Politics in modern America: A users’ guide for journalists and reformers

Summary:  The posts this week mark a conclusion to years of analysis on the FM website, as I struggle to understand what’s happening to America. The last piece of the puzzle came with my absurdly slow realization that Fox News is the model news provider for our New America. This is the fourth and last in a series briefly describing where we are, and what I personally am attempting to do about it. These posts rarely speak in the first person, but this is the exception.

American Power

 

Contents

  1. A look at America’s classes
  2. The mass market for information
  3. Another path
  4. For More Information

 

(1)  A look at America’s classes

Many American do not know the strength of the class system in America during the Gilded Age, before its disruption by WWII and the creation afterwards of a large middle class. For an entertaining introduction, I recommend watching Stella Dallas, with Barbara Stanwyck in the title role (1937). It describes the powerful role of class in our past, and perhaps in our future.

Time has disproved most of Marx’s economics, but it has validated much of his sociology. George Orwell gives us an updated model of a class structure that fits our America. There is the bourgeois, the top few percent who own most of America (the 1% own over a third; the top 3% over half). There is the inner party, the highly-paid senior leadership of our political and corporate institutions. There is the outer party of managers, small business-people, and professionals. There are the proles, America’s workers and its underclass.

The bourgeois and inner party are the insiders. They have a common interest with their peers in preserving the political and social systems that have given them so much, so most are conservative in the literal meaning of the term. They desire tinkering with the details, shifting America to the Left or Right — but not radical change. They have leisure time, autonomy, and agency (the ability to influence events), which gives them a perspective on the world radically different than that of the lower classes.

 

The outer party are politically impotent, divided amongst themselves and busy with the routine of their lives, but potentially politically powerful. Jefferson saw farmers, merchants, and craftsman of America as the foundation of the Republic. Those classes were wiped out during the Gilded Age; the outer party has their descendents, and potentially can play an equivalent role. However, as employees the Outer Party lack the economic independence that Jefferson believed made them indomitable and wise, unlike the equally liberty-loving mobs of Paris.

The proles are uninterested in politics, unless aroused and channeled by organizations focused on doing so. Political machines and unions effectively did so in our past; only shards of these remain today.

Victory Is The Goal

(2)  The mass market for information

Anyone selling information and analysis probably targets the outer party — the large body of people interested in current events and with the income to either pay for it or to attract advertisers.  What does the outer party want for information? America’s free markets answer that question with relentless efficiency: look at what they get to see what they want. Here are the answers to things that for so long baffled me.

The outer party wants simple stories of good guys and bad guys that explain events. Cheer our team! Thrill at tales of the bad guys’ dastardly deeds! They want stories that provide entertainment and catharsis plus a sense of belonging to a community (more accurately a virtual tribe).  Politically ineffectual, they want to believe themselves engaged. So they consume information (becoming well-informed) and write posts or comments (21st C letters to the editor). They are fans cheering and booing political actors, writing fan fiction.

This explains American’s disinterest in experts’ past record of failed predictions and bad advice. What we read need not be accurate since we have no intent to use this information. A collector of maps doesn’t ask if the maps are correct; they wants pretty maps — with colorful dragons on edges. Only those navigating to a destination demand accurate charts.

What the outer party avoids provides more clues. They don’t want responsibility. It’s no longer in many (most?) American’s mind that we have responsibility for the actions of our government, which would mandate our involvement — or that we have the power to run America, which requires that political action become a personal priority for every citizen. The right fetishists individual action and considers collective action an anathema. On the Left calls to action are either ethereal — replace capitalism, trivial (vote for Hillary), or personal (recycle bottles). The 1% approves of both attitudes.

Good content describes problems but seldom point to specific means of direct political action. It’s depressing to read about the years of difficult work needed to reform America. It’s boring to read about the technical details of political tactics.

Brilliant minds in the media business understand us, and so their products provide infotainment packaged as serious news and analysis. Fox was one of the first to realize this and the most determined to provide what we want — and so became the largest beneficiary from the evolution of Americans from citizens to subjects. To survive most of the news media must follow in their footsteps, or find patrons in the 1% to fund them (e.g., Jeff Bezos for the Washington Post, Pierre Omidyar at The Intercept).

Life moves faster on the internet, and the big nodes that get the traffic are those that have adapted to the outer party of a New America.

Unity

(3)  Another path

These things appear vividly in the statistics of the FM website, data on 3,200 posts with 5.7 million page views over 7+ years, with 38 thousand comments. People love lurid descriptions with problems. Those pointing to bad guys go nova. Posts describing what we can do as a people to fix problems get less traffic. Those proposing action for you and I get less traffic. Those that say we are responsible for America get little traffic. They are kryptonite for traffic. It’s like attempting to sell holy water to vampires.

