Thursday, March 22, 2018

Cambridge Analytica Stirred the (Supposedly Non-Existent) Bigotries of White America

Over at Shakesville today, I wrote about the fixation the political class has about being outraged by Hillary Clinton not being kind enough to Trump voters:
"What is critical to understand is that the notion that Trump supporters are largely not bigots is a political fiction that is primarily perpetuated by influential white men in the media and political establishment as a perverse form of political correctness.

It is a political fiction because the data suggests that, actually, "racial attitudes towards blacks and immigration are the key factors associated with support for Trump." And, via The Washington Post:

[W]hite millennial Trump voters were likely to believe in something we call "white vulnerability" — the perception that whites, through no fault of their own, are losing ground to other groups. Second, racial resentment was the primary driver of white vulnerability — even when accounting for income, education level, or employment.
This political fiction of non-existent bigotry of white America fits squarely within the mainstream narrative of American Exceptionalism that has barely even begun to reckon with its historical treatment of non-white, non-male people both within and outside of its borders.

This political fiction is, like misogyny, a national vulnerability."
Read the whole thing!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

What Is Cambridge Analytica's Impact On Mental Health?

Cambridge Analytica has been in the US mainstream media since at least 2015, such as in this Bloomberg piece that describes the company's activities on behalf of Republican candidates for political office.

The piece describes how the company predicts voters' psychological profiles based on their online activities and then, based on these profiles, helps candidates design micro-targeted ads aimed at those who fit these various profiles. For instance, here's a description of the company's activities circa 2014:
"[The John Bolton super-PAC] group had one objective—to convince voters to support Republican candidates based on national-security issues—and it served well to demonstrate a personality-driven theory of political persuasion. Bolton’s committee agreed to communicate over satellite-television systems like Dish and DirecTV, which, unlike broadcast and most cable systems, permitted ads to be assigned differently to specific subscribers, allowing Cambridge Analytica to fully exploit the benefit of its individual-level modeling.

The firm, which was paid $341,025 for its work, advised Bolton’s team on the design of six ads, thirty seconds each, with wildly different creative approaches. One ad, targeted at voters modeled to be conscientious and agreeable, was set to upbeat music and showed Bolton standing outdoors on a bright day, matter-of-factly addressing the need to 'leave a stronger, safer America for our children.'

In another, aimed at neurotics, the diplomat was invisible—replaced by storm clouds, foreigners burning American flags, and an admonition to 'vote like your life depends on it,' intoned by an disembodied narrator. 'That’s obviously something that’s quite emotive,' says Nix, 'as we’re really looking to drive an emotional reaction from an audience who would be inclined to give you one.'”
As more information comes to light about this company's activities, particularly in the 2016 election, something we must also consider is how the general population's mental health might be being impacted by this deliberate sort of triggering of people's personality types. I get the sense that many people are struggling, mentally, right now and these targeted ads seem designed to stoke the precise negative emotions many are experiencing.

To be sure, mental health is complicated and driven by many factors. Yet, the above snippet is just one of many tidbits that confirms for me that we're living a Black Mirror episode with no end in sight.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Shifting the Overton Window As Republican Strategy

Politico ran a telling profile of a little-known Republican mega-donor by the name of Richad Uihlein.

Uihlein is supporting the campaign of Jeanne Ives, who is challenging Illinois governor Bruce Rauner in the Republican primary today. Via Politico, here's an encapsulation of the kind of campaign Ives is running:
"Democrats and many Republicans in Illinois were horrified by the ad: a 60-second spot released by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s GOP primary challenger, Jeanne Ives, featuring a parade of politically incorrect takes on thorny cultural issues. A deep-voiced man portraying a transgender woman tells Rauner, 'Thank you for signing legislation that lets me use the girls bathroom.' Then a young woman thanks Rauner for 'making all Illinois families pay for my abortions.'”
Ives is unlikely to beat Rauner in the Republican primary, as every poll I've seen has shown Rauner with a substantial lead. Plus, Ives is a woman. White men generally seem to fare better in elections when they assume the Trumpian personality traits of anti-establishment, unqualified, and bigot.

