A truly disturbing explanation for Trump’s win

Democrats should have embraced Bernie Sanders. Republicans should have spoken out sooner and more forcefully. Obama should have paid more attention to working class whites. Idiotic amateurs like your humble blogger should not have placed their faith in demographic models. Clinton should have campaigned in Wisconsin and Michigan. People shouldn’t be so damned racist.

Millions of words poured into the collective information stream in our continuing effort to explain how we ended up with Donald Trump in the White House. What if we are all wrong in our political prescriptions. What if the most important force responsible for this disaster emerged from outside the universe of political policy and traditional campaigning? And what if that force is more powerful than any response the political world can hope to muster?

Here’s an ugly statistic that should scare the pants off everyone on the left and right who actually cares about public policy. Early in 2015, before any candidate had formally announced their campaign for President, this is where each of the most popular future candidates ranked in terms of Twitter followers:

Trump 4.7m
Clinton 4.4m
Rubio .9m
Sanders .8m
Carson .8m

Everyone else in the field lagged well behind. No one ever caught up to Trump, as Clinton remained about 20% behind him right up to Election Day. There isn’t a lot of deep, complex content on Twitter. Having a following there is a measure of pure popularity and name recognition, little more.

Now let’s consider another factor. Look closely at the relative popularity of the final candidates’ signature political platforms. Large majorities of the voting public favor an amnesty program for illegal immigrants, access to abortion under some circumstances, prioritizing renewable energy over fossil fuels, and free trade agreements. A massive majority of Americans favor replacing our current health care system with a federally funded system of universal healthcare, and an even larger majority opposes the construction of a wall on our southern border. About 19% of the public favors Trump’s plans for the EPA. A narrow plurality of Americans slightly favored Trump’s limits on Muslim immigration. That is the only element of his agenda that gains anything approaching public approval.

Voters hate almost everything in Trump’s loosely defined policy agenda. Let’s repeat this fact for emphasis – it is impossible to identify a single element of Trump’s proposed governing agenda that voters actually support. Nevertheless, 46% of voters in the last election supported him.

Why was Donald Trump able to gain just enough votes in the just the right places to win the White House, despite the deep unpopularity of his policy proposals? Perhaps for the same reason that Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker or Marco Rubio will struggle against Kanye West in 2020. Policy no longer matters very much in our elections. A pop-culture following is far more potent than any form of political support or activism.

Americans in 2016 did not elect the person they thought was best qualified to lead the country. They did not elect the person whose proposed policies they most supported. They elected the person with the widest pop culture following even though they viewed him as a despicable troll and feared what he might do once in office.

In 2016, Washington’s celebrity firewall was breached in a way we may be unable to repair. There is no version of Bernie Sanders or Marco Rubio or Corey Booker that could vanquish any random third-tier Hollywood figure.

To get a sense of the potential political vulnerability we face, take a quick look at the comparative Twitter popularity of a few prominent public figures. In the world of professional political administration, these are the most popular people today in terms of their Twitter following (apart from former Presidents or Presidential nominees):

Paul Ryan 2m
Marco Rubio 2.1
Elizabeth Warren 2.1m
Corey Booker 2.8m

That’s a lot of followers, but still less than half the audience Donald Trump was carrying into the 2016 primaries. Step beyond the world of political leadership and you begin to see a massive gap. Look at the Twitter following of a few prominent figures in political media:

Anderson Cooper 9m
Rachel Maddow 7m
Michael Moore 4.4m
Sean Hannity 2.3m
Megyn Kelly 2.2m
Michelle Malkin 2m
Bill O’Reilly 1.7m
Lawrence O’Donnell 1.4m
Ann Coulter 1.4m

None of our elected leaders can approach the name recognition, following and popularity that political media figures like Rachel Maddow and Michael Moore. But that’s just the beginning. Step beyond politics and the gap widens to a chasm. Take a look at the Twitter popularity of a few of the hosts of the NBC TV show, The Voice:

Blake Shelton 19m
Christina Aguilera 16m
Usher 12m
Adam Levine 7.2m

People who have popular cooking, travel or lifestyle shows also have a wide following:

Anthony Bourdain 9m
Rachel Ray 4.4m
Martha Stewart 3.6m
Guy Fieri 2.5m

There’s a pattern evident here. Having a popular TV presence is more potent in terms of popularity than having published some popular books. Having published some popular books is more potent than having a popular blog. And a radio-only presence doesn’t get you on the map (sorry Rush).

