During the Middle Ages, in the time of the Holy Roman Empire, there was a small group of men known as the Prince-Electors. They, and only they, got to choose the next Emperor.
We have something kind of similar in America today. There is a cluster of influential and would-be-influential people who fervently believe that–while they might not get to actually selected the next President–they should have the authority to decide who may and who may not be considered for the Presidential role. These Prince-Electors include national journalists, Ivy League professors and administrators, and high-level government officials. Their primary means of action is via the control of communications channels.
The sense of entitlement is clearly displayed in an article by Robert Reich, in which he basically asserts that speech-control by social media is necessary to protect democracy. Reich clearly believes that he, and those he considers to be his peers, should have the right to decide what Americans can read, see, and hear.
Many years ago, I was talking to a wise executive, who said something has that stayed with me:
When you’re running a large organization, you’re not seeing reality. It’s like you’re watching a movie in which you get to see maybe one out of every thousand frames, and from that, you have to figure out what’s really going on.
This is very true in business, and it’s even more true in politics. The control of what Frames people get to see, and in what sequence, is a source of enormous power.
This power reaches its zenith, of course, in totalitarian societies, where people are prevented from sharing unapproved Frames via threats of arrest, long prison sentences, and even execution. China under Xi and Russia under Putin are pretty close to this condition. Vitaliy Katsenelson, in one of his essays on Russia and Ukraine, remarked that many of his friends back in Russia seem like they are living in the Truman show…ie, a totally controlled and imaginary environment.
We are not presently in that situation in the US, and Reich’s analogizing of Trump’s tweets with Putin’s information control is obscene. (The whole piece is very 1984-ish…to ‘war is peace’ and ‘freedom is slavery’, add ‘censorship is democracy’.) There are still enough independent sources of information in the US that people who make an effort can still break out of the walled gardens (complete with serpent) and formulate their own impressions of what is going on. But momentum is powerful, and people are busy. The frame selection role is very powerful.
There is real anger, on the part of the Prince-Electors, that anyone would dare to challenge their control of information flow…note the long-standing fury at the very existence of Fox News and talk radio. I am sure the rage today is raised to a higher level, in the wake of Musk’s plan to acquire Twitter outright as opposed to merely taking a Board seat.
See my related posts Comm Check, Do the Lord Chancellor and the Archbishop Approve?, and this book review.