Voices Crazy and Silenced

As has been in the news, ABC cancelled the revamped tv show Roseanne. It was essentially the firing of the lead actress, Roseanne Barr, for a racist tweet. If it were only so easy to fire the ruling elite, cretinous cronyists that they are, for things as bad and far worse. It’s a sign of the times that a mad man is the head of state who brings out the craziness in supporters and detractors alike.

Some people who know Barr have pointed out that she has dealt with severe mental illness for decades, severe in the sense of including but not limited to split personality. But that is background info. And as many would point out in response, white people are always being given that excuse whenever they do something horrible, even if in this case it is a genuine explanation for her wildly inconsistent ideological views and amazing lack of impulse control.

As far as that goes, the entire United States at present is experiencing a plague of mental illness — with rising rates of depression, anxiety, addiction, suicide, mass violence, etc. This is the result of the highest levels of social, political, and economic inequality seen in world history. This has been proven as a major factor in societal stress and breakdown (see Kate Pickett & Richard Wilkinson’s The Spirit Level, Keith Payne’s The Broken Ladder, and Walter Scheidell’s The Great Leveller). American society itself is going insane, the entire society across the political spectrum and in both parties.

That isn’t something to be dismissed. We’ll be seeing more of this kind of thing. It will get worse and worse, until finally hitting a breaking point. That isn’t an excuse for the misbehavior of white privilege or class privilege. It’s an explanation and, more importantly, a warning. Even the rich, powerful, and famous are going off the deep end. And we are beginning to see the elite turn on each other, one of the last signs before precipitous collapse or else authoritarian takeover. Prepare yourself. It ain’t gonna be pretty.

None of that is precisely the main point I want to make. It’s been known for a long time that Roseanne Barr was mentally unstable. Besides, she has years of repeated outspoken and public bigotry. What is worrisome is that, as ABC management had to have already known this, we are forced to assume that they made an economic bet that the short term profit of exploiting a crazy bigot would win over the possibility of being held to account for long term consequences. They lost that bet and so are now trying to cut their losses. But within the dominant system, it seemed like an economically rational decision because much of Barr’s past bigotry targeted expendable scapegoats, Arabs and Palestinians, who were socially acceptable and politically correct.

Anyway, Barr’s bigotry is small time stuff, in and of itself not being of great concern to a media giant. ABC was willing to promote a bigot like Barr for the same reason the corporate (and corporatist) media gave so much free airtime to Donald Trump as presidential candidate. It was the profitable thing to do at the time and, within a plutocratic system, profit and power go hand in hand which has been exacerbated as big biz media became ever bigger with consolidation (along with the parent companies of media increasingly tied to big energy and the military-industrial complex). It is also why corporate media regularly promotes even greater evils by beating the drum for wars of aggression, pushing neo-imperialist propaganda, and giving cover for war crimes — no matter how many millions of innocent people are harmed and traumatized, dislocated and killed. Follow the money.

Now we are getting to the nub of the problem. Corporations these past years have been quick to use censorship to shut down alternative media and outside voices, both left and right, with claims of protecting Americans from fake news, Russian trolls, or whatever other rationalization they invent (not to say there aren’t real threats to democracy, but the greatest threat within capitalist realism is big biz itself). The victims of this censorship onslaught aren’t only crazy bigots, reactionary trolls, and such for also included have been major media personalities and radical critics such as Jimmy Dore. Those outside of the ruling establishment have lost access to advertising dollars on Youtube, been eliminated from Google search results, had accounts suspended on Facebook and Twitter, etc. This is combined with corporate media shutting down comments sections (and public media has become about as corporate as the rest).

As public opinion further sides with alternative media views, public opinion and alternative media are further silenced. The ruling elite are losing control of the narrative. But as they try to aggressively regain and oppressively enforce control, they will ever more lose control. It is the death spiral of a social order that has gone out of control. More people will feel more silenced, more powerless, more disenfranchised, and more frustrated. And with every person who is silenced and unheard, dismissed and ignored, we move closer to greater public unrest, social disruption, and tumultuous change. In playing this game, the capitalist class might find that they have slit their own throats. We are already so close to boiling point and it won’t take much to finally boil over. And the process will be messy.

Rich, privileged, crazy assholes like Barr and Trump are the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t seen full-on crazy yet. The descent into madness is coming. Buckle up!

As always, I should add that I’m not advocating revolution. My lifelong inclination has been toward pansy liberalism in wondering why can’t we all just get along and in hoping that democratic reform from within the system would work out in the end. But the ruling elite and cynical hacks, mindless partisans and lesser-evil voters refused to go the easy way. They refused to listen to the voices of moderation and reason. Now, along with the rest of us, they will suffer the consequences of the decades-long decline into corruption, failure, and injustice. What the American Empire did to others will be done to us. What the comfortable classes did to the poor, whites to non-whites, Christians to non-Christians will be returned in kind. The consequences can be delayed for a while, but not denied. Corporate media implementing perception and opinion management won’t save the social order from the establishment’s own self-destructively suicidal tendencies.

The crazies will get crazier, as will we all in losing our collective bearings. It is what it is. At this point, it doesn’t matter what any of us wants or hopes for. Societies change not because of ideological schemes and utopian dreams but, first and foremost, because the old order stops functioning. We are going to have to pass through dark times to see what, if anything, is on the other side of the storm.

Corporate Bias of ‘Mainstream’ Media

When people make accusations of liberal bias in the media, what are they even talking about? Are they utterly disconnected from reality? The so-called mainstream media is corporate media owned by a handful of parent corporations. Their only motive is profit.

Anyway, it’s not as if there is a lack of US media with a clear political right bias, both conservative or right-wing. This includes major media with large audiences and immense influence, but some of it is more directed at niche ideological groups and demographics. There is: Fox News, Yahoo News, Newsmax, Drudge Report, The Blaze, Breitbart News Network, Rush Limbaugh Show, Sean Hannity Show, Glenn Beck Program, The Dennis Miller Show, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, The New York Post, the Arizona Republic, The Detroit Free Press, Dallas Morning News, Cincinnati Enquirer, Reason, National Review, Cato Journal, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, The American, The American Conservative, City Journal, Chronicles, Human Events, The Independent Review, The National Interest, The New American, Policy Review, Regulation, Townhall Magazine, World, World Affairs, Newsweek, etc. And that doesn’t even include most of the moderate conservative media that gets labeled as ‘liberal’.

It’s not as if those on the political right are lacking media to support their worldview and confirm their biases. In fact, research shows that most media consumers on the political right exist within an echo chamber. The only reason they think the rest of media is biased is because the political right media that dominates keeps repeating this and, as the old propaganda trick goes, anything repeated enough to a large enough audience will be treated as if it were fact.

Here is one of the differences between ‘liberal’ media and ‘conservative’ media. On the political left, there is maybe more diversity of sources, none of which dominate all the others. But on the political right, Fox News controls the messaging, talking points, and framing for the rest of the news outlets that share a similar bias. Related to that, most Americans are further to the left on major issues than is the corporate media, as they are further to the left of both main political parties. When you are talking about media on the political right, that is bias that is extremely to the right of the general public. Maybe that is why more Americans are increasingly turning to alternative media, primarily available through the internet.

Another thing is that there is no simple relationship between media and viewers. Plenty of social science research shows that the liberal-minded tend to be more open and curious about the world, specifically about what is different. A large part of the audience of political right media is probably not people who are on the political right. I know that has been true of me. Because of curiosity, I can’t help but look at diverse sources, even when it just makes me angry. I doubt there are as many conservatives and right-wingers consuming news reporting from the New York Times, MSNBC, and NPR as there are liberals and left-wingers with the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh (although that would depend if one is talking about symbolic identities or operational ideologies).

According to Pew (Political Polarization & Media Habits), conservatives don’t get much news from a variety of political right media, as about half of the consistently conservative get most of their information from Fox News (with 84% having watched Fox News in the past week), a pattern not seen among consistent liberals. To put it in further context, the same Pew poll shows that those who are politically mixed get more of their news from sources that right-wingers claim to have a political left bias, which seems to indicate that centrists disagree with right-wingers about perceived media bias. In fact, the more liberal the demographic, the less they relied on a single news source (other data shows that the even more liberal and leftist young demographic relies on an even greater diversity of sources with more emphasis on alternative media and social media, including “approximately 85 percent of millennials regularly follow domestic and international current events both online and through print publications. Most millennials are following at least 10 topics at any one time and around 73 percent of young people are more interested in gathering information about viewpoints that they oppose than in learning more about stances they agree with.”). Also, that Pew data shows that most of the political left media clumps closer to the political center, at least in terms of viewers of mainstream media, whereas much of the political right media is far from the average viewer.

