How to beat a Trump

Power is given, not taken.

If this is true then the most important thing for those with power is to make sure that it continues to be given to them. Early politicians were like royalty. Their right to rule was based on their belonging to – and being seen to belong to – a ruling caste. But two world wars have changed this. The right to rule shifts to the meritocracy and the best qualified shall rule. However, the meritocracy has cracked and the object is not to persuade the voters that they too can become kings or billionaires.

Adapting to change, politicians attempt to come across as folksier. They argue that they know what the common man needs, and they can provide it. We are currently at the point where this is failing. And Trump is the result.

Royalty does not need the populace to identify with them. They are there by the grace of god or some other power. In order to increase the distance from common folk they wear tiaras and crowns, gowns and sashes to distract people that underneath it all they are flawed individuals. The golden carriage is necessary if they are to remain in power.

The same is true of the pre-war(s) political elite. Yes, they needed votes but the system was corrupt enough and the populace confused enough to vote them into office on the basis of their arrogant belief in the right to rule.

The meritocracy has its own internal flaw. It’s built on the fallacy that everyone can achieve greatness through work. The meritocracy therefore attempts to argue that it’s not an elite. It is simply a club to which you currently don’t belong. But you may do in the future.

The meritocracy did not need to pander in person to the voters. They were quite obviously the right to rule since they had the right name, right manners, right schools, etc. However, the meritocracy has begun to crack. The political class is recognized to a much greater extent as a class.

The poor don’t get into the right schools, and if they do, they don’t get the right backing. Rarely do we see true class journeys in the political elite. Which means the elite must appeal to the larger group. For the last three decades the politicians belong to the elite but strive to show themselves to be “of the people”. They take of their ties, they role up their sleeves, they share beer recipes and eat common food. And if they fail, they do so at their peril.

Analyzing American presidential campaign ads can be fun. They are all sons of immigrants, they all appear in semi casual wear and they all promote the idea of their “commonness”. This is despite the fact that they mostly have gone to very exclusive schools, where they made invaluable contacts for the rest of their lives.

With Trump its different. Yes he is part of the elite and he has gone to the right schools and made the right connections, but that’s not what he is trying to do. He doesn’t role up his sleeves or take of his tie.

He is not telling crowds that he is a man of the people and has their best interests at heart. He is telling the voters that he is better than them. He is better than everyone. By his own boastful admission, he is richer, went to the best schools, has the best vocabulary, is the best negotiator, best businessman, and now, in what should have been predictable, he’s told the world on national TV that he has a big cock.

His appeal is not that of royalty, he is not the dream of meritocracy (you will never be as good as him), appeal is not to be the trustworthy politician that acts in the voters best interest.

His appeal is that he is offering the opportunity to bring people into the corridors of power. Once he is there the voter can live vicariously through him as he shouts at world leaders: “You’re fired”

This is why he can be racist, misogynistic, stupid, evil, and just plain rude without losing popularity. He is the uncommon man that offers vicarious life. He cannot be stopped by facts – there is more than enough proof to show that he lies about many things. He cannot be stopped by scandal – the man invites scandal through his life and language and speeches. The tools to stop each type of politician vary depending on the type of image they are trying to project.

  • To win an election against royalty = prove that they are common
  • To win an election against meritocracy = prove that the club is closed
  • To win against the “common man” = reveal the hypocrisy that political elites don’t care for commoners.
  • To win against Trump = prove that he will not take the viewers with him, and that his powers are an illusion. And when the cameras are on him, the experiences of the onlooker will be shame and defeat as the leaders of the world laugh at him.

In his own words: Nobody likes a loser.

Privacy and Media Power Teaching

This is my second term at the Communication Department at UMass Boston and this term I am teaching a capstone course called Privacy: Communication, Technology, Society (early syllabus here) and News Media and Political Power (early syllabus here). The courses are lots of fun and the students seem to be responding well.

In the privacy course we have already had lectures and discussions on the history of the toilet and bedroom just to get things started. In Media Power we have discussed Postman, the causes of the Iraq war and the purpose of war.

Its going to be a busy and exciting term.

We are free and powerless

Once again futuramb has a quote that I just need to steal and post here. Well done Martin!

The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman neatly summarised the paradox of our era as: “Never have we been so free. Never have we felt so powerless.” We are indeed freer than before, in the sense that we can criticise religion, take advantage of the new laissez-faire attitude to sex and support any political movement we like. We can do all these things because they no longer have any significance – freedom of this kind is prompted by indifference. Yet, on the other hand, our daily lives have become a constant battle against a bureaucracy that would make Kafka weak at the knees. There are regulations about everything, from the salt content of bread to urban poultry-keeping.