None of these accomplishments can put you in a position to compete in a popularity contest with a serious celebrity. These are the numbers that movie actors, pop stars and major sports figures can rack up on Twitter:

Eli Manning 26m
LeBron James 34m
Oprah 36m
Jimmy Fallon 46m
Kim Kardashian 50m
Justin Timberlake 58m
Katy Perry 96m

Last year Kanye West promised he would run for President in 2020. Oprah is now openly speculating about a campaign. We always assumed that the substantial expertise required to serve as an effective Chief Executive would block random celebrities from treating the White House as just one more award to win. Those days may be over. Who better to handle the nuclear football than Tom Brady?

There’s good reason to think that Rachel Ray would have beaten Hillary Clinton like an over-fluffed meringue, no matter what either of them said about abortion, NAFTA or taxes. So-called “issues” may have mattered as much to our last election outcome as they did in the average campaign for homecoming queen.

If a loathsome D-list TV figure can defeat the entire political profession, then what’s going to stop one of the ‘real housewives’ who already has 2m Twitter followers? Well, LeBron James or Oprah, and not much else.

Washington used to be Hollywood for ugly people. It looks like ugly people may need to find another place to get some attention.

70 Comments

  1. This is the essence of progressives’ political challenge: Americans have become too ignorant, politically, to be treated as responsible citizens.

    Like it or not, American politics has been reduced to a TV propaganda war to capture the limited attention span of low-information voters. The Republicans understand this fact. The Democrats still don’t.

  2. if we’re going to study celebrities and politics for future guidance, my vote is to look at Jerry Springer. He’s a fascinating case study. Went to a top law school, got elected to Cincinnati city council, spent his time as city councilman trying to change the local election system to be more representative, won re-election *after* resigning when it came out he hired a prostitute (paid her with a personal check; kinda hard to deny when you write in your memo line “for services rendered” 🙂 because he was so popular with the electorate. He eventually became mayor.

    After retiring, he became an award-winning, serious investigative journalist, until he finally decided to give it all up and start his circus (his word for describing his show). He ran in the Ohio governor’s primary race in 1982 but lost, and considered running for Senator in 2000 and 2004 but ultimately didn’t because he wouldn’t win.

    Underneath the freak show circus master exterior lies a guy who was experienced, idealistic, earnest, skilled, and genuinely inspiring to his electorate. IOW, he’s a far better celebrity candidate than Trump or indeed, any of the other Republican candidates I mentioned who ran and won. And yet he still never came close to a Dem nomination after he started his TV show. (Although, maybe I’m part of the problem, because I probably would’ve voted for the guy :-).

    1. This isn’t a new phenomenon. There have been many people in the entertainment field who have gone into politics; on the Dem side Al Frankin is the most famous recent example, but does anyone else remember the terms of Jesse Ventura (Governor of Minnesota), Shirley Temple Black (UN Ambassador), Clint Eastwood (Mayor of Carmel), and Sonny Bono (Mayor of Palm Springs and later a US Representative from CA)? Also Senator Fred Thompson. Most of these people took their new careers seriously, and performed adequately-Jesse Ventura being an exception. Some have seen parallels between the Donald and Jesse Ventura.

      https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/20/magazine/donald-trumps-america-minnesota-jesse-ventura.html?_r=0

      1. He probably slept very comfortably on a bed of dollar bills provided by his TV show 🙂

        Also, with the politicians you mentioned, they were all Republicans (except Ventura who was an independent). I made a similar point in a post lower down, that despite the much higher percentage of celebrities that are Democratic, the only ones who’ve found a willing electorate have been Republicans. That can always change (past performance is no guarantee of future performance, etc), but so far, nothing indicates that it will…

  3. Aw c’mon guys…the GOP is really all about LOVE.💕💕💕

    From today’s Tweeter-in-Chief:
    Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
    Anybody (especially Fake News media) who thinks that Repeal & Replace of ObamaCare is dead does not know the love and strength in R Party!

    Yup, they love to kick their constituents off of health insurance so they can give huge tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires.❤❤❤
    That is some strong love right there. Just like Jesus would do.

    Tomorrow we’ll talk about the love shown to immigrants, some we can assume are good people.