Comparing the two sides is false equivalency. All media is assumed to be liberal or leftist if it doesn’t strongly and ideologically promote some combination of:

  • blatant propaganda, political obstructionism, extreme opposition to democracy, voter suppression/purges/disenfranchisement, gerrymandering;
  • near-anarchist anti-government rhetoric, Ayn Rand Objectivism, right-wing (pseudo-)libertarianism, inverted totalitarianism, neoliberal corporatism;
  • proto-fascism, hyper-patriotism, war hawk neoconservatism, expansionist neo-imperialism, geopolitical interventionism, military adventurism, continuous war of aggression, military-industrial complex, intelligence-security-police state, gun nut militancy, oppressive law and order, mass incarceration, tough-on-crime laws;
  • religious fundamentalism, theocracy, Creationism, anti-Semitism, pro-Israeli, Social Darwinism, eugenics, hardcore social conservatism, white supremacy, ethnonationalism, scapegoating, dog whistle politics, race-baiting, red-baiting, attack politics, fear-mongering, hate-mongering, paranoid conspiracy theory;
  • climate change denialism, anti-science, anti-intellectualism, anti-immigration, anti-public education, anti-welfare, anti-immigration, basically anti-everything that involves social democracy, civil society, human rights, compassion and basic decency;
  • reverse political correctness, demagoguery, ideological purity, openly loyal Republican partisanship;
  • et cetera.

Everything else is part of a powerful secret cabal of leftist special interest groups, Jewish media moguls, journalist operatives, devious intellectual elite, and God-hating scientific dogmatists who have somehow taken over the global corporate media and are conspiring to push Democratic brainwashing, liberal indoctrination, left-wing propaganda, and the Communist-Islamic-Secular takeover of society. Yet oddly, when considering the details, that supposed liberal or leftist corporate media expresses views that are about the same as or to the right of majority public opinion.

The moderate-to-center-right media gets accused of being far left, the actual far left gets entirely ignored, and the far right media controls the entire framing of the debate about bias. Those who identify with or lean toward far right politics (liberarians, Objectivists, theocrats, etc) are regularly heard in the political right media. Many have their own shows, even on major outlets such as Fox News. When there are political campaigns and debates, we hear from panels that include these right-wing views. But when was the last time you noticed an equivalent openly ideological, hardcore left-winger (communist, anarcho-syndicalist, anti-imperialist, etc) with any prominent position in the supposed liberal-to-leftist media, with their own show or as a regular guest?

If you want to know the actual bias, look for who is making the accusation and getting heard. It is the right-wingers with massive backing from right-wing corporate media who are declaring that corporate media is left-wing. In their control of political debate, these right-wingers are using misdirection as part of their propaganda model. The fact of the matter is that all “mainstream media” is corporate media and, in our society, that means powerful big money corporatist media that is inseparable from the corporatist political system. There is no separation between the elites in government, corporations, and media. It’s all the same establishment of wealth and power.

It’s all rather pointless. According to corporate media and corporatist politicians, the views held by a majority of Americans—such as support for higher minimum wage, public option or single payer healthcare, abortion rights, stronger gun regulations, etc—represents an operational liberal bias (as opposed to the symbolic rhetoric so commonly used by the powerful to control debate and manipulate voters), which might be true in a sense if one is to call majority public opinion to be a bias. Maybe that is related to why, along with such negative opinions of ‘mainstream’ politics, only 6% of Americans (2% of young adults) trust ‘mainstream’ media. When we talk about bias, we have to ask who is being accused of bias, who is making the accusations of bias, what is the accuser’s bias, and how this relates to the biases of the general public along with various demographics. Compared to most Americans, the entire ‘mainstream’ media is biased toward the right-wing. But it’s unsurprising that, according to the right-wing, the rest of media and all of reality is biased to the left-wing. I’m not sure why we should take these right-wingers seriously. It does tell me much about corporate media that they love to obsess over and promote these right-wing accusations that largely come out of corporate media.

These days, with even NPR funded by big biz, where in the ‘mainstream’ media is someone supposed to look for hard-hitting news reporting and morally courageous investigative journalism about the wealthy and powerful who own the corporate media and control the corporatist political system? Once upon a time, back when newspapers were the main source of info for the majority of Americans, most newspapers had both a business section and a labor section. There also used to be prominent newspapers that were dedicated solely or primarily to labor issues. Is it surprising that as almost all ‘mainstream’ media has been bought up by big biz that the news reporting critical of big biz has disappeared from what has become corporate media pushing a corporatist worldview?

If there is a liberal bias among the corporate media gatekeepers, it is specifically the neoliberalism of inverted totalitarianism that is supported by a state-linked corporatist propaganda model. Calling that ‘liberal’ would comfort few liberals and even fewer leftists. There is a kind of liberalism that dominates in our society, including in ‘mainstream’ media, but the issue is about what kind of liberalism is this. Even many conservatives claim to be ‘liberal’ (e.g., classical liberals). So, what is this supposed ‘liberal’ bias? Is the corporate media actually biased to the left, considering the viewing public is itself biased even further to the left? So, left of what exactly… left of the right-wing?

It is true that the entertainment media is often rather liberal, but that is because it is seeking to make profit by entertaining the fairly liberal American viewing public. Liberalism sells because we live in a liberal society. There is nothing shocking about it. On a broad level, our entire society and everyone in it is liberal. Even American conservatives are, in this sense, just varieties of liberals. The liberal paradigm has dominated the West for a couple of centuries now. But it is a liberalism of the status quo, not a liberalism of left-wing revolution. This liberalism is not just neoliberal in its capitalism and corporatism. It also has much of that old school Whiggish progressivism favored by the classical liberals, the ideology that promoted imperialism, colonialism and genocide in order to spread freedom and democracy. It’s a paternalistic, authoritarian, and condescending liberalism that has become the heart of so-called American ‘conservatism’. The unscrupuous libertinism of our society may seem opposite of conservative ideals, but it is inseparable from capitalism and certainly not embraced by much of the political left.

Is the political right hoping to enforce right-wing bias onto the public, no matter what they’d prefer, just to make sure they are indoctrinated properly? The problem is those who complain the most about a ‘liberal’ bias are the very people who are the least conservative. Instead, they are right-wing reactionaries who in their radicalism want to push society even further into a skewed fantasy that has nothing to do with traditionalism.

Just listen to president Trump complain about the media and have his words parroted by the alt-right, even as he is the least conservative president in US history. In comparison, he makes Obama’s administration seem like a stalwart defense of traditionalism. After decades of capitulating to the far right and serving their corporatist interests, it’s amusing to watch some in the center-right corporate media finally protesting because their status quo is under attack by the far right. To the far right, the corporate media can never be far enough right, at least not until they are under authoritarian control of an Orwellian Ministry of Truth.

I wanted to finish with a different but connected issue. The Pew data I mentioned above offered something that right-wingers latched onto. Consistent liberals are more likely than consistent conservatives to stop talking to someone because of political disagreement. But what this misses is that liberals are more likely to talk to people who they disagree with. A larger percentage of conservatives, because they live in ideological isolation and are trapped in a media echo chamber, never interact with anyone they disagree with. They can’t stop talking to people they never started talking to in the first place.

As a typical person on the political left, I seek out diverse news sources and so interact with diverse people. For every person I intentionally stop talking to, I meet dozens of other new people with all kinds of views. So, I still end up interacting with more people I disagree with than the average consistent conservative.

This is relevant to the perception of bias. Conservatives are less likely to actively seek diverse sources of news and less likely to interact with diverse people. Maybe it’s partly because, as data has shown, the most consistent conservatives tend to live in homogeneous communities and so are never forced to acknowledge anything outside of their reality tunnel (whereas liberals are attracted to diverse communities for the very reason they are diverse). What this means is that the political right accusation of political left bias isn’t based on much if any actual familiarity with media outside of the political right.

From my political left perspective, it is a thousand times better to listen to someone even if you later decide the interaction is undesirable than to never listen at all, to preemptively shut out all views that disagree, to accuse others of bias before you can even honestly claim to know what their views are.

* * *

About this topic, there is a bad article by Ross Douthat, The Missing Right-of-Center Media.

I only mention it because the comment section is a worthy read, helping to explain everything wrong with articles like that. What makes it amusing is that it is an article from the New York Times, supposedly among the most leftist of the liberal media. The reality is that there is no missing right-of-center media. The New York Times, publishing writers like Douthat, is right-of-center media.

More helpful are two answers to a Quora question, Which media outlets in the USA are right-wing and which are left-wing? One answer is from William Goff and another from Mitchell Langbert.

I could offer tons of links to articles and such, of course. But there is no point. Besides, I’ve written about this enough before. The only reason I wrote this new post was because of the callers I heard on CSPAN who probably represent the minority of the population that still gets most of their news from corporate ‘mainstream’ media. I still retain the capacity to be shocked by how many people still don’t understand such basic things as how media bias actually operates.

Anywho, here are my previous posts:

Conservatives Watching Liberal Media
Bias About Bias

What Does Liberal Bias Mean?

This Far Left And No Further
Controlling the Narrative: Part 1
Response to Rightwing Misinformation
Black and White and Re(a)d All Over
NPR: Liberal Bias?
The Establishement: NPR, Obama, Corporatism, Parties
Man vs Nature, Man vs Man: NPR, Parking Ramps, etc

* * *

 

 

MSMsplaining Poor Whites.

There is a Vox video about the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) and Trump voters. The article that goes along with it was written by Sarah Kliff.

