Well, This is a Cheerful Thought


Twitter’s Takeover of Politics is Just Getting Started.

Summary at Tyler Cowen’s blog:

But what does this new, more intense celebrity culture mean for actual outcomes? The more power and influence that individual communicators wield over public opinion, the harder it will be for a sitting president to get things done. (The best option, see above, will be to make your case and engage your adversaries on social media.) The harder it will be for an aspirant party to put forward a coherent, predictable and actionable political program.

Finally, the issues that are easier to express on social media will become the more important ones. Technocratic dreams will fade, and fiery rhetoric and identity politics will rule the day. And if you think this is the political world we’re already living in, rest assured: It’s just barely gotten started.

See also my post freedom, the village, and social media.

20 thoughts on “Well, This is a Cheerful Thought”

  1. Put yourself in Omar’s shoes. You are a freshman representative in a group of 435. Most of your cohort will never receive national recognition, and as a Muslim woman, perhaps your hold on the seat is not entirely secure. You will probably never run for president, or even Senate, so your future is not tied very closely to that of the Democratic Party.

    I would say that is not a “probably” but a definite, hard “never”. Dozens of attempts to change the natural born citizen clause have failed, and Omar has provided us a nice reminder of why. One good thing about Twitter is when unqualified idiots like her are projected onto the national scene, the public gets a quick chance to filter them right back out of it. It’s rough sometimes, but there’s a lot at stake. If you can’t take the heat then get out of the kitchen.

  2. Leaving aside her views for now, the general trend is striking: Social media is allowing individual politicians to further their own careers at the expense of their party’s reputation.

    Didn’t this start with television? Social media accelerates the effect.

    But the tweets will also make you a national celebrity. That may help your future ability to get a book contract, hit the lecture circuit, or join a lobbying or nonprofit firm. Even if most Americans find your views objectionable, there will be a place for you in a country this large, wealthy and diverse.

    All of the above. Another possibility that’s not incompatible with Cowen’s argument is that there will be more turnover in the Congressional membership. Omar has options – she doesn’t need to become another Dingell or Pelosi.

    This trend will almost certainly continue and intensify.

    Seems likely.

    Most politicians do not have excellent social media skills, but many will try to get noticed and have an impact (or at least hire staff members who will). As more politicians up their game on social media, more of these attempts will hit home. Ocasio-Cortez will have competition. The influence and reach of political celebrities will grow stronger, and the parties will become weaker yet.

    I think it’s more likely that the distribution of people who get elected will continue to shift to include a greater proportion of the kinds of people who succeed on social media, who are more likely to be flamboyant solo operators than apparatchik types. The parties will function less as buffers and there will be more volatility in election results. We see this already in the radical shift from Obama to Trump (compare to Ford/Carter or GHW Bush/Clinton or Clinton/W Bush) and in the elections of lefty outliers to Congressional seats. One reason why there are already so many Democratic presidential candidates, including relatively extreme leftists, may be that these people realize that they actually do have a chance to win. (Alternately, being a presidential candidate is an extremely visible social-media role.)

  3. Also:

    Technocratic dreams will fade, and fiery rhetoric and identity politics will rule the day.

    I don’t think anyone has a clue. It’s conceivable that a sufficient number of voters will tire of identity politics as to drive a political reaction and resurgence of technocratic or other kinds of political appeals.

  4. Good, let the technocratic dreams fade. They already faded. In the 80s almost all members of the Soviet politburo were engineers. Look how that turned out.
    97% of climate scientists agree that you should trade in your car for a bicycle. Thank God they don’t make policy.

  5. Twitter’s most major effect on things is that it has finally shone a light on just how stupid and insipid most of our politicians and media figures actually are. Their own words are what’s killing them, and Twitter has unconsciously enabled that.

    Before the “now”, all you saw was a black box; you never knew what the supposed “experts” and “thought leaders” were actually saying or thinking, because all that was invisible. Twitter has basically opened that all up for the entire nation to witness the witless we’ve put up on pedestals.

    Nine-tenths of the reason the media is freaking out is that they sense this shift, and are scared out of their wits at the implications. Before the “now”, they could effortlessly keep someone like Omar afloat in terms of public opinion, because they would never publicize what she said in private, or look at her activities with an eye towards broadcasting that to the world. Now? LOL… Omar and her ilk are highlining themselves above the military crest, and that’s making reality visible to the general public for the very first time in history.

