January 6th, 2017 // 5:44 am @ Oliver DeMille
The New Reality
The election is over, and the new Trump Administration has a problem. In fact, it’s a major problem. To begin with, governing is a whole different thing than running for office. And “draining the swamp of Washington” while also governing the nation is more than doubly difficult.
But the problem goes deeper. The very things that brought a Trump victory at the ballot boxes can be a serious liability in the White House.
Here’s why: Trump won in large part because he mastered the new media—something the Clinton team mocked and laughed at (until their shocked experience on election night).
In fairness, as Democratic strategist Van Jones pointed out, past media revolutions brought similar results. FDR used the radio to put together multiple winning elections, while opponents tried to stick with the old newspaper approach to media. Years later, Republicans were surprised by the rise of television media and how effectively JFK used it to create broad national popularity.
Another few decades, and the rise of Internet media changed the way presidential campaigns worked. While McCain and then Romney attempted to do things the old way, Obama and his team mastered social media and dominated two very effective campaigns.
Note that in all these cases, Democrats adapted to changing media realities while Republicans remained stuck in the old way. This changed in 2015-2016. As Jones put it, Trump tapped into a new media model—a nation of viewers steeped in Reality Television.
Neighbor or Villain
In this new medium, candidates win by emulating what winning participants do on reality TV. The quickest way to the stay on the show, week after week, is to jump in as the villain during week one. Say outrageous things, stir the pot, get a bunch of Americans hating you, boost the ratings, and do it every week. In fact, if you ever lose the focus of the camera, say more outrageous things. Survivor, The Bachelor, The Amazing Race, The Apprentice, even Duck Dynasty, Real Wives, Jersey Shore, etc.—this formula is effective.
The quickest way to lose in this format is simple: try to fit in, attempt to be popular, don’t make waves. Even worse: try to impress people. Today’s generation of Americans increasingly see this as acting like a politician. It feels slick and glib, a la Bill Clinton, Bush, Romney, Rubio, etc. Saying whatever you think the voters (or other contestants) will like is the sure road to losing. In contrast, in this new Reality Television media system, being the villain, saying outrageous things, and picking repeated fights, frequently brings victory.
This media shift shocked the Obama and Clinton machines in 2016, despite the fact that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump had been proving the opposite for many months. But now the election is over, and a new reality is setting in.
It’s almost impossible to predict what this will mean in the years ahead. In the last three major media shifts, the new media worked both during the campaign and after. FDR used radio to his benefit during elections and even more while governing. Presidents did the same with television when it took over the media world. Online media kept Obama’s popularity high, and even helped boost his ratings on numerous occasions during the years between elections.
The question now is whether the newest media system, the Reality Television model of “Be the Outrageous Villain and Keep Doing It, Week after Week,” will work for the next four years. Think about it. This is a big deal.
Breaking or Building
Clearly the liberal mainstream media (led by NBC, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, ABC, CNN, etc.) are an unwitting asset; they have shown they are willing to keep supporting Trump in this approach. They want to tear him down in any way they can, and as long as so many Americans distrust the media, this turns to his advantage.
If Trump wants to maintain this strategy in the months and years ahead, he’ll routinely support major reforms that drastically change Washington, he’ll pick a continuous series of fights with special interests and federal bureaucracies, and he’ll vilify someone new every few weeks.
In all this, he’ll usually blame the media. In fact, he’ll look for as many ways as possible to fault the media. The more the better. He’ll tweet, call names, use bombast, and overstate things, all in the name of stirring the pot and keeping the media focus on him and his policies.
The media will think it’s tearing him down, but if this strategy works he’ll be more popular than ever when the next election comes. If you think the mainstream media was shocked in the 2016 election, imagine how they’ll feel after attacking Trump for four years and seeing his electoral numbers increase in 2020. They’ll be positively apoplectic.