The author is an award winning journalist who has interviewed Obama about the ACA, although her education isn’t in journalism. She is now a senior editor at Vox and regularly reports on healthcare. Vox, owned by Vox Media, is a major news website founded in 2002 by Ezra Klein. It is serious journalism of the mainstream variety. Their model is what they call “explanatory journalism”, the above mentioned video and article being prime examples.

Vox has received both praise and criticism. There is plenty of negativity toward Vox from the political right, but that is mostly a disagreement about which ideological bias is preferable. More interesting is a statement made by Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept. He writes about, in relation to the Democratic Party, the liberal media such as Vox “suppressing reporting that reflects negatively on them and instead confines itself to hagiography.”

I state all of that as a way to frame Sarah Kliff’s journalism. She has acted as a cheerleader for Obamacare. I’m not against people supporting what they believe in, but it isn’t what I’d prefer from journalism. The video ends up less interesting for this reason. Kliff is telling a story and it falls into a mainstream narrative framing that is somewhere between unhelpful and irritating.

This has to do with the mainstream media’s recent obsession with poor whites, especially poor rural whites. It isn’t limited to the liberal media. Everyone has been turning the spotlight on this minority population, as if their existence is supposed to explain everything. Charles Murray wrote about poor whites in Coming Apart and J.D. Vance did so in Hillbilly Elegy, both of which largely downplay economic realities and portray this population as a failure, having supposedly failed not just economically but also according to morality and culture, imagination and self-initiative. Going by Vance’s account, you’d think that if you look at poor whites wrong they might shoot you or beat you up, that is when they aren’t doing drugs and slutting around.

It’s been bugging me. Leave the poor whites alone. Or if you feel that understanding them is really going to help you understand the sorry state of America, at least look to authors worth reading such as Joe Bageant or Nancy Isenberg. To be honest, I don’t see anything particularly special about poor whites. They aren’t all that different from any other variety of poor people. Poverty sucks. I suppose it’s nice that the upper classes are noticing, for whatever that is worth.

It’s not that Kliff’s journalism is horrible nor what is seen on the political right. I actually did like Kliff’s video at first, but it bothered me the more I thought about it. I have no reason to think she wasn’t trying her best to be fair. The problem is that the upper classes (including the upper middle class) are so disconnected from reality on the ground that they bring so many biases to any attempt at understanding. This is why they fall back on stale narratives. The mainstream media view of race and class hasn’t fundamentally changed since the early 20th century. We keep being told the same basic stories over and over, as if the stories were all that meaningful in the first place and as if nothing has changed in all that time.

* * *

Let me give a detailed response to the video. But first I should explain what the video focuses on.

The setup is this. Sarah Kliff visited some white people in a particular area of Kentucky, Whitley County. The reason the county is relevant at all is because a woman living there, Kathy Oller, who has worked signing people up for Obamacare. This woman, horror of horrors, admitted that she voted for Trump in the hope that he would improve Obamacare. One unstated assumption is that the few people she interviews in that place can be generalized to all Trump voters. Another unstated assumption is that Obamacare was a primary reason or factor behind most people voting for Trump.

It would have been nice if she had talked to Whitley County residents who supported or voted for candidates other than Trump. What percentage of this population would have voted for Sanders, if he had been nominated? It would have been even better if she had talked to the majority who probably didn’t vote at all. I doubt most eligible voters voted for Trump because most poor eligible voters don’t vote. Why didn’t she talk to people who didn’t vote and ask them why they didn’t?

I’d also like to hear from those who aren’t eligible voters such as prisoners and ex-cons. Poor rural areas have high rates of incarceration. There is a detention center in Whitley County and a federal prison in adjacent McCreary County. Many people move to live near where their family members are incarcerated, to make visitation easier. I wonder what those people thought about the various candidates and about politics in general, specifically political reform. Why do we treat these people as if they are irrelevant? Are they not also citizens who will be effected by public policy?

Also, it would have been useful to hear from the 3% of blacks (and other minorities) living in Whitley county. It’s easy to forget that there are still large populations of rural blacks in the South. Besides maybe Hispanics, blacks were the last large racial/ethnic group to become majority urban. Whether rural or urban, with a population of 35,637, Whitley County includes over a thousand minorities. Plus, there are thousands of minorities in the surrounding counties, along with around 700,000 minorities in Kentucky (about half being black). Minorities are among the poor in Kentucky and they too have been hit hard by economic problems. Yet not a single minority was interviewed, as if minority Kentuckians don’t exist because they don’t fit mainstream stereotypes. The words ‘blacks’ and ‘minorities’ weren’t even mentioned. And the only non-white person shown in the video and discussed in the article was Barack Obama. There were minorities who voted for Trump. Who were these minorities? And what were the expecting from such a vote?

We’ll never know from this kind of “explanatory journalism”.

* * *

I always wonder about the background.

I know quite a bit about Kentucky from doing genealogical and historical research of the state. I had family there from the late 1700s to the late 1800s (some of my earliest Kentucky family came from Pulaski County which is adjacent to McCreary County and nearly touching the corner of Whitley County). Kentucky used to have a large number of blacks, about a quarter of the state’s population, and they were mostly rural. When I visited there a few years ago, I didn’t see a single black person in any rural area.

Most blacks either left the state or moved to the cities, as the early 1900s began a violent time in Kentucky. There was racial cleansing and the enforcement of sundown towns—see: James Loewen’s Sundown Towns, Elliot Jaspin’s Buried in the Bitter Waters, and George Wright’s Racial Violence in Kentucky, 1865-1940. All three of those books discuss a well documented Whitley County incident in Corbin, Kentucky that happened in the fall after the Red Summer (1919). Loewen notes that a least certain residents were still trying to maintain it as a sundown town into the 1990s and some suspect that it is still a sundown town.

On a positive note, I’d point out two things about the 1919 incident. The Corbin mob violence was immediately condemned by the then editor of the local newspaper. And the mob leader was prosecuted by the state. But less positive, the moral atrocity of this incident was wiped from the public memory in the local population and recent local officials have fought anyone attempting to bring it to public attention. Even so, the reputation of these places aren’t forgotten by blacks, as to this day many fear going near towns like Corbin.

In terms of demographics, Jaspin offers the details (Kindle Locations 2874-2877):

“In fact, census records show that the black population in Corbin, which had been sixty in 1910, was exactly three in 1920: Emma Woods and her sixty-five-year-old boarder Steve Stansbury and the affectionately nicknamed “Nigger” Dennis. Beyond the city limits, there was a lesser but still substantial drop. Laurel County saw its black population cut in half from 657 to 333 between 1910 and 1920. Whitley County’s black population went from 1,111 to 600. By 1930 it would be cut in half again, and after 1960 it would never again rise above 150.”

To put this in a larger context, Loewen writes (pp. 71-72):

“In the first two decades of the twentieth century, whites expelled African Americans from almost the entire Cumberland Plateau, a huge area extending from the Ohio River near Huntington, West Virginia, southwest through Corbin, Kentucky, crossing into Tennessee, where it marks the division between east and middle Tennessee, and finally ending in northern Alabama. In most parts of the plateau throughout most of the twentieth century, when night came to the Cumberlands, African Americans had better be absent.69 The twenty Cumberland counties in eastern Kentucky had 3,482 African Americans in 1890, or 2% of the region’s 175,631 people. By 1930, although their overall population had increased by more than 50%, these counties had only 1,387 black residents. The decline continued: by 1960 the African American population of these counties had declined to just 531, or 0.2%, one-tenth the 1890 proportion.”

This is far from ancient history, as Loewen explains (p. 381):

“Corbin, a sundown town in the Kentucky Cumberlands, had not relented as of 1990. In his 1991 movie on the community, Trouble Behind, Robby Heason asked a young white man if it would be a good thing for blacks to move into Corbin. “Black people should not live here,” he replied. “They never have, and they shouldn’t.” He did not know that African Americans had lived in Corbin until whites drove them out at gunpoint in 1919, and his attitude surely boded ill should a black family try to move in. As of 2000, almost none had; Corbin’s 7,742 people included just 6 African Americans; adjacent North Corbin had just 1 African American among 1,662 inhabitants. Around 1990, McDonald’s brought in an African American to manage a new restaurant, but he and his family left before it even opened, reportedly after a cross was burned in his yard.”

Apparently, since that time, one black man moved to Corbin and has remained. So, I guess it is possible for a black man to not entirely fear for his life now in that town. But few blacks want to press their luck. Still, maybe this signals a positive change, however slight.

I would put all of this in perspective. This kind of oppressive racism was as bad or worse all across the Northern and Western United States, including in Solid Blue states. Oregon is the only place that was officially a sundown state, excluding minorities entirely by law. Oregon also has high rates of white poverty and unemployment. How has Oregon voted in presidential elections for several decades? Democrats every time. Racial cleansing and sundown towns is how so many blacks ended up concentrated in inner cities. The point being that this doesn’t make Whitley County atypical in any way. It doesn’t seem to have made the residents any more strongly and consistently partisan, as I note further down. Besides, much of the exodus was at least partly for economic reasons, causing many whites to flee as well. It was often the economic stress that led to or fed into racial conflict.