The second most common rebuttal to these posts (after “reform is impossible”): I seldom propose specific measures to reform America’s politics. That’s correct. Rather than ask you to pursue my goals and values, I ask that ask that you work for yours. Get involved in the movement to reform America’s politics in the way that best suits you. Material on the FM website will help you to do so.

I have faith in all you — us — and that more citizen involvement will make a better and stronger America. I don’t ask you to share that faith. I ask you only to have faith in yourself, and see us as the crew of America — not its passengers.

Here are two summaries of my recommendations:

(4)  A closing note

These posts mark my journey over the past decade. Most of my colleagues have dropped out along the way, either in retirement or in despair. I started in confusion and slowly crawled forward to a clearer understanding. Nowhere is this clearer than in my posts about political reform, describing what lies ahead if we do nothing — and what our future might be if we work together.

The Road

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

— A poem that appears in several forms in The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.

(4)  For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See the links at the pages About the quiet coup in America and Reforming America: steps to new politics. Also see the other posts in this series…

  1. What if Samuel Adams tried to start the Revolution by blogging?
  2. Samuel Adams started the Revolution because he didn’t have Twitter.
  3. Can Constitutional amendments save the Republic?
  4. We’re strong and adaptable, but have a problem that might sink America.
  5. Enough analysis! America is broken. Here are some ways to fix it.

 

 

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21 thoughts on “Politics in modern America: A users’ guide for journalists and reformers

  1. Fabius stated “The outer party wants…stories that provide entertainment and catharsis plus a sense of belonging to a community(more accurately a vertical tribe)).”

    “Politically ineffectual they want to believe themselves engaged.”

    These comments, I believe, are so on target.

    I know I have already applauded you for these insights but if taken to heart they may help to provide a part of the necessary motivation “to have faith in ourselves and to eventually see ourselves, as you say, ” as part of the crew of America not its passengers.”

    In addition, your comment that “As employees the outer party lack the economic independence that Jefferson believed made them indomitable and wise.” raises some profound questions about how this situation might be changed and, if so– potentially creating the conditions for outer party recruitment to a different model of economic/political self-organization on a major scale.

    Would an eventual call for much wider ownership of productive property (directly managed by its owners rather than property owned by powerless stockholders and managed by a board) be part of a solution and simultaneously a recruitment tool for outer party individuals?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jim,

      “Would an eventual call for much wider ownership of productive property …”

      The new industrial revolution will make these problems much worse as returns to capital (who own the machines) increase vs that of labor. I see no other solution but some redo notion of ownership — whether of property or income.

      Society makes ownership possible — in the state of nature one owns only what he holds,and that is constantly at risk from others. That provides a starting point.

      That is a very bleak vision, because getting to that point will, I believe, happen only after considerable social “disruption”.

      Like

  2. FM,
    Very good analysis.
    But have you considered the fact that on most if not all the the major issues that you discuss there are dozens if not hundreds of groups organizing on each one of those issues. Most of the reforms we enjoy today took many decades because the normal operating mode of the American system is on a perpetual slow setting by design. We have to be patient, just like the previous reforms your efforts could bear fruit by the end of the century. Your efforts on educating the public are certainly a good start, however.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gloucon,

      “We have to be patient, just like the previous reforms your efforts could bear fruit by the end of the century.”

      Agreed. It’s a point I have made many times, often by comparison with previous great reform programs: abolitionist, American independence, suffragette, and civil rights. See the previous posts in this series, which discussed this aspect in detail.

      Like

  3. There are several issues that might be discussed here.

    1) what do the 1÷ read? There seems to be an increasing irrationalism irrationalism in at least the national-security elites willing to risk everything to maintain total US supremacy rather than simply make money.

    2) the power of FOX et al should be declining with the rise of the internet. Will his structural change affect anything?

    3) economic weakness of the outer party. It was customary for the social democrAt and communist left’s to have various support systems in the past. In the two Daemon novels a support system was a given. Any chance of this happening?

    Like

    1. SocialBill,

      All great questions!

      (1) I don’t see increasing irrationalism in the national security elite. Certainly not vs the maniac days of the Cold War, when they risked so much more for so little reason (see the Virtual JFK for horrifying details of the Cuban Missile Crisis).

      (2) The power of Fox is that of its elderly audience (average age 69). My point is that Fox was the first to perfect the formula. Everyone, Left or Right, who hopes for media success imitates aspects of their formula.