But here’s the rub. What a lot of people don’t want to hear is that this kind of bombastic, extreme tone is a lot more likely to coincide with truly, actually, “draining the swamp in Washington.” If the Trump Administration decides to try to play the mainstream media game and attempt to look like a Bush, Clinton, Bush II or Obama style system, we likely won’t see much real change in Washington.
Not So Revolutionary
Somehow the kind of professionalism and antidisestablishmentarianism [I can’t believe I actually just used one of the longest words in the English language is a serious sentence] exhibited by many presidential administrations create a tone of “Washington staying the same.” And that path guarantees bigger and bigger government. Not draining the swamp, but expanding it.
Consider the Reagan Revolution. It started out with what the establishment in both parties considered outrageous, extreme, and even irresponsible. But it also began by making some real changes. By Reagan’s second term, however, the administration wasn’t a revolution anymore. It started fitting in with the establishment, and by the time Bush was elected, the Reagan Administration was pretty much part of the establishment.
This led to the Gingrich revolution in 1992, which was considered extreme, irresponsible, and outrageous (sound familiar?), but by 1996 the Gingrich/Kasich Revolutionaries had become part of the establishment. The party of Reagan, Kemp, Gingrich and Limbaugh became the party of Dole, W, McCain, Romney, and Jeb. Not really a troop of boat-rockers.
It’s hard to tell where the Trump team is headed. Some of Trump’s White House and cabinet picks are from the revolutionary wing, while others are more establishmentarian. It’s a mix. Moreover, the tone out of Trump Tower and president-elect golf clubhouses is largely mild, professional–and leaning establishment.
The Real Challenge
This may be a smart chess move, keeping things hush-hush until after inauguration. Once the new president is in charge, his team will be a lot more effectively armed to take on the mainstream media.
But what if the Trump team takes the other approach? What if they decide they want to be popular? Or hope to get The NY Times, NBC, and CNN to like them? What if Trump hopes to be loved, or gets tired of being vilified, mocked, called a clown, a buffoon, and a devil? What if he wants popularity in New York and Washington? It might happen early, but even if it doesn’t happen for several years, the pressure will always be there.
The way the mainstream establishment fawned over Bill, Barack, Michelle, and Hillary—that’s a lot of incentive; and The Donald has, in the past, shown an affection for the spotlight and a particular aversion to being mocked or blamed.
And beyond his own instincts of self-preservation: Will his chivalry for his wife or his allegiance to his youngest son (who have both been in the cross-hairs of some harsh media treatments in recent months) begin to figure into the equation? All things considered, who wouldn’t want to be loved and popularly lauded when faced with such extremes? Will this opportunity for validation and praise prove too compelling a siren song?
The hard-working voters in the rust belt, Southwest, or rural America will never be able to provide such flattery or accolades, even if they were inclined to do so. But such fawning isn’t even part of their culture. If President Trump wants that kind of love and admiration, he’s going to have to look for it in the elite class. (They’ll never give it to him, of course. They couldn’t even be objective about Dole, Bush, or McCain–committed cronies of the establishment, all.)
Whatever you think of the new president, if he’s actually going to drain the swamp, as promised, he’s going to have to play the villain. Week after week. Month after month.
In short: Being outrageous won’t be his problem. The challenge will be vanity. And endurance. Will he embrace the role of villain and drain the swamp no matter how bad the media attacks become? Or will he follow the pattern of many presidents before him and go after popularity—by increasing the size and scope of government?
Ultimately, the new president will have to make this choice. The consequences will drastically impact America in the months and years just ahead.
December 27th, 2016 // 7:50 am @ Oliver DeMille
Part II: The Central Issue of the Trump Era*
“The median [U.S.] family debt went from an average
of $25,000 per family in 1989 to over $70,000 in 2010.
It’s getting harder to make ends meet,
and harder to stay financially afloat.”
—The 5 S’s of Money (citing the Center for American Progress)
LET’S get straight to the point. The biggest battle in the Trump Era probably won’t be capitalism versus socialism. It will be free enterprise versus crony capitalism. For America’s future, free enterprise simply must win.