I was looking at a map of the percentage of blacks in each Kentucky county. Whitley County is way down in the southeast part. It is mostly surrounded by counties that have relatively higher percentages of black population. McCreary County next door has 5.8% blacks and nearby Clay County has 4.4%. What is interesting is that, according to the 2000 census, McCreary only had 0.63% blacks. The video says there are 97% whites in Whitley and I assume that means the other 3% is mostly blacks, but in 2000 there were 0.34% black residents.

Maybe some of the harshest racial tensions are beginning to break down. The living memory of racial cleansing is gone with our only being a few years away from the hundred year anniversary of the Red Summer.

Anyway, the changing demographics seems to indicate some shifting of populations, since birth rates couldn’t have that kind of impact. There has been increasing numbers of Northerners, black and white, moving South. That has to do with cheap housing and employment. I’m sure there is cheap housing in the poorest counties. But obviously there is much unemployment, at least in Whitley. The question is why would there be population shifts, unless the changing racial percentages has as much or more to do with who is moving out than who is moving in.

There is something odd going on here. The unemployment rate now there is 5.7%. That isn’t particularly high compared to the national average at 4.9. It is about half of what it was in the years following the Great Recession and about the same as it was before. It was much higher back in the early-to-mid 1990s, almost to the levels following the Great Recession. Then it dropped below the present national average in the late 1990s.

Sure, the people living there are poor. But the vast majority of them are working and they live in an area that has cheap living costs. They may not have affordable healthcare now, but most of them never had affordable healthcare at any point in their lives. In objective terms, there is nothing obviously worse about their lives now than in the past. Yet these are the populations that for some reason are experiencing worsening mortality rates. It’s not loss the loss of good mining jobs that has changed recently, as good mining jobs have mostly been gone for decades.

So, what’s happened? Drug addiction and suicide rates are unsurprisingly high. And they are worsening for these poor rural populations. But these are results, not causes. They are indicative of something going on that is making many of these people’s lives seem intolerably bad.

* * *

It’s also interesting to look at voting patterns.

Whitley County is far from being a Solid Red county. In the last 20 presidential elections, the county has half the time gone to Republicans and the other half to Democrats. They voted for Bill Clinton twice and voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt four times, among other Democratic candidates. Of course, it was a way more Democratic state in the early 20th century. It was even more Democratic not that long ago. In the county, 15% are now registered as Democrats, but more than a third were back in 2000. It would have been even higher during the Clinton administration and earlier.

Whitley County is party of the Eastern Kentucky Coalfield. Coal mining is known for its history of militant labor organizing and labor unions are known for their support of the Democratic Party (along with radical left-wing politics): “During the Great Depression, New Deal programs and the organizing of the United Mine Workers of America made many of the eastern counties Democratic” (Wikipedia). Even as other regions turned toward the political right, the labor solidarity in coal country helped maintain for much longer that old school Progressivism. Maybe it is unsurprising that, as coal mining jobs disappeared and local labor power was broken, the longstanding Democratic alliance faded.

It’s not like these people are ignorant partisans. When a candidate speaks to their concerns, they’ll vote for either party. Once upon a time, that meant Democrats. It isn’t as if they didn’t vote for Obama just because he was a black guy. They also didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Al Gore. The Democrats have ignored them since Bill Clinton and even he only gave them lip service, which was still more than what most Democrats offered. According to inside sources, Hillary ignored Bill’s advice to focus on working class whites. Why exactly would these people vote for a party that treats them like they don’t exist or don’t matter?

It’s rather unsurprising that they voted for Trump, considering they’ve voted Republican in the last several presidential elections. It might have had nothing to do with Trump (nor with Obama and Clinton). That is what is wrong with the video. It portrays their voting for a Republican candidate this time as somehow different than when they voted for Mitt Romney, John McCain, and George W. Bush. The better question is why did they entirely stop voting for Democrats after Bill Clinton left office.

Here is a major problem with this kind of news entertainment, as I mentioned earlier. It is falling into a mainstream narrative. It doesn’t really explain anything, focusing as it does on one single narrow issue, that of Obamacare in relation to the presidential election. It tells a story and tries to cram the lives of real people into the storyline. But the narrative framing doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Why is the mainstream media looking to rural whites to explain Trump? Most whites aren’t rural. And more specifically, most whites who voted for Trump aren’t rural. Actually, the earliest and strongest supporters of Trump during his campaign were economically above average, compared to the general population. How is looking at a poor county in a rural state supposed to explain Trump as somehow different when that county has voted for Republicans in the previous four elections?

The implication is that this is about poor rural people. But it isn’t even clear what percentage of whites in that county are rural. The unemployment rate is close to the national average and most of the population would work in whatever major cities are nearby.

More interesting to know would be to look at the places that voted for Obama in one or both of the last elections but then voted for Trump. Those places would be better indicators of what has changed. The problem is many of those places are urban, suburban, and exurban. They don’t fit into the mainstream narrative. Why did strongly Democratic states such as Wisconsin and Michigan go to Trump? Wisconsin isn’t known for its desperately poor white population and Michigan has a large population of minorities and union members. How would any mainstream narrative explain that?

Also, explain to me a rural state like Minnesota that is majority white. Why has Minnesota not gone to a Republican presidential candidate since 1972? And why is Minnesota the only state to not have voted for Ronald Reagan either time? Similarly, why did so many majority white states in the rural Midwest vote for Obama, even after Obamacare? And then why did some of those states then vote for Trump? Riddle me that, Batman.

* * *

Out of curiosity, I looked at the Whitley County data for rural versus urban. It is mostly rural, at 65% of the population. I’d first emphasize that this also means 35% are urban. And urbanites vote at higher rates, partly because they have easier access to polling stations.

A second thing is that rural can describe a diversity of residential situations. Barely outside of the city I live in are many ‘rural’ residents living in old farm houses and trailer parks (my parents’ house is in a fully urban upper middle class neighborhood within the city limits and it is just a few blocks from rural country roads among vast stretches of farmland). Most of those ‘rural’ folk work here in the city and often with decently paying jobs, only living outside of the city for cheap housing. With that in mind, what percentage of that rural population in Whitley County lives near an urban area or commutes to a job in a city? More importantly, what kind of jobs are they working? What is the pay and benefits? And what are the costs of living?

Here is another thought. I know there is a difference between the reported unemployment rate and the real unemployment rate. The data I was looking at probably was only the reported data. Around 95% of the population there isn’t reported as unemployed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are employed either. We’d need to differentiate between the percentage employed and the percentage permanently unemployed, both sets of data not shown in the standard unemployment data.

My guess is that the permanently unemployment rate is higher there. If so, how high? Even so, the real unemployment data has been kept hidden since the Reagan administration. It’s not anything new. The fact remains that unemployment was lower by the time Obama left office, unless there really has been an increase in the permanently unemployed in such counties.

It’s hard to find accurate data. And even harder to determine what it means. On what basis are we to conclude that Whitley County is representative of the average white person, the average poor white person, the average rural white person, and/or the average Trump voter? Also, how do we know the people interviewed in that video are representative of the average person in that county, in that state, or in that region? It would have been nice if they had used the interviews alongside public opinion data.

Some historical background would have been helpful as well, even simply for the sake of telling a good story. There were many angles that could have been taken that would have offered far more depth of analysis and insight. By Vox’s asserted standard of explanatory journalism, the video and article was rather miserly with the explanatory details. I’m left with more questions than answers. It fails as worthy news reporting. It certainly doesn’t meet the standards of investigative journalism. Instead, it ends up being yet another human interest story, eliciting from viewers some combination of sympathy, outrage, and perplexity. Whatever the viewer response, it sells advertising and makes profit.

These criticisms wouldn’t be so important if they weren’t so widely applicable to all of mainstream media. This is just one example among many and far from the worse. It stood out to me for the reasons that, by the standards of mainstream media, it is above average in quality. It is a well made video and interesting to watch. It does have some basic value, even if only in hearing a few ordinary Americans explain how they view the political situation, just as long as you keep in mind that they aren’t necessarily representative of anyone else.

* * *

As fun as it is to chastise MSM hacks for their lack of curiosity and vision (or whatever exactly they are lacking), I feel like ending on a different note. Let me bring in the personal, by offering some observations from my own experience. After that, I’ll add some concluding thoughts.

I find no difficulty or resistance to pointing out the problems of whites who are some combination of Southern, poor, and rural. I have some sense of who these people are. My paternal grandmother was from the Deep South. Much of my mother’s family spent a couple of centuries in Kentuckiana, an area I’ve often visited. My mother, a Hoosier by birth, had a Southern-sounding accent when she was younger. I was born right at the edge of Appalachia in Ohio where I spent my earliest years of childhood. I’ve lived in the Carolinas, South and North. I’ve been friends with rednecks, dated hillbillies, and fraternized with lower class whites of a diverse variety. I live in a majority white state in the Midwest where rural life is a common experience.