What struck me about the article, instead, was this description of Uihlein's motives (emphasis added):
“'Here is a passionate social and economic conservative who is willing to spend a large sum of money wherever he can in hopes of moving the needle, knowing he’s going to lose a lot of bets,' said an Illinois Republican with knowledge of Uihlein’s political giving. 'He’s not measuring himself by wins and losses — he’s measuring himself by moving the debate.'”
The aim here seems to be to shift the Overton window ever further to the right, which has been a concern of mine since the beginning of the Trump era.

As tempting as some might find it to laud less-overtly bigoted Republicans as "moderate," we must remember that the Republican Party as a whole has offered no meaningful resistance to the Trump Administration or his actions to dismantle our political system.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Enough! National School Walkout Held Today

Earlier today, I attended a rally in support of the students participating in the National School Walkout. This protest is being held in schools across the US today, on the one month anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida.

Via the Women's March website:
"Women’s March Youth Empower is calling for a National School Walkout to protest Congress’ refusal to take action on the gun violence epidemic plaguing our schools and neighborhoods. Our elected officials must do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to this violence. Students and allies are organizing a National School Walkout to demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship. We view this work as part of an ongoing and decades-long movement for gun violence prevention, in honor of all victims of gun violence ㅡ from James Brady to Trayvon Martin to the 17 people killed in Parkland."
Student organizers and the nonprofit organization Everytown For Gun Safety are also planning a march for later this month, on March 24th, in Washington, DC and across the US, called the March For Our Lives.

For many years, it's been hard for me not to feel helpless about gun violence in the United States. I want to feel hopeful, particularly in light of the recent waves of activism, but feeling hopeful sometimes just feels naive because so often, nothing ever changes with respect to gun violence.

Still, I choose to show up, if only to stand in solidarity with those who are in mourning, those who are fearful, those who are angry, and those who have more hope than I do.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Radio Wednesday: "The Joke" - Brandi Carlile

If you've been reading this here blog for awhile, it's no secret that our current political situation is distressing to me. I want to be optimistic, but some days it's hard. I am sustained largely by family, friends, working out, eating well, writing, caffeine, vodka, satisfyingly resonant political pieces, pop culture, and music.

Brandi Carlile's latest album, By the Way, I Forgive You is a poignant work of art for this political moment. I was casually listening to the album in the car when I was struck by the lyrics to one of the stand-out songs, "The Joke":
You get discouraged, don't you, girl?
It's your brother's world for a while longer
We gotta dance with the devil on a river
To beat the stream
Call it living the dream, call it kicking the ladder
They come to kick dirt in your face
To call you weak and then displace you
After carrying your baby on your back across the desert
I saw your eyes behind your hair
And you're looking tired, but you don't look scared
The first two lines are almost certainly about the 2016 election and, as I was listening, I felt a sense of deep sadness, followed by a validation that I feel has largely been missing in mainstream punditry.

While the mainstream press has spent the last year and a half obsessing about Trump voters in general, and angry white men in particular, the meaning and impact of Hillary Clinton's loss to a misogynistic predator, for the girls living through this political moment has been explored much less. That is a failing, and it's one I think about often.

In my political writing, I think one of my biggest goals is to provide validation for posterity and anyone who may stumble across my posts, that we've been enduring some massive, fucked-up gaslighting about the pain many girls and women have experienced. Far too often, people like me are denigrated as "Hillary cultists" when the reality is that we simply, subversively refuse to hate women in a profoundly misogynistic society.

In the next verse, Carlile expresses an optimism that I don't always feel and that we, of course, are not assured.
Let 'em laugh while they can
Let 'em spin, let 'em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I've seen how it ends
And the joke's on them
I will never stop hoping, at least.