    1. Well, now we know, don’t we? One area I have never faulted the GOP on is their ability to organize. It would be useful if they spent more time learning how to govern, but, I digress….Operation RedMap was brilliant and yes, Dems have been slumbering for a decade. You may be encouraged to know that this area is where Obama and former AG Eric Holder are applying their efforts. An “operation Blue Map” as it were. However late, it needs to be done. We are fortunate that the courts have “mostly” helped stymie the most egregious examples of gerrymandering, however, it takes resources to challenge these plans and valuable time and elections are lost in the process.

      If you are interested in this area, you may wish to join the Daily Kos weekly email that focuses on what’s happening nation-wide to combat gerrymandering and attacks on voting rights. It’s informative and encouraging but clearly spells out the challenges involved with “catch up” politics. Here’s a link:

      http://www.dailykos.com/blogs/elections/?link_id=0&can_id=d423a80f4477a1e75a49f2997f8e6c6e&source=email-voting-rights-roundup-maryland-dems-pass-redistricting-reform-but-only-if-nearby-gop-states-do-too&email_referrer=voting-rights-roundup-maryland-dems-pass-redistricting-reform-but-only-if-nearby-gop-states-do-too&email_subject=voting-rights-roundup-maryland-dems-pass-redistricting-reform-but-only-if-nearby-gop-states-do-too

      1. As far as Democrats are concerned, their only recourse is to sweep a lot of the governor’s races that are up in ’18. If they can pull off wins in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and others, that would go a long ways towards more fairly balanced maps. If not, let’s not mince words; Dems have virtually no chance to sweep the state legislatures they would need otherwise and they’re screwed for another decade.

        In a sort of ironic twist though, Republicans are the victims of their own success in that they have so many seats to defend. Anti-Trump enthusiasm and higher than expected Democratic turnout won’t hurt, at the very least. We’ll see who the Dems manage to recruit in terms of candidates.

  4. It wasn’t Trump’s ‘celebrity’ status, but something that relates very closely to it.

    The reason he won is something EVERY American is guilty of doing, the one thing ever American does that is factually and logically wrong: We encase the name with our own fictional image of the person, simply because this person is ‘famous’ and did a ‘something’ we liked at some point in our lives. The greater the frequency of that ‘something’, the more we bubblewrap the person with our own mental fiction about their greatness and universal goodness their existence provides the universe. This goes on, no matter how big of a brainless, ignorant douche they may actually be, or even genuinely qualified.

    People voted for Trump for no reason other than people preferred the fantasized bubble-wrapped representation hiding a narcissistic con-man and man-child over the ingloriously unwrapped human being he was running against. Trump didn’t do that, his supporters do.

    The problem with public office, particularly the POTUS, is scrutinized every second of every day. A clear image of the person emerges in very short order about the human being in question, even if many chose to continue to worship their self-imagined idol. The rest of us live in the real world, where a person is judged by physical action and literal word.

    1. Of course, the DNC’s carpet-pulling of Burnie, Comey’s little ‘Weiner pull’, and a Russian campaign tipped things over. On top of the Republican campaign to perform an abortion on Hillary’s ‘inevitable’ campaign by casting cement shoes around the self-created issues of Benghazi and the unforgivable sin of and old person possessing operable computer hardware.

      Our culture has a sick fascination, neigh, hunger for schadenfreudian catastrophe to befall ‘the great ones’. Cosby would have just been a name, long since passed on from pre-21st century relevance, for instance. We elected Trump, now the country sits at the edge of their seats, day in and day out, to watch his authority, dignity, and any measure of respect flayed from him one misstep at a time.

      Will he last at this rate? maybe not. God giveth and God taketh away, but man will exalt you to the highest pillars before cheering on as you burn. Celebrity status is a double-edged sword.

    2. It is sickening to realize that those who voted for Trump based upon anything other than deep poverty, are among us still. A recent poll found that over 78% of Trump’s base is very happy with his performance thus far. These people will be with us for many elections to come. They made decisions based upon whatever justification and they will do so again, and again. That’s harder to “fix” than avoiding the Trumps of the world.