      (3) Mass movements are possible even with medieval peasants. They don’t require rich patrons. Organization trumps everything.

      Like

    2. Regarding the reading of the 1%: the print equivalent of Fox News is the Wall Street Journal editorial page, just as prone to make up stuff that sounds authoritative and lives on through all debunking.
      But I noticed a while back that this is quite compartmentalized and limited to the editorial page; the news pages are pretty straight down the middle accurate news, often in conflict with what the editorial pages say to a greater or lesser degree. That wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise; the 1%ers need a source of accurate news if they are to run their various enterprises and would be ill served by a newspaper which did not provide it. Conversely, anybody who comes to believe the fantasy they themselves generate is doomed to run smack into reality at some painful point.

      Like

  4. “The right fetishists individual action and considers collective action an anathema. On the Left calls to action are either ethereal — replace capitalism, trivial (vote for Hillary), or personal (recycle bottles). The 1% approves of both attitudes.”

    This seems a bit too cryptic a description of US politics. Maybe you could expand on this. Some examples would be nice. For example, I’d like to know where Americans can go to hear those calling for replacing capitalism. And the long list of conservative groups would seem to disprove that collective action is an anathema to the Right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gloucon,

      “This seems a bit too cryptic a description of US politics.”

      It’s not a “description of politics”. It points to one specific difference between Left and Right. Rather than cryptic, I see it as stating “ball is red.”

      “I’d like to know where Americans can go to hear those calling for replacing capitalism.”

      We’re flooded with them. For the latest, go to your local bookstore and buy This Changes Everything: capitalism vs the climate by Leftist activist Naomi Klein (NYT review).

      Another prominent voice — Naomi Oreskes (professor of the history of science, Harvard) — comes close to calling for replacement of capitalism. For example, see this in the WaPo. Spend 20 minutes with Google and you’ll find a hundred more.

      Like

  5. When I said I’d like to know where Americans can go to hear those calling for replacing capitalism, by this I meant, where in the mass media. For example, my brother listens to a lot of talk radio and watches Fox, I thought you were referring to some similar outlets he could go to hear and see ranting Marxists for a refreshing contrast.

    There have been anti-capitalist authors and intellectuals since Marx and probably before, I don’t see that mass numbers of Americans are being exposed to their ideas. Do you really think really think a bookstore in Topeka in well stocked with Naomi Oreskes? On the other hand I’m pretty sure my brother has one of Michael Savage’s books.

    Like

    1. Gloucon,

      “where in the mass media”

      You misrepresent what I said and then give a rebuttal to it. This is SOP for climate activists. Which is one reason they keep losing. It works only when preaching to fellow true believers.

      The Left is too small and (imo) incompetent to retain a hold on the mass media. The Right has spent vast resources in an organized program to push back the post-WWII society created by the New Deal and WWII. For decades they retained their toe-hold in the mainstream media — the big 3 networks and the national-brand newspapers (aka the “liberal media”). But that’s all gone with the winter’s snows.

      As the Left’s decay began in the 1970s they made an “open source” strategic decision to market their ideas not as worth doing for their own sake, but as necessary to prevent the fall of civilization, humanity, or the world. That is, they attached their brand to a succession of doomsters. The resource exhaustion people, the pollution people, the over-population people, the nuclear Armageddon people, and now the global warming people.

      It was a clever means to obtain leverage with minimal resources, in a shallow dumb way. Each round has been a defeat. Worse, by attaching themselves to exaggerations and mus-representations, they have had to become insular and anti-intellectual — much like the Right. It’s an oddity of history that they have reached a somewhat similar state (tribalism) by a different route.

      “There have been anti-capitalist authors and intellectuals since Marx”

      There is little new in humanity; it’s the change in the mixture and magnitude that creates the pageant of history. If you believe that anti-capitalist thought in American today is as strong as that in the past (e.g., the 1920s & 1930s, the 1960s & 1970s) — well, there is no point in talking with you. If you close your eyes tightly then you’re blind, no matter how good your vision.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Gloucon,

      “Do you really think really think a bookstore in Topeka in well stocked with Naomi Oreskes?”

      Yes, they do stock “This Changes Everything”. In fact, that’s an astonishingly ignorant statement about a book that has sold over a million copies since its release in 2014. Many of those were to the people in Topeka and similar places. Atrios at Eschaton gives the rebuttal to your arrogance:

      One of the worst traits of political reporters is to think their contempt for flyover country means they understand it, instead of just meaning that they hate the great unwashed they perpetually pretend they’re giving voice to.

