Monday, February 4, 2019

America is a country bitterly divided into two groups – – treatment and control.

The following would sound paranoid if it hadn't been so openly discussed by the leaders of the conservative movement in real time. At the risk of slightly oversimplifying, during the flush years of the Reagan administration, these leaders came up with a multipart plan to address the challenge of maintaining power in America while pursuing policies that lacked majority support.

The plan included devoting resources to high value-to-cost races such as midterms and statehouses, gerrymandering and voter suppression, dominance of and greater freedom to use campaign money, a highly disciplined carrot and stick approach to the establishment media that played shrewdly on its weaknesses and biases, and a massive social engineering experiment.

The pundit class has always had a problem with acknowledging and honestly addressing the various aspects of this plan, but it is the last element which indicates the largest blind spot. Commentators and more embarrassingly even some political scientists have pushed a string of theories that don't come close to fitting the facts with at least one requiring that West Virginia be re-assigned to the Confederacy.

All of this flailing around might be excusable if there were not an obvious explanation that almost perfectly describes the data. At least on a high level, all you need to ask yourself is who got the treatment?

Yes, there are certainly complications and complexities that need to be addressed. We need to talk about why certain people respond better. We need to look at the various channels and mechanisms beyond media including Astroturfing and the corruption of many of the leaders of the evangelical movement (particularly those espousing prosperity gospel). We need to acknowledge that this is not a clean experiment and that there are multiple levels of selection effects to contend with.

Those details, while important, are secondary. For now, the point we need to focus on is that there is a remarkably strong correspondence between conservative media reaching critical mass and an area going deep red, pro-Trump.

Unquestionably, the causal arrows run both ways here and we should approach some of the more subtle questions with caution, but the highly simplified model – – conservative propaganda and disinformation are the primary drivers of the rise of the reactionary right – – does an extraordinarily good job in explaining the last decade and the reluctance of many commentators and researchers to embrace it is itself a social phenomenon worth studying.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed, and it does go back to at least the Reagan era and personages like Richard Viguerie, Karl Rove, Lee Atwater, Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist, Jerry Falwell, Pat Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh, etc. (and didn't just start with Trump as some try to impute).