  5. I enjoy reading the Palmer Report…some doubt its legitimacy, I like his “slant” and take it for what it is, opinion that is driven by what he is observing. I think he is getting the Trump/Russia conspiracy mostly right. Today’s post deals more with strategy of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation and I think he nails it. See what you think.

    http://www.palmerreport.com/opinion/senate-intel-committee-takes-control-on-trump-russia-by-rejecting-mike-flynns-immunity-request/2134/

    1. I think that you are right on the money. With the House committee chair obviously being very partisan, we have to rely on the Senate committee. So far the Senate appears to be determined to take this to wherever the evidence leads. It appears we are going to have to rely on the Senate at this time.

      I personnally think that the Trump/Russia conspiracy will end up being far larger than Watergate and could very likely shake our political system to its very core. We will have to wait and see what develops, but we could end up with some major changes in the political system, even to the Constitutional level.

      1. My two cents still sit with the old addage ‘always bet on stupid’. There’s nothing there but smoke and a never ending stream of dumb decisions. Trump is a lazy,already-rich con-man who only really knows to walk away with someone else on the hook when the deal collapses.

        He probably didn’t ‘conspire’ with the Russians personally, but Russia certainly leveraged every available asset to enable his campaign, as they have taken a keen liking to doing when trying to lay chaos in other democracies. After all, the fastest way to Trump’s heart is to do his work for him and to suck up to him, and Russia did everything they could short of making McDonalds runs for him (Trump already had Christie for that).

        Then, post-inauguration, Russia got a boon: Trump is so vapidly thin-skinned that he’s literally done everything conceivable to make it look like there’s a cover-up, and the partisan hacks in the Republican Party are helping him. This, of course has made (and rightly would make) any and every genuine journalist smell blood in the water. Taking down a President is high prey for journalists, a tradition that goes back before America even had Presidents.

        So, now it’s going to be shark-week every week until Trump gets impeached, shot, or inconceivably survives the worst Presidency in living memory.

  6. Well I posted about this before, but what you’re describing here is that Trump fits the phenomenon of the Cult of Personality:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_of_personality

    Each country is susceptible to a cult of personality in their own unique ways in the same way that each country is susceptible to authoritarianism in their own unique ways. The United States is susceptible to a Cult of Personality because our culture conflates monetary value and audience reach as intelligence and value of character. An American person’s identity is often described as a consumer, a producer, or an employee: thus an American’s unique attributes + their market value = their brand, or in short their inherent value.

    Or yet another way to say this is that poor people are crazy, rich people are eccentric. The very gibbering madness that would turn you away from a drooling pigeon-shit encrusted bum on the street is appealing as ‘straight talk’ and ‘political incorrectness’ when spouted from the mouth of a billionaire. Because he’s a billionaire with 4.2 million Twitter followers and a television show: he must be doing SOMETHING right, so therefore he’s intelligent, capable, and productive; by association of being intelligent, capable, and productive he must also be ethical, meaningful, and have personal values. ‘God’ doesn’t give people who don’t deserve it untold wealth, so he must be right with God too.

    Or as the recent meme so eloquently sez,

    “Trump is a poor man’s idea of a rich man; a dumb man’s idea of a smart man, and a weak man’s idea of a strong man.”

    He’s spent decades building a cult of personality, making him the perfect avatar for Bannon to adopt and don in order to attack the Muslims and the Administrative State.

      1. EJ

        That’s one ugly article. I’d like to hope that it’s an exception and that the newspaper normally wouldn’t say those sorts of things about sexual harassment and rape.

        Am I being naive?

      2. I started a comment and it disappeared on me! The “haints” are after me…

        The author, Pulliam, writes from a conservative POV but the observations he makes in the piece in City-Journal are accurate, from my perspective. This speaks to what Bobo and I have commented on, the grassroots energy that has built in the wake of the election. Not only are people getting actively involved, more interesting Democratic candidates are emerging for major races. Whether they will be able to overcome the conservative majority remains to be seen, but it is happening. I’ve lived in TX for 17 years and there are many good things to say about the state. Unfortunately, the things mentioned in the Pulliam article also exist. Diversity, women’s rights, authoritarian politics are over-arching in significance and it taints my view of Texas – but I am in the minority here so who cares?

      3. “If Texas’s distinctive culture and thriving economy are to endure, the part-time Texas legislature must come to grips with the fact that a progressive vanguard is intent upon undermining the state’s conservative core.”