    Twitter is basically a tool that allows the village idiots of our nation to self-identify, and that’s killing the media types simply because those village idiots are the ones they used to cover for, in political life, and that enabled an awful lot of background manipulation and chicanery. What’s happened with things like Twitter is that the stage curtain has been pulled back, revealing that most of these jackasses are like the infamous Wizard of Oz: Entirely pedestrian and not the “great men” we’ve imagined them to be, with the obfuscating help of the mass media.

    In a sense, we’re going back to the village, where everyone knew everyone else, for good and ill. The village idiots who’ve been able to achieve fame and fortune on the national stage, because nobody knew them outside the village? They’re done for; now their idiocy is out there for everyone to know and see, and the media can’t hide it.

    Interesting times, interesting times…

  6. I believe the day after the election Google executives were saying that they could not allow “this” to “happen again.” By all accounts the Trump team used Facebook, etc., brilliantly in 2016. One hopes they have a plan to get around the overt opposition they’re going to face from all tech platforms in 2020.

  7. If they’ve got PR teams, then a bunch of those teams are as arrogant and clueless as their clients.

    Twitter, at this moment, is a vision into the actual thinking and beliefs of the elite, and that vision is cluing in a bunch of people out in the hinterlands as to just who the people making up the “elite” actually are.

    Case in point–The current carpetbagging idiot we have as governor out here in Washington state: Jay Inslee. He started out as a Representative out here in the eastern half of the state, and when talked to him in person on the campaign trail, he talked good game, and seemed like he was a decent “Scoop” Jackson Democrat. Bastard got into office, and as soon as he hit Congress, he turned into a Teddy Kennedy Democrat–Which is why he lost his seat here after one term. I surmise that had that idiot had access to Twitter, we’d have never fallen for his bullshit–Mainly because he wouldn’t have been able to hide who he really was the way he did.

  8. The Titanic analogy gets grossly overused — but in the case of the political world, it is spot on. The Best & Brightest are spending about $1.30 for each $1.00 they take in (extort?) in taxes. The politicians’ National Debt is about $170,000 per taxpayer — and growing. Social Security is a doomed Ponzi scheme. And the trade deficit is unsustainable.

    The Political Class ignores all of this, of course. Probably in most cases they don’t even understand the problem. To paraphrase, you may not be interested in debt, but debt is interested in you. No-one can predict when the ship hits the iceberg — but the collision is inevitable. When past financial foolishness catches up to the present, Twitter will be irrelevant, along with almost every one of today’s political figures.

  9. i think Twitter’s influence is exaggerated. People hooked on the Twitter echo chamber forget that, to most Americans, Twitter is just more crapware that was preinstalled on their phone.

    Exactly how many people use Twitter seems to be a nebulous figure; most claims seem to be seven to nine percent, of which some unknown number just tried it once or twice and ignored it thereafter.

  10. TRX: Almost no one reads the New York Times, yet it incredibly influential, setting the terms of the debate in the MSM and trickling down to all local media. Twitter aspires to that sort of influence, which is why “blue check mark” media idiots are heavily protected by them.

  11. 1–Twitter, by its very design, encourages communicating in short chunks of text. It makes TV soundbites look like comprehensive essays by comparison.

    2–It seems to have been the most effective of the social media platforms for the enablement of on-line mobbing.

    3–The management of the company appears to be highly committed to promulgating a “progressive” worldview in their business operations.

    4–Unlike Facebook, with which the communication links are largely among people who actually *know* one another in real life, or small/medium-scale blogs, which have a regular community of commenters, Twitter is largely about ‘communication’ among an anomic mass.

    See John Hawkins, 15 Quotes That Show How Dangerous Social Media Has Become to Our Society.


    Note especially #11:

    One of the things I’ve been very interested in is feats of concentration that people used to perform all the time — [such as] writing a book in six weeks or a computer program in a few days. I don’t think that’s impossible now, but I do think it’s become considerably harder in our environment to enter important and deep states of focus and concentration, because we surround ourselves with technology, whose business model is to distract us.

    Our computers are ostensibly productivity-enhancing machines, but they also are loaded with platforms whose business model is to consume as much of your time as possible with ads and noise and distraction.

