Horse race journalism

In interesting piece in the New York TimesThe Republican Horse Race Is Over, and Journalism Lost

American elections aren’t just a horse race – but a huge numbers game. See my earlier post on viewing the future in dark times.

This NYTimes piece underscores the failure of poll-driven politics and the reporting it engenders. Not only has the reporting been wildly wrong this year, such a focus on polls has pushed away needed political debate about the future.

Donald Trump as a Manchurian Candidate (…sort of) for Russia

trumppress.JPGConsider this: relations between the US and Russia are drifting toward a Cold War frostiness.

Russia, like in the Soviet times, uses Western issues and causes against the West. (See RT, Sputnik, the war against neoliberalism, the war against NATO and the EU).

Now we see the runaway “success” of a candidate who knows precious little about foreign policy. He markets himself as a provincial know-nothing on most international affairs.

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But there is one issue he and his military adviser and his campaign have been consistent about since the start: better relations with Moscow.

The deal-making Trump has received the endorsement of Vladimir Putin and even Twitter is filled with Trump-backing bot armies in the Russian style. (See earlier post).

“Given Putin’s behind the scenes dabblings in the affairs of other countries, Trump is just the sort of man he’d want to prop up to destabilize the West,” writes conservative blogger Erick Erickson, in his observations about the very Astro-turf nature of Trump’s online support.

Erickson recounts how his radio show was bombarded with callers to complain about what he had “just said” on the radio about Trump, when Erickson himself was out of the studio and on vacation.

Something fishy indeed.

What is going on here?

The possibility of Russian trolls behind Trump is suggested by a lot of anecdotal evidence, and by the fact that Russia is busy at work messing with European politics, that Russia is actively pumping out lies designed to confuse, and more broadly a tendency in the cycle of history between the US and Russia.

On specific, Russia-facing issues, there is the question of whether Trump could be thought of as a Manchurian Candidate.

There is no suggestion Trump has a formal arrangement with Putin.

But like so many ideas and terms from the Cold War, the idea of a Manchurian Candidate, a candidate who is a puppet of hostile powers (at least on one glaring issue – Russia), needs modified for these times.

Such a candidate wouldn’t be the brainwashed product of a Communist conspiracy. These days a Manchurian Candidate would be casual and consensual. Less about ideology and much more about shared interests in a globalized world of elites. It would be more about a quid pro quo of influence for support.

It’s clear Russia is using the internet for information war against the West. Troll and Twitter armies are used to shape reality. We live in the age of social cyber attacks.

Western governments and leaders are only dimly aware of the new game, and its ramifications. After all, wasn’t cyberspace supposed to be implicitly ruled by the Western values? The answer from Russia, that we’re learning in Western politics, is no.

The internet and social media technology is being employed in novel ways by Russia to undermine Western governments.

In this way, any Russian troll support for Trump may be less about the outcome of the election and more about delegitimizing the US electoral process, and the nation.

Contributing to the gravity of the situation is the fact that no department of Western governments polices or defends against social media used by outside forces to meddle in open, domestic elections, let alone open societies.

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Scene from The Manchurian Candidate

If I had to predict, I would say that when the Trump moment passes – and Trump has already wildly offended much of the American public with his statements and actions – I can’t help but think loyalty (specifically Trump’s) but generally everyone’s will once again become an issue in US public life.

I’m not suggesting a rerun of the McCarthy Era is under way. But like economic inequality, borders, the health of the middle-class, the notion of national loyalty was another thing that faded from view in much of the West during the period of unbridled globalization.

I imagine that national loyalty could once again become a live political issue in domestic politics, helped by the free flow of capital across borders, fear of decline, and of course, meddling Russian trolls.

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Donald Trump and his fascist, klansmen Twitter fans

Just an update with some information. According to hashtag parsing site, Hashtagify, two of Donald Trump’s biggest “influencers” tweeting out messages about the businessmen have “facists” [sic] and “klansmen” in their Twitter handle, and they follow hardly anyone. (all links as of May 1, 2016). Influencers are based on “the activity of each user for that hashtag, on the engagement the activity creates and on its reach”

The @Klansmen4Trump Twitter feed simply retweets the same gif of a soccer player with the phrase “The Jews did this.”

The top “influencer”, @amrightnow, belongs to a site in “New Jersey, USA” that has no other information available for it.

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Klansmen4Trump’s Twitter page – repeats the same tweet without interruption.

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With a swastika on Trump’s forehead, Facists4Trump doesn’t even look like a authentic fascist page.

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By contrast, the top “influencer” of Hillary Clinton’s tweets was FoxNews in same time.

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Clearly Hashtagify is only one measure of Twitter influence, but it’s indicative. The analysis suggests there is something fishy with Donald Trump’s phantom tweet army. His dominant online presence aids the perception that his campaign has real-world mass appeal. The flood of Trump social media exaggerates the support he has from Americans. But on social media we don’t really know where in the real world anyone is. New Jersey, St Louis, or Saint Petersburg – the social media account holders could be anywhere. But the influence on the perceptions in the US election cycle, as Trump as dominant online figure, are real.