        For some reason when I read Pulliam’s article I envision the kind of arguments written 150 years ago to defend slavery.

    1. Something does appear to be happening in Texas.

      I drive to and from my sister’s house. She lives in the Fort Hood area.

      Yesterday, coming through Taylor, I was stopped at a light on Main Street.

      And right there, on the corner, under a storefront awning, was a voter registration table (staffed by three friendly people who said they liked my art car — of course, I love them.)

      They didn’t look Republican. There was a lot of blue on that table.

      1. Cute story. Were they selling lemonade too (-; I agree. I’ve commented on this in other posts but the engagement at the grassroots level among liberals/progressives/Dems – whatever – is frankly amazing. I will say the majority of the push is coming from women – especially younger women – but it is definitely happening. What’s neat is that they push the boundaries…like the “missing” posters for Cruz they are plastering all over Houston….protesting, marching – in your face kind of stuff. They’re fired up and not constrained by niceties. And the best part? The majority are engaging in the political process for the first time. The Democratic Party could never have achieved this through traditional recruiting. This is “home-grown” and it is gaining momentum. Just in time for mid-terms? I love the fact that these younger women are their own people – when I ask how their spouses feel about issues they are supporting, they say mostly they are following the commitment of the women…Used to be the other way around…Vive la differance!

        One more observation – there have been comparisons between this organic movement among liberals with that of the Tea Party. In my opinion, the important difference is that this effort is more broad-based in its make up and in its agenda. Some may argue this weakens the group but I see it as a healthy, true expression of diversity – only – this time, it’s organized from the ground up.

      2. I’m glad to hear of the intensity, engagement and outreach in deep-red TX. I’ve thought that once TX got engaged, that it was actually a purple state, particularly with the hispanic population, and the large urban areas, such as Dallas, Houston and Austin. Not so long ago, it was a moderate state.

        Also even hear in deep -blue Seattle, there is a lot of energy and engagement. One of our House members, Dave Reichert, has been given a lot of flack for refusing to hold a town-hall meeting. He did vote for the AHCA in the Ways and Means committee, but refused to commit himself on final passage. Another R declared against the AHCA. One of the other two R MOCs did not commit. His district has a lot of people who got health insurance through Obamacare. Of course the other one, McMorris-Rogers is the token woman on the House Leadership, so she toes the line.

  7. If Trump had “won” significantly – but he lost the total votes!
    I suspect any other Republican would have got MORE votes than Trump

    So the while the celebrity bit could be important – it’s not overwhelming

    Also – While some people see trump as just “a celebrity” – some others see him as a successful businessman

    An actual A list celebrity would not get that

    1. But, isn’t the point that Trump isn’t what he “boasts” to be? He wouldn’t be anywhere if papa hadn’t bailed him out of bankruptcy or given him a million dollar start…or if he hadn’t left his creditors begging and penniless after 4 failed business ventures. Those who see Trump as a “great businessman” might as well have voted for him because he hates Muslim people. At least the latter would have been true.

      1. This is by no means an endorsement for Oprah, but, since her name has come up twice – both unflatteringly – let’s do talk about her. Unabashed liberal? Check. Equal Rights (women, minorities)? Check. TV Celebrity? Check.

        I’ll await the ugh list from the “other side”.

        In the meantime, let’s think for a nanosecond about whether Oprah would make comments with the vulgarity of Trump….openly threaten people who he doesn’t like (at the moment or whenever)….lie and totally deny lies despite overwhelming evidence of innocense….takes pleasure in hurting people….Oprah may scare the crap out of you but fundamentally she is a good person. Trump is not. Let’s use a better example here.

      2. Trump: he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

        “https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/03/30/opinion/when-the-president-is-ignorant-of-his-own-ignorance.html?smid=fb-share&referer=https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2FZj9pkgxmbd

      3. First, why do you say that? And second, I’m pretty certain no one here harbors any doubts as to where we stand on T. You’re preaching to the choir. Furthermore, I doubt seriously anyone reading this needs convincing regarding the ignorance of the dingus-in-chief.

      4. I think that’s a safe statement, Fifty. No disagreement from me there but I do have problems with the assumption that just because you are a celebrity you are de facto not presidential timbre. Would I prefer someone who has governed – particularly as governor? You bet. I think that’s far better preparation for the presidency than being a MoC (or CEO of a major corporation). I was not a Reagan fan (but not an opponent either ) but the man prepared himself beyond his acting career.