An impressive politician

The politician Tony Benn has passed away. I didn’t know much about him but two things online today make me wish I had known more about the man. First is his appearance on Ali G where he really dealt with Ali’s antics with a beautiful no nonsense style. Look at the way he uses his hands and the conviction of his ideas! It’s not about soundbites, witty banter and snappy comebacks.

Then I read Tony Benn’s five questions – and surveillance where Paul Bernal writes about Benn’s questions of legitimacy and power.

  1. What power have you got?
  2. Where did you get it from?
  3. In whose interests do you exercise it?
  4. To whom are you accountable?
  5. How do we get rid of you?

Brilliant questions – Fascinating man. Unfortunately we don’t see many politicians with this kind of mindset.

Technology: older than we think

Technology is always older than we think. Recently XKCD published a wonderful series of quotes on how we perceive the changes technology brings on the pace of everyday life.

Then today I came across Mark Twain’s excellent use of the camera in King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule published in 1905.

The kodak has been a sore calamity to us. The most powerful enemy that has confronted us, indeed… Then all of a sudden came the crash! That is to say, the incorruptible kodak — and all the harmony went to hell! The only witness I have encountered in my long experience that I couldn’t bribe… Then that trivial little kodak, that a child can carry in its pocket, gets up, uttering never a word, and knocks them dumb!

Facebook as censor

When I read that Facebook was censoring updates that include a rivals name – I was skeptical. Surely they wouldnt be so stupid? But then I tried it myself.  I logged into Facebook and wrote a status update: “Is it true that FB is censoring” and pressed enter.

According to a blog post in the New York Times in 2008, a Web start-up from Brazil with some prominent backers, aims to become the portal through which people access their online social lives. It’s up against no less than the world’s biggest Internet companies.

Facebook may be the biggest player in town but there are areas in the world where alternatives exist. Of course Facebook as a company has no obligation to play nice with others but let me quote Stan Lee: With great power comes great responsibility. If they do this then what is to stop Facebook from deleting people or other organizations?

Vulnerable IT Society

The whole neighborhood is suddenly pitched into blackness. A major power failure has killed even the street lamps. Thanks to my liking for candles and mobile broadband I still have some connection to the outside world beyond the blackness but it is interesting to see how vulnerable the IT society has become. I have candles to last the night but my laptop will only manage two hours. People are outside on balconies talking on their mobile phones and even walking outside with torches – or probably with the light on their phones.

An interesting experience not common in the safety first Scandinavia.

Equality loses on Wikipedia

Wikipedia is planning to add a feature called “flagged revisions” which will fundamentally alter the basic philosophy of WIkipedia. The plan will effect the articles of now living people and will require trusted voluntary Wikipedia editors to accept changes made to any article. Prior to acceptance the changes will not be visible. The New York Times writes:

The change is part of a growing realization on the part of Wikipedia’s leaders that as the site grows more influential, they must transform its embrace-the-chaos culture into something more mature and dependable.

The original free for all attitude where anyone can change articles – which is still the main boast of Wikipedia – has not been true since the Seigenthaler “scandal” in 2005. After John Seigenthaler was accused in a Wikipedia article of being directly involved in both the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy Wikipedia removed anonymous edits.

But the basic change occurring now is that the simple user cannot change articles (of now living people) which means that the balance of power in the creation of online information on Wikipedia shifts and gives the voluntary editor more power – even in relation to the knowledgeable writer.

Considering the past problems and the ways in which Wikipedia articles are often used for marketing and boastfulness these changes are probably necessary. But at the same time it is sad to see that the power over the online knowledge infrastructure is fundamentally shifting from the users into the hands of the gatekeepers.

Ignorant waste

OK so energy politics is not my forte but this is too interesting not to bring up. Sweden generates half of their electricity from nuclear power. In the production of nuclear energy water is used…

…to extract the extra heat from nuclear power stations (cooling water). It is not at all radioactive and it could be very easily be channelled into Sweden’s extensive district-heating grid. But no – this water is not even used to provide showers in the nuclear facility. Instead it is poured into the sea, possibly harming sea life and creating lovely clouds of expensive steam.

According to Paddy K this hot water accounts for one-third of all the energy (energy not electricity) produced in Sweden.

If Paddy is right about what he writes then this ignorant waste needs to be changed…