Since the video is about Kentucky, let me deal with that. A few years back, my parents and I took a trip down there and it gave me felt sense of a part of the South that I didn’t know as well, even though I already indirectly knew of it from visiting my Hoosier family over the decades. In doing genealogical research, we went to many rural counties, including in southern Kentucky. I did see in some places a kind of rural poverty I hadn’t often come across before, but overall it didn’t seem like a bad place to live. Despite how it gets portrayed, Kentucky isn’t a hellhole of hopeless poverty. There are thriving big cities there, even a metropolitan area that extends up into Indiana. The county seats seemed like nice towns like found anywhere else—with public schools and public libraries, along with civic organizations.

What stood out to me most of all was how friendly and helpful people were. Kentucky has some of the feeling of the Midwest. In many ways (geographically, historically, and culturally), it is as much part of the Lower Midwest as it is part of the South. It is the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln and the state government never sought to secede during the Civil War (initially declaring neutrality and then joining the Union). I didn’t meet a single person who fit the stereotype of a mean redneck or threatening hillbilly, as J.D. Vance described his own family.

In doing genealogical research and traveling around back roads, my parents and I experienced nothing but kindness. Complete strangers went out of their way to help us, again and again and again. I’m not just talking about the staff at public libraries, genealogical centers, and county courthouses. Random people were simply nice.

While looking for an old family cemetery, we stopped to talk to people on a country road. I knocked on one rundown house and an entire family peeked out at me, but they didn’t have a snarling vicious dog nor did anyone point a gun at me. They politely answered my questions. Another guy I talked to was mowing his lawn and, after questioning him as well, he directed me to a nearby house. Once again, I knocked on a stranger’s door in this rural area and one of the nicest guys you could ever meet answered the door. He was so welcoming that he welcomed us onto another neighbor’s land by taking us to where the old family homestead was located. After that, he invited us back to his home.

When further down south in Kentucky, probably in Putnam County, we were looking for another family cemetery. It too was on private property. We drove down this lane where it opened up on someone’s yard. We parked and a guy came out to greet us. He didn’t act fearful or aggressive toward us. If anything, it was plain old Southern hospitality, more than I ever experienced when living in South Carolina. He didn’t mind us being on his property and showed us around and told us what he knew about the property.

These random people we met in rural Kentucky seemed like basic working class whites. I don’t know where they were in relation to the poverty line, but they were decent people. The guy who guided us around the neighbor’s property at one point spoke of someone as being a “good Christian”. That is different from the Midwest where, when praising someone, it is more typical to hear it said that the person is a “hard worker” or some such thing.

I must admit that I like the attitude of judging people by their moral worth, not their work status. Blaming people as lazy for being unemployed when jobs are scarce is neither fair nor compassionate. And then blaming their economic conditions for their voting patterns is plain pointless. People vote for the best option they see, but the sad state of affairs is that our political system rarely offers many good choices.

That was the one thing the Vox reporting got right, if it was only briefly acknowledged. The main person interviewed, Kathy Oller, explained her reasons:

“Oller likes the idea of universal coverage. She supported President Obama in 2008 and 2012 specifically because of his promises to expand affordable health insurance. But in 2016, she decided to vote for Trump. In part, she felt it was a bit of a toss-up. She kept describing voting as something akin to “Russian roulette” — you never really know what you’ll get with a candidate, she argued.”

That is what US elections are. They are a gamble where your life is on the line, as with “Russian roulette” (in the video, she describes it as pulling the lever on a slot machine; an election is a gamble where you don’t know whether you’re pulling a slot machine lever or a gun trigger, not until after it’s already too late). There is almost no way to rationally choose, under such conditions. It’s the attempt at blindly weighing of harms versus benefits and so deciding who is the lesser evil. It should be a wake up call for Democrats that so many Americans perceived Donald Trump as a lesser evil than Hillary Clinton.

This isn’t about poor rural white people, those who get called hillbillies, rednecks and white trash. It’s simply about ordinary people facing impossible decisions that can’t and will never lead to good results. Most people vote out of a desperate sense of hope, despite all the evidence that politicians of both major parties mostly ignore the public while doing the bidding of monied interests.

If journalists are going to attempt to explain something, then that might be a good place to start.

* * *

As for poor rural whites, specifically the Appalachian hillbillies, below are some more edifying pieces about who are these people and communities, what it all means or symbolizes, and why there is such obsessive concern by outsiders, specifically the moralizing paternalism among elites.

Appalachia this election year: So many stories, so little depth
by CD, The Homesick Appalachian

There is no neutral there: Appalachia as a mythic “Trump Country”
by Elizabeth Catte

Hillbilly Elitism: The American hillbilly isn’t suffering from a deficient culture. He’s just poor.
by Bob Hutton, Jacobin

J.D. Vance, the False Prophet of Blue America
by Sarah Jones, New Republic

Hillbilly Shuffle: Don’t Blame Appalachia For Trump
byJeff Biggers, Common Dreams

Author too removed from culture he criticizes
by Brandon Kiser, Lexington Herald-Leader

* * *

Some of my previous posts:

Presidential Candidates and Voter Demographics
Trump is not the White Savior
On Rural America: Understanding Is The Problem
WASP Elegy
On Welfare: Poverty, Unemployment, Health, Etc
American Class Bigotry
Whites Understanding Whites
Joe Bageant: On the White Underclass
On the White Trash Heap
What Is Kentucky?
Are White Appalachians A Special Case?
On Racialization of Crime and Violence
The Desperate Acting Desperately
Fearful Perceptions
Union Membership, Free Labor, and the Legacy of Slavery
Patchwork Nation: Evangelical Epicenters & Tractor Country

A Buffet of Stories

Here is a funny thing about major newspapers. It’s really about all MSM, but it is most apparent in newspapers where it is easy to flip around and quickly peruse numerous stories.

All of the MSM are known for having particular slants, besides the general bias of a mainstream mentality and echo chamber. Yet in any given newspaper there isn’t necessarily a consistency of views, between sections of a newspaper or even between authors in the same section. I’ve read articles that directly contradicted another article from a week before, either offering different evidence or interpretation, as if the writers don’t even read the newspapers they write for.

I found an example in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, from the same section A. I first read on page A11 the article “Why This Recovery Is So Lousy” by Phil Gramm and Michael Solon. They solely and entirely blame Obama with no mention of the previous administration or the Republican wins in 2010:

“In his capacity to implement his program, Mr. Obama stood as a colossus wth the fates on his side, the vast power of government at his disposal and no one—not Congress, the Supreme Court or the Federal Reserve—willing or able to deny his will. No resources were spared.”

(The comments section from the article, of course, makes for a more interesting read.)

Some pages back on A2, there is a less melodramatic article by Greg Ip, “Older Demographic Poses Double Whammy for Economy”. His piece is more narowly focused on a single set of data from a new research paper by Nicole Maestas, Kathleen Mullen, and David Powell. Ip describes the paper’s conclusion and implication:

“rapid retirement deprives companies of critical experience and knowledge, which undermines productivity across the entire economy. Demographics may thus be a critical factor in why the current economic expansion, which began as the first baby boomers qualified for Social Security, is the weakest on record.”

So which is the right explanation? Is it all Obama’s fault, taking the economy down single-handedly? Or should we blame the excessive number of old people selfishly retiring?

I don’t really care about scapegoating Obama or not. He is the president and obviously bears some responsibility. But there are obviously many factors involved, some unique to this period of history such as the long term consequences of a baby boom.

Anyway, the explanations themselves aren’t what interested me. It was just the oddity of two articles so close together with each seemingly oblivious to the view of the other. It amused me.

I sometimes have serious doubts that the purpose of the MSM is to inform the public. They are businesses, closer to the entertainment media than anything else, and so they need to make a profit. It’s the advertising that is the product and the stories are there to sell the product.

As such, each article tells a story, some slightly more substantial and others mere fluff. But it doesn’t matter if those stories present a consistent worldview or explain all of the available data. It’s like a buffet with many options. You take the story that fits your opinions and worldview while leaving the rest.

Meanwhile, the real money is being made by advertisers with proven records of influencing the buying habits of readers, although most readers think they are too savvy to be influenced, if they ever give it any thought. The articles are largely just distraction, not entirely unlike watching a mindless sitcom.

A Conservative’s Personal Experience

A while back, I was talking to a conservative Christian. He is a white guy, a typical American from the older generation.

He mentioned to me an experience he had that changed his view on an issue. At the church he attends, there was a talk given on a subject and from a perspective that few Americans get the opportunity to hear. The speaker was a Palestinian Christian who gave the details of his personal experience. His talk was about living in Palestine with Israel as a not-so-friendly neighbor.

Most Americans, especially conservative Christians, probably never think about Palestinians as including Christians. When they think of Palestinians, they put them in the category of ‘other’ and hence in the category of ‘enemy’. Palestinians are portrayed in the MSM basically in terms of the enemies of the Israelis, and every American knows the Israelis are the good guys. The Israelis escaped the oppression of the Nazis and they are our allies who help us in the fight against terrorism. Meanwhile, Palestinians are supposedly all Arabs and Muslims, despite the fact that Palestinians are genetically and culturally the original Jewish population that never left.