        And, yes, I ding potus too much and that gets tiresome but he irritates the crap out of me and at least I can state that here among “comrades” (-;

  8. Another reason for the outcome of the election to be added to the list that someone posted here. (Please remind me who posted it, and maybe post it on off topic?)

    So, not long after I found this blog and it’s commenters, I said that as a nation we always do better economically with a Democrat President than with a Republican.

    Someone asked my opinion as to why. IMHO, it could be three reasons.
    1) Just plain luck.
    2) Democrats have better ideas and govern better. This one I’d like to believe but not sure how much a president can affect the economy. Present president excepted.
    3) People who like to consider themselves conservatives vote Democratic when the economy is bad. Especially when they themselves are out of work. So it could be that business cycles occur and at the trough of these cycles these people vote their real self interest instead of a perceived interest and elect Democratic presidents and the economy improves.

    So a relatively good economy affects some percentage that votes for trump. Some vote a certain way because the economy is bad and some vote the same way because the economy is good. Argh.

    By the way there was an article saying something similar in the last few days, but my google mojo isn’t working and I can’t find it.

    1. Maybe the article you are thinking of was in Solon by Amanda Marcotte. The link is:

      http://www.salon.com/2017/03/30/new-election-theory-did-working-class-whites-switch-from-obama-to-trump-because-the-economy-was-better/

      I particularly noted the following statement by Amanda:

      “Providing white voters with higher levels of economic security does not tamp down their anxieties about race and immigration — or, more precisely, it doesn’t do it powerfully enough. For some, it frees them to worry less about what it’s in their wallet and more about who may be moving into their neighborhoods or competing with them for jobs.”

      It does tie in some with the US’ experience in the last few presidential cycles, i.e. the economy gets into fairly good shape during a democratic administration and then the voters elect a president who appeals to their base instincts and is a “good buy to have a beer with”, but then proceeds to send the economy down the toilet. That happened following Clinton to Bush 43 and then following Obama to T.

      It also ties into some of my observation of how many of the blue collar workers tend to determine how to cast their votes. They don’t sit down and analyze the data or pay much attention to the actual policies of the candidates, but they do decide based a lot on the general tone of the “political debate” – that is in quotes because we rarely have a true debate in the US political system, where an issue is debated on a logical basis. Rather the debates are on sound bites and ambience. For example in the 2016 election, many voters regarded Hillary as dishonest and unreliable (based mainly on propaganda), but they tended to believe T, despite the fact Hillary’s arguments were logical, well thought out and could have been enacted. Whereas Trump’s proposals were obviously a bunch of hype, e.g. restoring the coal mining and steel jobs. His statements were fact checked as being false, so often that people ignored them.

      The statement quoted above also ties well into Chris’ observations regarding white nationalism.

      But Trump was able to out-tweet Hillary without a doubt. He also appealed to the base instincts of many voters. Is this how our elections are now being determined? If so Heaven can only help us.

      1. I have been thinking about my phraseology of “blue collar workers” and wish to apologize to anyone who may have been offended. That was resorting to a stereotype, which I should not have done. I have met numerous blue collar workers who have been very well read and versed in current events. I do not mean to be disrespectful at all to people who work with their hands and do dirty work. I’ve done much of it myself. My father who was a factory worker and prior to that a farmer, was well read and had a great deal of respect for education. He had completed a year at the U of NM, prior to accepting a good offer to become a owner of an eighty acre farm in Arizona. Of course that was during the later portions of the Depression. Several days ago I referenced the work of Eric Hoffer. He was a stevedore in San Francisco, and for a long time lived in the railroad yards in SF. Yet he was very well read, very intelligent and very thoughtful. Oftentimes immigrants to the US do not have credentials, so they end up doing menial work.

        A better phraseology would have been “low information voters.” Many of the Trump voters, including people with University degrees and who are white collar workers, did not become informed and made their decisions based on the general political ambience, the propaganda that was being circulated, etc. This just goes to show how easy it is to resort to stereotypes. Once again I apologize and will be more careful.