But crony capitalism is far ahead in this battle right now.
To understand this, we need to define some terms. There are two major types of economies: market economies and command economies. The first is based on freedom, the second on force.
Within these two branches there are a number of subtypes, including various kinds of command economies such as socialism, communism, fascism, collectivism and different applications of economic authoritarianism and totalitarianism.
The divisions of market-style economies are sometimes more confusing to people from free societies, because most of us have been trained to evaluate political and economic issues in binary mode where we narrow any debate down to only two sides—such as liberal vs. conservative, socialist vs. capitalist, democratic vs. totalitarian, good or evil, Allies or Axis, believers and atheists, idealists and realists, free or not free, and so on.
That said, we live in an era where the various types of market economics are now in conflict. During the Cold War the world was divided between two great camps, with market economies of all types firmly allied against the command economies–the NATO nations of the West versus the Soviet Bloc and world communism.
But after the Cold War (and especially in the post-9/11 world), this has dramatically changed. There are forces supporting each of the various types of market economies, and these are often pitted against each other in ways unthinkable before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Differentiating between these sub-types is important for anyone who wants to accurately understand what is happening in today’s world. When people use the term “capitalism,” they may be referring to any of the following five types of market economies. And the truth is that each of these models has drastically different goals and processes:
- Mercantilism: A system where the law allows market forces but gives preference and special benefits to the sector of the economy owned (or directly controlled) by the government. Also known as “state capitalism.” This system was historically used by the British Empire. As Parag Khanna put it in 2016: “…all countries practice some form of ‘state capitalism’ today, whether subsidizing strategic industries, restricting investments in key sectors, or mandating financial institutions to invest more at home.” (Khanna, 2016, Connectography, 33)
- Corporatism: A system where the law encourages market forces and also gives preference and special benefits to the sector of the economy owned by big corporations within the nation, sometimes referred to often as “Big Business,” “The Military-Industrial Complex,” or simply “The Establishment.”
- Keynesianism: A system where the law allows market forces but gives preference and special benefits to companies and institutions that are so big that they tend to care more about their public image for societal responsibility and promoting social justice than about profit(s), market share or stock value. According to Keynes himself, Keynesianism seeks the goals of socialism through market means.
- Capitalism (crony capitalism): A system where the law encourages market forces and also gives preference and special benefits to the sector of the economy owned by big capital—including big corporations like in Corporatism, but also wealthy foreign and multinational corporations, and highly influential non-corporate institutions such as rich foundations, moneyed trusts, political parties, well-funded lobbies and special interest groups, affluent non-profit entities, wealthy families, moneyed foreign investors, and others with large amounts of capital. Under this system, the rich rule society, and they naturally influence government to maintain policies that benefit the rich more than others.
- Free Enterprise: A system where the law encourages market forces and gives no special preferences; it protects equal rights for all individuals and entities and leaves initiative and enterprise to private individuals, groups, businesses and organizations that are all treated equally and with minimal legislation by the legal code.
All five of these sub-types are market-based, and sometimes called “free market” or simply “market economy” systems. But please carefully re-read the differences between these five economic models, because, again – while they are all market systems, they differ drastically in theory and practice.
For the last three generations, these five types of market economics have frequently been lumped together under the label of “capitalism.” While this is technically inaccurate—because capitalism is a sub-type rather than the whole of market economics—this is the way the word “capitalism” has been used and understood by most people.
Under this popular definition, capitalism is synonymous with “market economics” and is a label for the entire free-market model. But even when people use this broader definition, it is important to distinguish which of the five types is being discussed—because the future of freedom under capitalism, corporatism or mercantilism will be a very different reality than it would be under true free enterprise.
So, to summarize, we have five definitions of “capitalism” in the current usage, and another definition which uses “capitalism” to refer to all the five types together. Naturally, these definitions are frequently confused in our contemporary language. Note that even the broader definition of “capitalism” includes every market approach from corporatism and Keynesianism to mercantilism and crony capitalism. In all of this, free enterprise is often forgotten.