This guy noted how angry this Palestinian was. This did bother him because angry Palestinians are the bad guys. But he couldn’t dismiss him. First, he was a fellow Christian speaking at this guy’s own church. Second, he was a real person, not just a picture of a person on the news or a caricature portrayed by a right-wing demagogue. This Palestinian’s Christian experience became also real for this American white guy, and so a sympathetic connection was formed.

Like a typical American, specifically one who is from the right side of the spectrum, he had always seen just one side of the story which was the official Israeli government perspective as parroted by the American MSM. It is all he knew for no media he encountered ever challenged his understanding. He existed in a media bubble and didn’t even know it. This was no fault of his own, not in any direct sense. He didn’t realize he was being deceived and being given partial information, and so didn’t know to challenge it.

Hearing this Palestinian Christian’s experience, he suddenly saw that the situation was a lot more complex. There was no straightforward good and bad guys. More importantly, he came to understand that the official Israeli position wasn’t beyond questioning, especially from a moral perspective. It is one thing for Muslims to be oppressed by Jews, but it is a whole other matter for Christians to be oppressed by Jews. To the conservative Christian, Christians are most definitely the good guys for Christianity is the religion of the West and specifically of the United States.

Personal experience is the one and only thing that can challenge propaganda and rhetoric, lies and manipulation. When you look at so many fears and hatreds people hold, it almost always goes hand in hand with a lack of personal experience in relation to what is feared and hated, whether gays or Palestinians. If a conservative has their own child come out as gay or if a conservative meets a Palestinian in person, then the entire context shifts and it no longer is in the realm of abstract moral absolutes. In bringing an issue down into messy personal experience, it becomes viscerally and emotionally real. It is harder to hate or fear someone who you get to know as an individual human being.

Every moral and political battle is fought on the level of the personal. Minds are changed one at a time.

Extreme Consensus On Globalization

Something I continually am reminded of is how disconnected the ruling elite are from the rest of the population. The political elite doesn’t represent most Americans. And the media elite doesn’t speak for most Americans.

This wouldn’t be as problematic if it wasn’t combined with a citizenry that doesn’t realize they are the majority. Too many Americans have come to believe what the elite say. This creates a sever state of collective disempowerment that is fatal to democracy.

I wonder if ths is how populist movements begin. When it comes to major issues, it probably takes a long time for a consensus to slowly form among the majority. It then would take a long time for shared awaeness to form. And then it would require someone to articulate what everyone was thinking and speak out in a way that breaks past the mainstream filters.

Someone like MLK only can be a great leader because the conditions were right. He came onto the public stage when a tipping point had been reached in public opinion. He simply said what so many people wanted to say and he was in a position to be heard.

Below is a passage from Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country by William Greider (Kindle Locations 903-915).

* * * *

Americans have developed what I call an “extreme consensus” on the subject of globalization. According to pollster Daniel Yankelovich, the public reached a tipping point several years ago, when 87 percent expressed concern about the outsourcing of US jobs. Polling firm Lake Research Partners found there to be a similar consensus about globalization’s impact on wages. In 2006, some 81 percent of Americans agreed with the statement: “No matter what you hear about the economy, working families are falling behind.” Half of the population (51 percent) believes the next generation-today’s children-will be worse off in economic terms than they are.

When people talk about this in everyday conversation, they say things like “I don’t see how the country can go on like this” and “We are going to be okay, but I worry about what it’s going to be like for the kids.” People don’t claim to know all the economic facts and theories, but they can see what’s happening around them. The lost jobs, the closed factories, the middle-aged men working behind the counter at Starbucks. What keeps people up at night is wondering how to pay the bills and worrying about what will come next. Most Americans are not opposed to the idea of global trade, and they accept the inevitability of globalization. What they are against is the unaddressed consequences globalization will have for their own country.

The governing powers, with few exceptions, do not share the public’s sense of urgency. In 2005, the Pew Research Center compared the public’s concerns with the opinions expressed by “American influentials” in various sectors-government, politics, foreign affairs, news media, and others. The public believed overwhelmingly (84 percent) that “protecting the jobs of American workers” should be the government’s “top priority” and considered that to be as important as fighting terrorism. The influentials did not think so. Of those in the news media, only 29 percent agreed. Among academics and scholars at think tanks, only 16 percent agreed. The only group that more or less agreed with the people was religious leaders (55 percent). Opinion leaders overwhelmingly regard new trade agreements as good for the country. Less than half of the public agrees.

The Complicity of Mainstream Politics and Media

Sandra Day O’Connor has been in the news about her stated doubts about the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision. I don’t feel like offering an analysis of something that has already been analyzed to death. The facts are obvious, if one cares to look.

I’ll simply point out three issues.

First, there is the recount issue. The recount was stopped by the Supreme Court, but that was just one problem among many. Even Gore wasn’t demanding a full recount nor did he fight the Supreme Court decision. What did Gore gain by taking a dive?

Studies show a state-wide full recount would have shown Gore to be the winner of Florida and so the winner of the presidential election. The popular vote doesn’t necessarily win elections because of how our system operates. Nonetheless, Gore won the popular vote both in Florida and across the nation.

I say this as someone who voted for Nader and generally can’t stand the Democratic Party, Gore included. It is ultimately Gore’s fault. If he had demanded a full recount, he’d at least not be complicit in the undermining of American democracy.

Second, the media played a massive role in the entire incident.

The MSM called it for Gore which probably impacted those who were deciding at the last minute whether to vote or not. More importantly, like Gore, the MSM didn’t do much to challenge the belief that Bush won. They often pushed hard for the assumption that a full recount wouldn’t have mattered.

This all demonstrates the corruption and/or failure of the entire system. Complicity in the stolen election involved the MSM along with both parties, the Supreme Court, Congress and the local Florida officials. Such a massive failure of the system won’t recover easily. When democracy fails in a democracy, what is the next step? When a democracy demonstrates it has become a Banana Republic, what then? Revolution?

Third, a Harris poll done back in 2000 gave some very surprising results.

The first question was: “If everyone who tried to vote in Florida had their votes counted for the candidate who they thought they were voting for — with no misleading  ballots and infallible voting machines — who do you think would have  won the election, George W. Bush or Al Gore?” Only 40% thought Bush would have won and 49% thought Gore would have won. Even more bizarre, almost 25%(1 in 5) Republicans either thought Gore won or chose ‘Not sure/Refused’ as their answer; and of that 25%, there were specifically 11% (more than 1 in 10) Republicans who thought Gore won.

If that poll wasn’t just a fluke, the results are amazing. The very careful wording of the question might be a key element. The question made clear that it was asking in terms of democracy actually functioning and in terms of a state-wide full recount.

http://prospect.org/article/thanks-nothing-sandra-day-oconnor

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2000/12/24/the-truth-behind-the-pillars.html

http://www.alternet.org/justice-sandra-day-oconnor-maybe-bush-v-gore-wasnt-best-decision

http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/who-won-the-election-who-cares/

http://www.consortiumnews.com/2001/111201a.html

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/kausfiles_special/2001/11/update_hotrecount_docs.single.html

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines01/0127-01.htm

http://archive.democrats.com/display.cfm?id=181

http://imai.princeton.edu/research/ballots.html

http://www.pollingreport.com/wh2post.htm

 

Political Elites Disconnected From General Public

There is an interesting article by Alex Preen on Salon.com:

Politicians think Americans are super-conservative
A survey of thousands shows candidates from both parties think the electorate is way more right-wing than it is

“According to a working paper from two political scientists who interviewed 2,000 state legislative candidates last year, politicians all think Americans are more conservative than they actually are. Unsurprisingly, Republicans think voters are way more right-wing than they actually are.”

It’s unsurprising that right-wingers are clueless about the average American. That is the nature of being a right-winger, often not even realizing one is right-wing, instead thinking one is a normal mainstream American

“Liberal politicians, meanwhile, don’t imagine that their constituents are super-liberal. A majority of them also believe that their constituents are more conservative than they actually are. Which, well, that explains your Democratic Party since the Clinton administration. They weren’t polled, but I’m pretty sure “nonpartisan” political elites in the media share the exact same misperception. (“It’s a center-right country,” we hear all the time, which it turns out is both meaningless and untrue.)”

Now, this might be surprising to many, especially those on the right. It’s far from surprising to me. The average American is way to the left of what is considered ‘liberal’ in mainstream politics and media.

“Left-liberals who actually pay attention to surveys of popular opinion on things like raising taxes on rich people and expanding Medicare instead of raising the eligibility age are frequently a bit annoyed when they watch, say, the Sunday shows, and these ideas are either dismissed as radical or simply not brought up to begin with, but all of Washington is still pretty sure that Nixon’s Silent Majority is still out there, quietly raging against the longhairs and pinkos. In fact the new Silent Majority is basically made up of a bunch of social democrats, wondering why Congress can’t do serious, sensible, bipartisan things like lock up all the bankers and redistribute their loot to the masses.”

I’m one of those left-liberals who actually pays attention to surveys of popular opinion. The one thing that surprises me is that so few people do pay attention. You’d think it would be a politician’s business to pay attention. Their whole job is theoretically to represent and yet they don’t know who they are representing.