  9. I think if Kanye West enters the Dem primary, he loses. Not that your thesis doesn’t have some explanatory power, but I think that the complete abandonment of competent governance, respect for expertise, etc. is a phenomenon of the right. The left will definitely have a fraction that get caught up in celebrity fever (heck, I’d vote for George Clooney for president as long as his cabinet was going to look much like the cabinet Elizabeth Warren would appoint) but it really won’t go to the extreme that it has on the right.

    The fundamental asymmetry is that the American left believes government is there to do positive things (healthcare, infrastructure, environmental regulations, …) that empower the people to create and live better lives. The American right believes that government is always the problem and needs to be largely dismantled. So competence and expertise in government has to matter to the left in a way it need not to the right.

    1. I got a chance to see this in action on social media when Oprah started making noise about running for President. Never heard a single voice on the left expressing a concern about what that would mean for the system. And while an egotistical weirdo like Kanye would carry some baggage (he seems like an incoherent nutjob), stop and think for a moment – how would you, as a consultant, advise your solid, experienced Democratic candidate to handle him in a debate?

      Someone asks your candidate a question, and she gives a solid, sensible (boring) answer.

      Kanye responds with a string of lyrics in the character of his Pablo persona. The crowd goes nuts.

      Now what? How do land a glove on a competitor who isn’t even playing?

      I hear what you’re saying about the delusions that drive the right, but you may be ignoring the celebrity culture that completely soaks the left. We haven’t seen its weaknesses exposed because no one has tried yet. They will now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see three or four third or even second-tier celebrities taking their chance on the Democratic nomination in 2020. You might even get someone of Oprah or Clooney’s profile. Good luck fighting them off.

      1. And while an egotistical weirdo like Kanye would carry some baggage (he seems like an incoherent nutjob), stop and think for a moment – how would you, as a consultant, advise your solid, experienced Democratic candidate to handle him in a debate?

        First of all, and perhaps most importantly, avoid the overarching mistake of the Clinton campaign in constantly trying to keep the focus on your opponent and all of his faults. Beating the rhetorical crap out of someone inspires no one and everyone suffers for it, the campaign itself having the distinction of being the first victim.

        Secondly, go in with the understanding that this person is going to have a sincere and honest following, regardless of how utterly ludicrous it is. Your focus is going to be on those swing moderate voters that could be open to him if YOU do not present a serious alternative. To that end, the best move you can make in opposition is to turn him into a joke without insulting him.

        Example: Everyone remembers what West did to Taylor Swift at the Music Awards. As soon as he announces his candidacy, put up a simple ad commercial with his doing that and follow it up with the video of his making a complete ass out of himself on the national stage. Don’t have ANY follow-up text or anything else that seems like you’re trying to tell people what they would think. If you absolutely must have something, make it something lighthearted like scaling back to an average family watching the ad on TV and then switching over to you, working hard or something else that conveys how much of a clown you aren’t. Don’t tell. Show.

        Thirdly, good ol’ grassroots politics. Even as the times have changed, the lessons of Teddy Roosevelt remain true. Campaign everywhere. Leave no stone unturned, and for the love of god, don’t make anyone feel like they’re being written off. Campaign heavily in swing states of course, but even where you lose, it matters for you and your party whether you lose by 70-30 or 55-45.

        And when in doubt, stick to the basics. Don’t get so caught up in the idea of a celebrity opponent that you start doubting yourself and thinking you have to completely revamp your campaign. Stay true to yourself, be yourself, and keep at it. Every. Single. Day.

      2. I can’t refute what you’re saying. Indeed, “I wouldn’t be surprised to see three or four third or even second-tier celebrities taking their chance on the Democratic nomination in 2020.” seems quite believable. I just think they won’t get the sort of traction that Trump did with Republicans. A successful celebrity run will be someone who really is immersed in Dem politics – think Senator Al Franken. But I can’t prove my opinion either. We’ll just have to see who runs and what the response is. But if the Dems don’t nominate a celebrity in the next 2-3 Presidential elections, I think my “competence and expertise” argument will be a good explanation.

        (thanks for the edit btw!)

      3. I don’t know Chris… The Dems have more celebrities, many of whom are involved with all sorts of humanitarian causes, advocacy, etc. And none of them have won, except for Al Franken. It’s not for lack of trying.

        George Clooney, Ben Affleck, and Jerry Springer were all allegedly considering Senate runs. None did because their consultants told them they’d lose badly. OTOH, in addition to Reagan and Trump, Republican celebs who actually ran and won include Fred Thompson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and JC Watts. Heck, serious Republicans wanted Thompson to run for prez despite an undistinguished Senate career because he “looked” presidential.

