Political values and social media in Trumpworld-GOP and CCP
Written back in June. Seems like ages ago, but the virus in all its forms is still with us, even after the election. And the Covid-19 vaccine will have 0% effectiveness on the political virus. Michelle Goldberg back then on the recent NYT Tom Cotton op-ed business –
It’s important to understand what the people around the president are thinking. But if they’re honest about what they’re thinking, it’s usually too disgusting to engage with. This creates a crisis for traditional understandings of how the so-called marketplace of ideas functions. It’s a subsidiary of the crisis that has the country on fire.
Current GOP policies and posturing would have disgusted Republicans prior to the Gingrich era. As Adam Serwer pointed out in the Atlantic two years ago, the cruelty is the point. Lying, fake news, and garbled messages are the tactics. It seems the GOP has learned all too well from watching CCP over the years. These two political parties have similar approaches to truth.
In America, the crisis that Goldberg points to metastasizes mostly in the fever swamps of Trumpworld-GOP. Congressional candidate (now freshman congressperson) Marjorie Taylor-Greene is our best current example. This woman has espoused missile attacks as responsible for 9-11, Qanon conspiracies, and published racist posts about immigrants and Islam. She is welcomed by the national GOP to a prospective seat in the US Congress.
At this late date - November 30, 2020 - few national Republican figures have acknowledged Biden's victory. Instead, some have pressured local officials to ignore the law or their consciences and fail to certify vote results. A few officeholders have resisted. Courts have tossed wildly fantastic GOP proposals to recount, invalidate, or simply ignore votes that come from heavily Democratic areas.
This is posturing with no evidence. It is, in fact, pretty similar to the performative declamation used by CCP members to indicate subordination to the leader. In this case, the GOP is focused on US domestic affairs, but the practice can be applied anywhere.
For CCP the posturing applies with no less rigor to foreign affairs, though the marketplace of ideas is not the venue. The venue is the goodwill of authoritarian regimes and international organizations everywhere. The Paracels and Spratleys are only being explored for scientific research. The ancient historical borders of China include Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia. United Front organizations must closely monitor words and actions of Chinese students overseas to make sure they remain safe in the west. Such pronouncements are performative, and meant to intimidate the world. They often succeed.
Values east and west - CCP and GOP
Simply, the concept for both the GOP and CCP is the same - "We have our values. You must respect those values, even if they tread on your values. Our values are sovereign, your more pluralistic or open values are weak and negotiable.”
There are well-rehearsed themes. For Trumpworld-GOP, honest reporting on government actions or what supporters think and do is "fake news" and biased against them. For CCP, honest foreign reporting on government actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet, the South China Sea, Doklam or Ladakh are interpreted as bias against China, the west trying to destroy China.
A victim mentality is salient in both Trumpworld-GOP and CCP, but only as a ruse. The cry for understanding masks the knife sliding into the ribs of the opposition. For Trumpworld-GOP, the enemy is that portion of the polity committed to fairness in results, concern for environment and the future, and a fairer distribution of resources, public and private. For CCP, the enemy is that portion of the world polity committed to human rights, free speech, and honoring of treaties. Honesty, fairness, and ability to trust are the real victims for both Trumpworld-GOP and CCP. For both, these values just get in the way of libido dominandi, the urge to dominate.
The theory of news reporting says reporting should be "fair and balanced" but this is simply not feasible when one viewpoint is particularly onerous and dangerous, or falls far outside the realm of a normal marketplace of ideas. You can’t debate with someone who thinks the earth is 6000 years old.
Reporting "on the one hand, but on the other hand" fails. And we see the failure of free speech remedies - more speech is not necessarily a remedy to hateful or lying speech. Once speech is out there, social media easily magnifies. It is crying “fire” in a crowded theater.
Failure of a free speech model in social media
In the US, the GOP and its minions take full advantage of laxity in media regulation, all in the name of free speech. Lies, conspiracies, and wild musings flourish – Q-anon, the black helicopters, birtherism, immigrants as criminals. And not all of the postings originate from Russia, China, Iran or Trumpword. The progressive left is at fault as well, although I think the present danger comes more from the right. In these cases, free speech does not make us more free.
Social media is not the same as the lone guy standing on a soapbox in Union Square park in Chicago. The soapbox preacher reached Earl Williams, the jailed mope in the classic movie His Girl Friday. Now, the social media cum soapbox preacher (and much worse) has Hildy Johnson’s readership (and much more).
The threat to democracy
Years ago, some waxed enthusiastic about the potential of social media to democratize public thought. More speech would result in more democracy.
The results, fifteen years later, are complex. Just as the telephone made distant interaction among friends and family possible, it also made such interaction less valuable, because it was so available. The telephone both centralized and decentralized commerce, as writer Bob Yovovich likes to note.
Today, social media is the destruction of democracy, whether social media left or social media right. We fail to control it, and it gives the lone soapbox guy in the park too much power. It might not be so destructive if all posts had a 24 hour quarantine, sort of isolating in place. Or real name registration. In the old days, the soap box guy couldn't use a megaphone and had to provide his name and address if pressed.
CCP has the more sophisticated understanding of the power of social media, and controls it. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube have all been banned for years. The Chinese versions – weixin, weibo, renren, or youku tudou do allow discussion and some personal expression of anger online. The difference is that the anger and lies are controlled. Real name ID is a big help, as is the ability to shut down posts and comments, not unlike monitored private blog sites in the US.
A modest proposal
Monitoring might be a step in the right direction – all social media posts to have a 24 or 48 hour built-in delay before posting. This might calm some of the more crazed citizens out there, akin to comedian Jim Jefferies’ rant on guns – having to load an 18th century musket might help some outraged nut calm down a bit – Part 1 and Part 2 here.
As it is, social media minimizes thinking, maximizes emotional reaction, and negates evaluation. All work to eliminate the informed and educated voter that democracy needs. Little wonder that CCP works so hard to control online speech.
The two parties – GOP and CCP - do work toward the same goal. Trumpworld-GOP will bring down democracy if allowed. That would be fine with CCP. One more competitor out of the way. As Chinese say, shuang-yin. Win-win.