One commenter put it well:

“Constituents? Who cares about them? MONEY votes conservative, and that’s what counts. to both parties.”

Another commenter extended that thought:

“I suspect what’s going on is that many politicians (a) feel they’re supposed to represent their constituents, (b) find they’re compelled to represent their donors and other fat cats, and (c) mitigate the cognitive dissonance by telling themselves (a) and (b) aren’t far apart, although, of course, they are.”

I makes me wonder. Can these seemingly clueless people really be that out of touch and just plain ignorant? People in politics and media tend to be people who are above average in both IQ and education. None of this polling data is a secret or difficult to find.

At least for those on the right, not knowing or pretending to not know is conveniently self-serving. The way they act and what they support implies that on some level they do know, as a commenter put it:

“Republican politicians may be in the grips of delusion about the beliefs of their constituents, but at the same time they understand the need for gerrymandering, voter suppression, and other aggressive antidemocratic uses of power, when they have it, to enforce rightwing priorities. Something isn’t quite right here.”

I care less about the politicians and media. If the public became self-aware of their own leftism, it would become more difficult for the mainstream elites to keep their ruse going.

The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy, Where Exactly?

Another blog (Reach the Right) brought to my attention an article by Jonathan Chait (The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy Is on Your Screen). It’s a good article that offers a detailed analysis, but I couldn’t entirely agree (nor could some other bloggers; for example, Erik Lundegaard).

In Reach the Right, I responded to the comment that “I think it’s an unusually difficult line of reasoning to argue with”. I didn’t find it difficult at all. Below is the reposting of my response.

I think there is truth in the article, but it also misses some of the context.

After many decades of narrative rule by conservatives, liberals are finally winning the narrative war. This more has to do with demographics than any effective strategy by liberals, demographics and overreach by conservatives, overreach that has turned away many Americans from the GOP. Liberals, or rather Democrats, have capitalized on this conservative overreach, but they can’t take much of the credit or blame.

The context, of course, has many factors.

It is true that what is deemed as ‘liberal’ has come to dominate much of the media. Then again, this so-called liberalism has come to dominate most of modern American society. Most Americans are liberal on many issues and becoming increasingly liberal. In fact, most Americans are more liberal than the MSM (and more liberal than the MSM portrays the American public) on many central issues such as the majority supporting pot legalization and being against overturning Roe vs Wade, just to mention two obvious examples.

The MSM, with much lag time, reflects the American people who are increasingly diverse — in terms of: races and mixed race individuals, interracial dating and marriage, ethnicity and culture, religion and atheism, etc. But the reality America has always been vastly more diverse than the conservatives would allow for in their vision of America. What is surprising is that the norm of the American people is seen as ‘liberal’ in the MSM. Liberalism in the MSM often just means a tepid middle-of-the-road position on issues, the real political correctness of liberalism is in between the right-wing and the left-wing, if anything favoring the former more than the latter in that you’ll see right-wing libertarians in the MSM more often than you’ll ever see left-wing socialists or anarchists (or even left-wing libertarians).

Anyway, why is it ‘liberal’ to portray gay people as normal people with normal problems and normal interests? In reality, most gay people are normal by all standards other than the standard of heterosexuality. Why is it ‘liberal’ to speak honestly about global warming? Truth knows no ideology. If certain facts and realities are perceived as liberal, that can’t be blamed on liberals.

America is an ideologically confusing and confused country. There never has been in America a tradition of traditional conservatism. What gets called ‘conservatism’ is too often just a variety of liberalism from the past such as classical liberalism.

This has caused liberalism to become conservative in many ways. Since, American conservatives often are against traditionally conservative positions, liberals have oddly taken up their defense. Traditional conservatives were at least against unregulated capitalism and for most of history supportive of non-capitalist economic systems, partly because capitalism destabilizes social order and undermines moral order. Traditional conservatives in particular were against usury which has become a major pillar of modern capitalism. Also, the precautionary principle is a core principle of any normal sense of conservatism, except of course American ‘conservatism’.

However, there are certain ways America is conservative and so is the MSM, especially Hollywood. American politics and media are obsessed with certain conservative themes such as good vs evil, us vs them.

Hollywood constantly portrays a conservative worldview with action movies that have men of action who are superior to men of thought and action movies that glorify (and otherwise normalize) war, violence and vigilante justice.

The genre of noir is an inherently conservative worldview (although more in the line of reactionary conservatism, rather than traditional conservatism). Noir can be found in the Dark Knight Batman movies, in Watchmen, Blade Runner, Dexter and in various gritty movies and shows that portray the world as fallen into darkness where a lone hero, usually a white male, has to fight the good fight, whether he wins or loses. In general, the conservative ideal of the white male protagonist still surprisingly dominates most of the entertainment these days.

Horror is another conservative genre. A popular horror trope is to show kids partying or somehow being naughty right before being killed. Like noir, horror tends to be about a fallen world. We live in a time of fear and uncertainty when the conservative worldview becomes attractive, although we are getting at the point when people are starting to want a new narrative.

Related to these, drug-taking and dealing is typically portrayed tragically. This is beginning to change some, but change has come slower in politics and media than it has in the general public. Obama laughed at the idea of taking seriously pot legalization, even though most Americans take it seriously. Despite all the negative drug portrayals or maybe because of it, drug use such as with marijuana has become more widespread.

No matter what one considers ‘liberal’, what interests me is that the media remains mostly closed off to the left-wing. As liberalism has become separated and distinct from the left-wing, conservatism has become aligned with or even conflated with the right-wing. This is largely why conservatives have turned away so many Americans and thus lost control of much of the MSM. It’s not so much that the conservative narrative has lost power, rather the conservative narrative turned into a right-wing narrative that has lost power. Most Americans want a moderate centrism which just so happens to be where liberalism is at the moment.

What Does Liberal Bias Mean?

Let me begin with the typical right-wing view that the MSM is left-wing biased (which I’ve discussed before: here, here, here, and here; but this post will take a somewhat different viewpoint than those previous analyses). This complaint is a particularly unhelpful viewpoint in that it simplifies a complex reality. At worst, one could say some of the MSM has a liberal bias which is vastly different than saying all or most of the MSM has a left-wing bias.

As Nader explained a similar distinction:

While the political right has been beating the drum for years that NPR is too liberal, Nader says that is not the true picture at all. He says that it is progressives on the political left, like him, who are being excluded from NPR’s airwaves.

“Progressive voices are not heard on NPR with the frequency of voices representing more corporatist and conservative opinion,” Nader said. “And progressive voices should not be confused with liberal voices and lumped into the same category for any frequency analysis.”

According to Nader, what NPR considers a liberal perspective is really middle-of-the-road. Among his examples are well-known Democrats like President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Progressives, he said, exist farther to the left on the political spectrum. They support things like a Medicare-type single-payer system for all Americans, and not the health care compromise passed by Congress.

Nader does make at least one good point. Academic studies in recent decades have repeatedly shown that the country’s political right, more than the left, is so peopled by true believers driven by principle that they reject political compromise and stay on message with such a strong voice that it attracts great media attention and exaggerates their real weight in the populace.

By ‘progressive’, Nader apparently means the same as what some would call a ‘left-liberal’. In this sense, such a distinction is clearly a reality. The difference here is between those who favor the status quo and those who are strongly and maybe even radically against it. Go even further to the left toward the actual left-wing (Marxists, anarcho-syndicalists, left-libertarians, etc) and the difference is even vaster.

In a review of Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky, a good explanation was given of what liberal bias means:

[T]he mainstream American corporate media (the big networks, the big newspapers, news magazines, etc)serve to uphold the interests of the elites in this country (political and economic). Chomsky and Herman acknowledge that we do have a “liberal” press, (what does it really mean to be ‘liberal’ in America today anyways?), but that the liberalness is kept within acceptable boundaries. Basically, the mainstream press may give a liberal slant on what the dominant institutions and systems are doing…but they will not question the very nature of the institutions and systems themselves.

For example, today’s Los Angeles Times (January 6,2003) had a page 2 story on the U.N sanctions against Iraq. Now, the typical reader may see the story, and figure that since the LA Times is even reporting on the impact of sanctions against Iraqi civillians, this is demonstrative of their ‘liberal’ leanings. However, the story leaves untouched the most crucial issues regarding UN sanctions against Iraq, such as:
1)the U.S. and U.K. are the sole countries who sit on the UN Secutity Council who refuse to lift the sanctions against Iraq, despite the pleas of the other member nations (such as Russia, France, China, etc).
2)UN estimates have put the death toll from the sanctions at nearly one million civillians.
3)Two consecutive UN Humanitarian Coordinators have resigned in the past five years in protest of the effect of the sanctions, with the first stating “We are in the process of destroying an entire society.”

Basically, the mainstream corporatized press will leave the most crucial questions unanswered, if they portray American power in a bad light.

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Liberalism has almost become entirely equivalent with the status quo. It’s a strange phenomenon. This became evident to me in reading about Corey Robin’s theory of reactionary conservatism. I discussed this theory with a left-winger who is highly critical of liberalism and, like Nader, tends to identify liberalism with its representatives in mainstream politics and media.