        Even in California, the only actors to win governorship were two Republicans, RR and AS. Plus Eastwood as Republican mayor.

        I think fundamentally it’s true that Democrats favor someone who can run the govt well while Republicans assume govt can only ever run poorly so why not someone colorful?

      4. …”why not run someone colorful”….and, I might suggest, someone who can be controlled….which for all the noise about how unpredictable Trump is, he has hewn to a very strict conservative agenda thus far….as Grover Norquist recently acknowledged and as appointees affirm.

      5. Mary-

        Good point about control. Not that Dem candidates are necessarily less controlled by their interests, but Republicans, despite their self-image as rugged individualists, have a disturbing authoritarian streak that causes them to actually *like* a strong man. Witness the alt-right’s incomprehensible hero worship of Putin. Or Milo Yanniapolous admiringly calling Trump “Daddy”.

    1. Capital’s still capital though and it can be exhausted. Trump was the single worst choice for a first impression for all the celebrities that may follow, and while that may not matter much to one who has the social capital of a god (looking at you, Oprah), things could’ve been worse. Imagine a truly successful celebrity being president and what kind of legacy that would’ve created.

      1. I just commented on that possibility, Ryan. Here’s a question: do you assume that there are no celebrities who have the depth and intellect that transcend their image who could be a good president? No one? And, why?

      2. We already have a pretty good example of a celebrity president in Reagan. He didn’t know policy much, and probably not much of anything by the end of his term, but he let reasonably competent people run things, and he ended up with a pretty good rep. It’s pretty plausible that in the next decade or two we’ll get a celebrity president aware they’re just the figurehead, which should produce a pretty typical presidency for policy outcomes. I think Trump will be considered a special case and that will be the precedent for celebrity presidents.

      3. @mime: Not at all. It’d be the height of arrogance to assume that simply because someone’s a celebrity, that they’re unfit to be president. That said, the odds aren’t exactly favorable either. I could just as easily assert the same thing about a banker, a radio DJ or whoever else and not be wrong. Just because the possibility exists doesn’t make it one you’d wanna bet money on.

        @Fair Economist: Calling Reagan a celebrity is a bit gracious. He was a B-list actor that never really took off.

    2. “Hypothesis: celebrity is just social capital for a new age.”

      Take it further. If you aren’t already familiar with the term ‘influencers’ w/r/t marketing and advertising, look it up and be amazed.

      Some people make six figures a year taking Instagram photos of themselves wearing branded clothing. It’s an extremely competitive prestige industry where the underlying assumption is that your personhood and value in the American market is your brand, aka your social media handle.

      Now look at all the conservatives out there with @real in their Twitter handle, casually implying that there’s a doubt that they are.

  10. It’s hard to avoid taking this to its logical conclusion that collectively (despite many individuals who still do care about sound policy), we as a nation deserve this. We have achieved a critical mass of short-sighted, willfully ignorant people with trivial minds, and just got a President who perfectly represents them.

    China has to be thrilled. Their path to being the next super power is becoming all the more easy. Our current government is determined to lay waste to every non-military thing that gave us an advantage.

    1. Wasn’t that Benjamin Franklin’s warning?

      A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

    2. Speaking to your point, Fly, we haven’t heard “much” from the likes of Grover Norquist…why? As abysmal as most here believe Trump’s performance (he is a celebrity, no?) has been, his hard core base is rock solid in his corner. The question is, does he care about the others? Apparently not since he takes on groups like the Freedom Caucus, is willing to savage every good thing government has built, and continues to double down with Bannon et al. Here’s a little background story that digs into this further. (The Guardian has been a quality subscription investment…they have excellent writers and more often than not beat all the major US news sources with their stories.)

      https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/01/donald-trump-conservative-healthcare-gorsuch?

  11. Many of Trump’s followers were fakes, trolls, or bots. It’s interesting that his numbers were going up well before his announcement even though he’s been well-known for ages. Maybe this whole foreign assistance was planned out further in advance than we suspected?

    The revelation that the Russians tried to hack Rubio’s account back in the summer of 2015 is disturbing as well. They weren’t just trying to stop Clinton.

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