    There’s nothing wrong with taking a break, but we’ve engineered our environment for distraction. We bob from one thing to another, perpetually. And I don’t know if it’s so great for our culture or even ourselves.

    –Tim Wu

  12. People who discuss politics think that is the primary use of Twitter, because it’s to what they pay attention. It’s not.

  13. Re: Hawkin’s “15 Devastating”

    Shallow emotions. An incapacity to feel genuine love. A need for stimulation. Frequent verbal outbursts

    He’s kidding, right? Perennial. Also sounds like his [Milo’s] autobiography. OMG! People are incapable of feeling genuine love! Quick-abolishing Facebook will fix this. This is almost too stupid to reply to.

    Cosmetic surgery procedures have increased 137 percent since 2000, according to a report by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, with young people contributing to the rise significantly. In what scientists have called ‘Snapchat dysmorphia.

    No doubt Snapchat was the cause for women wanting big plastic boobs in 1975, too. A program released in 2011 affects plastic surgeons’ income in 2001, 2002, 2003. I’m sure the ASPS is so upset at this trend, they’ll refuse to perform useless surgery. As if. Worse sort of projection—surgeons are amoral scum operating on teenagers and taking their money, then they blame—get this—teenagers. “She made me do it, your honor!”

    Twice as many teenagers now have depression as a generation ago.

    Proof? Psychology has a diagnostic and replication crises, remember? If depression can be reliably diagnosed and if twice as many teenagers have it, why not blame fear of your Leftist parents making you transsexual.

    This “15 Devastating Quotes” article should be right there with “destroying toe fungus” and “disrupting billion-dollar industry” and “police in [your town] are.” Why didn’t my ad filter catch it?

  14. anon 8:48am

    Yeah, there have always been extremely vain people, and various forms of the other pathologies you mention. But the phone & media obsession really is concerning. Just the other day, I saw a woman halfway through a door, holding it part open with one hand while obsessively doing something with her phone with the other. Couldn’t wait 5 second to get through the door.

    Part of it is *screens* in general, and their function as an attention magnet. A flight instructor mentioned that when he teaches in airplanes with large GPS display screens, it is very difficult to get student to focus their attention on the world outside the cockpit, even on final approach to landing. Add social-media and always-on wireless, and the power of the attention magnet goes way up.

    When the telegraph was first invented, a journalist marveled that ‘with this invention, there is no ELSEWHERE’. If wired communications reduced the sense of Elsewhere, it seems that wireless communications reduces the sense of the *here and now*.

  15. Is communications at a distance (whether wired or wireless) really that beneficial?

    Alan Palmer’s worthwhile 1987 book “Banner of Battle” about the unusually pointless Crimean War (France, Britain, and Sardinia shoring up the Muslim Turkish Ottoman Empire by attacking Orthodox Christian Russia) notes that during the course of the war (mid-1850s) the European telegraph system finally expanded to the point where remote politicians in Paris & London could for the first time in history begin to intervene in the conduct of a distant war on a day-to-day basis. Generally, this was not helpful — a lesson which LBJ could usefully have applied in Vietnam.

  16. Gavin…indeed, communications limitations have historically *forced* a certain level of decentralization and delegation. The Emperor had to delegate a degree of authority to his regional governors. The Army commander had to delegate authority to his division commanders. The CEO had to delegate authority to his regional sales managers.

    With ever-better communications, decentralization becomes more of an explicit choice rather than something that can’t be avoided, and too many organizations will decide that everything is better decided at headquarters. The vogue for “big data” will certainly drive more of this.

    I haven’t read it, but someone wrote an interesting-sounding book about the impact of the telegraph on diplomacy.

  17. The late Buckminster Fuller talked in one of his books (might have been “Utopia or Oblivion”) about the training of British naval officers back in the days of Imperialism. A captain would sail off out of contact and reappear many months (even years) later to advise the Queen that she now had a new territory … or a new war. It was critically important that the captain could act appropriately in unexpected circumstances, which required a training that instilled principles.

    Instantaneous communication has changed that, and reduced many previously high-level jobs to one of mostly implementing orders from a distant HQ. Added to the pressure from excessive litigation which results in individuals often having to follow prescriptive policies rather than use common sense, it has made working life less interesting for many people — and probably less efficient.

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