One insight has grown stronger in my mind. Corey Robin’s reactionary conservatives, according to their actual behavior, aren’t particularly interested in conserving anything and so their credentials as ‘conservatives’ is questionable. On the other hand, mainstream liberalism doesn’t particularly seem interested in liberating anyone or liberalizing anything. The former are reacting to the status quo and the latter are defending it.

Corey Robin makes the argument that conservatives have been reactionary ever since the conservative movement first began. Conservatism arose in reaction to a revolutionary era of radical politics, but conservatism wasn’t dedicated to defending the interests of traditionalism, of the old elites. Conservatives wanted a hierachical social order, just not the previous version found in the ancien régime. To conservatives, the old order had failed to defend society against radical revolutionaries and so needed to be replaced. In order to create a new order, they adopted the rhetoric of the left and adapted their methods to the purposes of conservatism.

This theory, along with other data, puts liberalism into a different context. Liberalism and conservatism are closely tied together. Liberals were also responding to the aftermath of radical revolution. However, instead of wanting to fight against it, liberals wanted to defend the public good that was achieved by systematizing democracy. This is how the United States began. So, this is how liberalism became the status quo of America and how liberals became the defenders of that status quo.

Saying that the American MSM has a liberal bias isn’t saying much at all. All of American politics and society has a liberal bias in this sense. Truth be told, Americans as a whole have a liberal bias, even though most Americans don’t identify as liberals:

“Since the time of the pioneering work of Free & Cantril (1967), scholars of public opinion have distinguished between symbolic and operational aspects of political ideology (Page & Shapiro 1992, Stimson 2004). According to this terminology, “symbolic” refers to general, abstract ideological labels, images, and categories, including acts of self-identification with the left or right. “Operational” ideology, by contrast, refers to more specific, concrete, issue-based opinions that may also be classified by observers as either left or right. Although this distinction may seem purely academic, evidence suggests that symbolic and operational forms of ideology do not coincide for many citizens of mass democracies. For example, Free & Cantril (1967) observed that many Americans were simultaneously “philosophical conservatives” and “operational liberals,” opposing “big government” in the abstract but supporting the individual programs comprising the New Deal welfare and regulatory state. More recent studies have obtained impressively similar results; Stimson (2004) found that more than two-thirds of American respondents who identify as symbolic conservatives are operational liberals with respect to the issues (see also Page & Shapiro 1992, Zaller 1992). However, rather than demonstrating that ideological belief systems are multidimensional in the sense of being irreducible to a single left-right continuum, these results indicate that, in the United States at least, leftist/liberal ideas are more popular when they are manifested in specific, concrete policy solutions than when they are offered as ideological abstractions. The notion that most people like to think of themselves as conservative despite the fact that they hold a number of liberal opinions on specific issues is broadly consistent with system-justification theory, which suggests that most people are motivated to look favorably upon the status quo in general and to reject major challenges to it (Jost et al. 2004a).”

In America, a liberal bias simply means a status quo bias. As the data shows, even many self-identified conservatives support standard liberal positions. When conservatives allege a liberal bias in the MSM, they are speaking a greater truth than they realize.

The conservative complaint simply expresses their complaint against all of modernity. The actual complaint isn’t against media bias but against the media not being biased in their favor… and that society in general isn’t biased in their favor.

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The problem the conservative faces is this.

One can’t simultaneously claim that the MSM has a leftist bias and that big business media conglomerates are acting according to a functioning free market by giving people what they want. One or the other might be true, but definitely not both. If the MSM is giving people what they want, then it isn’t a bias being forced on viewers. If the MSM is forcing a bias on viewers, then people aren’t being given what they want.

There is an inconsistency here. They can hold onto their belief that the MSM is biased or hold onto their belief that the free market works, but they can’t have both simultaneously. The claim of a left-wing bias would mean that the MSM isn’t friendly to conservative issues such as related to business. This is a strange claim to make since MSM is all about business and very successful at that. In reality, the main bias of the MSM is making a profit. However, it is true that as businesses media companies will seek to promote their own business interests in the political arena. Certainly, the MSM as big business has absolutely no incentive to present a left-wing bias of Marxism, socialism, anarcho-syndicalism, etc.

In the MSM, right-wing think tanks are cited as sources and have their representatives on as guests (I’ve even come across right-wing think tank representatives on NPR). Right-libertarians even have their own shows that are aired nationally. Heck, even the Russian channel made for American audiences has a libertarian host.

On the other hand, you’ll rarely if ever come across a left-winger on the MSM, whether as host or guest. You won’t see a panel of Marxists to analyze a campaign debate. You won’t see a socialist organization cited as a standard source in a major newspaper.

The argument of conservatives is that it ultimately has more to do with the issues discussed. The issues are seen as leftist and so any discussion is framed by simply bringing up such issues. This seems like grasping at straws to me.

Why is simply bringing up ‘environmentalism’ as a topic inherently a leftwing bias? How is it framing the discussion by the very act of discussing an issue that is relevant to everyone? If mentioning ‘environmentalism’ is framing, then why isn’t framing to have a business section but not a labor section? Why is it a leftwing bias to have a discussion of global warming that doesn’t include a denialist? Why isn’t a rightwing bias to not include a neopagan environmentalist or a anarchoprimitivist? Why is it a leftwing bias to not regularly report on rightwing politics such as fundamentalism and libertarianism? Why isn’t it a rightwing bias to not regularly report on leftwing politics such as atheism and Marxism?

 
The framing I care about isn’t just bias in the simple sense, although it includes it. In many ways, I do think the MSM gives people what they want. On the other hand, the MSM shapes what people want by controlling their choices. Not only are choices excluded, knowledge about those choices are ignored or dismissed. Framing is more insidious than the conservative view of bias. The problem is partly about how the elite control every aspect of life (through big media, big business, big government, etc), but this isn’t necessarily conspiracy. The power of frames is that even the promoter of frames ends up believing their frames, not unlike how the propagandist ends up using his own rhetoric to rationalize his actions in his own mind.
 
Still, it goes beyond even this. Framing is about culture itself. The framing of all of American society is liberal (which I first discussed in an extensive post about public opinion in terms of ideology, but there are two other posts where I discuss in more detail early regional history as it relates to different ideological traditions — here and here; also, an interesting post about the relationship of republicanism to liberalism in early American thought). American culture grew out of early radical liberalism such as Paine and Jefferson along with the less radical classical liberalism; the criticism and defense of markets, for example, both originally came from the left and both lacked roots in traditional conservatism. American culture also grew out of massive hypocrisy such as genocide, slavery and political disenfranchisement that undermined the ideals of that liberalism from the beginning (because liberals willingly compromised their own ideals, liberalism being undermined from within more than from without).
 
So, American culture has always been a combination of liberalism and hypocrisy, the two may be so intertwined at this point to be inseparable. Liberalism has been too often used to justify the failings of American society, liberals never allowing the perfect get in the way of the good which not unusually means that the theoretical goodness itself becomes questionable over time. My critcism of liberals often involves such hypocrisy.
 
Liberalism is the frame of American culture and so, at least in that sense, it is unsurprising that liberal framing could be seen in the MSM. Nonetheless, I don’t see why caring about the environment and environmental issues is a leftist bias. Considering we all live in and as part of environments, I’d assume that every American wants to see environmentalism (pollution, alternative energy, climatology, etc) discussed in the media.
 
Anyway, my point is that liberalism isn’t a frame invented by the MSM. It is simply American culture. Even American conservatives have mostly accepted the liberal frame in terms of embracing Lockean classical liberalism and so by default have also inherited the hypocrisy that goes along with it.
 
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To get past the ideological debate, all we have to do is look at what the data shows. The fact is that conservatives, Republicans, and Fox News viewers are the most informed. But what is interesting is that they are more misinformed to the degree they are informed. So, those on the right don’t know whether they actually know what they think they know.
 
I shouldn’t even bother linking any of the studies showing this misinformed bias on the right (for there are so many of them at this point, enough studies that Chris Mooney wrote an entire book analyzing the phenomenon), but I will share one because it specifically is about the media. In the 2003 study Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War, Fox News viewers were predictably the most misinformed whereas NPR and PBS audiences were the least misinformed. If there is a bias in public radio (and the non-rightwing portions of the MSM in general), it apparently is a bias towards accurately informing its audience or at least not a bias toward misinforming its audience to the degree of Fox News.
 
The problem is that those on the right think everything has a leftist bias. Along with the MSM, science has a leftist bias, higher education has a leftist bias, the government has a leftist bias, polling organizations have a leftist bias, and on and on. Everything that isn’t explicitly right-wing has a leftist bias, possibly even communist. So, it ultimately is an impossible debate to win. The conservative complaint isn’t based on objective facts in the first place and so can’t be changed through the presentation of objective facts. Any facts disproving the alleged bias will simply be considered as part of the conspiracy of bias.
 
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As a side note, I thought I should give NPR credit for acknowledging its own biases, even if not the biases that conservatives would assume:
 
 
by Edward Schumacher-Matos
 
 by Edward Schumacher-Matos
 
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Here are two very recent videos that analyze how the bias debate is presently playing out in the MSM: