If a given truth is true, but not inherently entertaining, your chances of being exposed to it are going to diminish. If that particular truth is long-winded, intensely factual, scientific, depressingly grim, or, horrors, “international” in scope, it may as well be written in invisible ink, for all the audience it will attract.

At the same time, the competitive pressure on the monetizers motivates them to raise the content’s noise level, or its shininess, or its emotional impact.

Intended as an innocent attempt to inform, the truth becomes a pawn in the war of attention seeking.

In this era of fantastic capabilities for informing and educating and, yes, entertaining, the marketplace of ideas has become a marketplace of content. Much of the truth we desperately need to understand is deemed of little value to the media, and is therefore drowned out.

Are we really this shallow? A reasonable observer would have to conclude that we are. And, so far, the year of 2016 is mainly succeeding in proving them right.

The Donald knows what the rest of us may just be figuring out: the truth is whatever claim is shouted loudest. And last.