      It’s like when Candy Crowley flipped her shit because John Kerry, prostate cancer sufferer, dared to try to order Green Tea. If you live in Real America you know that every supermarket sells a variety of types of tea, and that either restaurants have or don’t have a basket of random tea options. Either they do or they don’t. People in kabumfuck Iowa might have actually experienced something other than deep fried Twinkies with a side of Coke in their lives, and it’s journalists who are being elitist assholes for assuming otherwise …

      Like

  6. I agree with most of what you just said. It was your use of the term “replace capitalism” that threw me off, I didn’t know that you were referring to the ideas of climate activists. Albert Einstein was a pretty prominent scientist, known to most Americans in the 1950’s, yet his calls for socialism had zero impact on Americans. I don’t see Klein or Oreskes having better luck.

    Btw, I’ve been in the book biz for a while, so this might be some consolation. Naomi Klein has sold a million copies, but Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series of apocalyptic fiction has sold 65 million copies. This shows that climate apocalypse has been left behind by a factor of 65 in its race with Christian apocalypse for the attention of American readers. Surely this is good news?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gloucon,

      “climate apocalypse has been left behind by a factor of 65 in its race with Christian apocalypse ”

      That’s a daft comparison. Like comparing attendance at opera with football. Katy Perry outsells Mozart!

      Best selling light fiction (christian fundo fiction is not Dostoevsky) will always sell multiples of science-heavy books like “This Changes Everything”. Scholastic gives the “Left Behind” series a 6th grade reading level. Klein’s is listed as good for AP high school students.

      Like

  7. I feel we have entered some new uncharted territory here (which is normal as the present is displaced by the future and becomes history). I think in some way, the Republican Party and/or the right wing in general has become the political arm of Fox News, rather than Fox News being the media arm of the right wing. I guess it will become clearer in hindsight (or it will become clear that it was not the case).

    Like

  8. I think the success of Fox is the “Us/Them” division. They play upon the fears of older white people of “them” coming to take your jobs. Coming to take your liberty. Stealing your money while they dont work and live off government. Hate is a powerful thing to go against, and reason and fact cant compete when you can go any number of places and find people who think the same and back up their fear.
    I’m sure Fox’s portrayal of the riots in Baltimore made it seem like they were coming to your house to burn it down next.
    The vast amount of lies that are so easy to prove as false on Fox about government, national debt, and entitlements needs rebuttal…yet when it comes, these ideas have already taken hold…even by some on the ever shrinking “center left”. I am heartened by some rising voices on the left that are determined to speak to truth, but they need help. I will do what I can to further their voice.
    I think the 1% needs to be very careful. They seem to be over playing their hand. As MLK Jr once said
    Violence is the language of those unheard
    I say…when you make people so desperate that they have nothing to lose they will do extreme things without regard to consequences.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are being a bit dishonest. The Left is equally as bad as the right when it comes to manipulating, distorting, and exaggerating social,political and economic issues. fabiusmaximus has done some pretty good research and debunking of the lies of the Left.

      You do realize the Left has a terrible history of manipulation. Yes there are a few goon Leftists out there that are honest and usually most of the Left hate them until they can find something they said useful to promote their agenda. Not much different than the right wing. should be very cautious of both, what they say and mean. Activist groups are some of the worst

      Like

    2. Dayton,

      “The Left is equally as bad as the right when it comes to manipulating, distorting, and exaggerating social,political and economic issues.”

      You touch upon an important point that I’ve wondered about. Both Left and Right have ensnared their followers in lies, as you accurately describe.

      Supporting your specific point — I live in the San Francisco Bay area, and have met many smart people with advanced degrees who fail the Five Minute Test (seem sensible, but only for five minutes). My favorite was being told, seriously, that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger planned to use the CA National Guard to establish himself as fascist dictator of California. Any conversation with a leftist about climate change will probably trigger the Five Minute Rule flag, when they abandon the IPCC and climate science for doomsterism.

      But how do we weight the magnitude or degree of false beliefs, so we can compare the left and right? This would be a valuable social science project, requiring vast resources and politically neutral social scientists. Neither is likely; the latter almost impossible.

      My guess — emphasis on guess — is that the left and right differ in their skill at lies. Over the past generation the Right has build a faux history and faux economics (they’re attempting to build a faux science, with some success). The scale of their project, and their success at it, dwarfs the equivalent work on their left. In brief, they are much better at operational use of lies.

      This is part of the right’s overall superiority in organizational skills, something I’ve written about — but not given the attention it deserves.

      Like

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