Even worse, in the realm of modern politics all five of these systems are frequently lumped together and referred to as “democracy” or simply “freedom.” While this is a partially accurate definition, it confuses the fact that these five kinds of systems behave very differently and offer different results to society.
Madison Weighs In
Understanding the details and nuances of how these words are used is extremely important to maintain freedom. The American founders dealt with several similar language challenges, such as when Madison felt the need to write Federalist Papers 10 and 14 explaining the important differences between democracies and republics.
He also used papers 18, 19 and 20 to clarify the differences between federations and confederations, as well as national and federal governments. Without such clarity, the Constitution would have been confusing to many Americans who were deciding whether or not to ratify it. The fact that today most Americans don’t understand these differences illustrates how far we have devolved from the level of education exemplified by the founding generation.
There are numerous similar examples, and part of being a free people is taking the time to understand the nuances of economic and political freedom and the language of liberty. No nation in history has long maintained freedom at a level deeper than that understood by the regular citizens in the society. And note that few things are more essential for free people than clearly understanding what type of economic system they want.
Based on the definitions above, consider the following three observations:
- All five types of market economies are better (meaning they have more freedom, opportunity and prosperity for more people) than all types of command economies.
Even the market approaches with the least freedom (Keynesianism and mercantilism) are significantly better than the command systems with the most freedom (collectivism and socialism).
- Still, when comparing the five subtypes of market economies, free enterprise is significantly better (with more freedom, opportunity and prosperity for more people) than mercantilism, corporatism, crony capitalism, and/or Keynesianism.
- The United States, Canada, Britain, France, Switzerland, Japan and other leading free nations of the world today have far too much mercantilism, corporatism, crony capitalism, and Keynesianism—and not enough free enterprise.
This is surprising to most citizens of America and the free world. For example, many conservatives in the United States argue that we are a “capitalist” nation or vote for the “capitalist” candidate and conclude that all is well, when in fact free enterprise is under attack from socialism but also just as strongly from mercantilists, corporatists, Keynesians and crony capitalists.
Voters and citizens must know what to look for when a policy or candidate claims to promote “capitalism.”
Real Life Differences
Some might argue that most of this is mere theory, and that the United States today is a free enterprise society rather than a crony capitalist system as outlined here. Such an assumption is incorrect. The U.S. commercial code has numerous laws which are written specifically to treat people differently based on their wealth—and extending special benefits to those with more capital.
For example, it is illegal for those with less than a certain amount of wealth to be offered many of the best investment opportunities. Only those with a high net worth (the amount is set by law) are able to invest in such offerings. This is capitalism, not free enterprise. Under free enterprise, the law would be the same for all people.
Also, in many cities employees of the wealthy are allowed special legal benefits—such as carrying firearms (personally or through body guards), operating under false names, or traveling with different security measures—that are withheld from the regular citizens. However a person feels about gun laws or financial policies, such laws specifically treat the rich and powerful differently than the rest. Crony capitalism gives them special benefits.
This bears repeating: The laws of the United States stipulate that if you have more money you can invest in business opportunities that people with less money cannot (to study this in more depth, see the terms “sophisticated investor,” “accredited investor,” and SEC regulations on private investment offerings). The specific amounts and details are changed by law over time, but we are absolutely a crony capitalist nation where the laws give higher benefits to the rich.
In fact, many of these laws, including all the examples above, specifically benefit the wealthy to the detriment of wage earners. Regular working people are excluded by law from the best investments and various other perks and benefits. This system is called capitalism, and it is a bad system—better than socialism or communism, to be sure, but not nearly as good as free enterprise.
With all this said, the amazing thing is that this reality is basically ignored by almost everyone, mainly because those who point out the flaws of capitalism tend to be promoting socialistic solutions rather than free enterprise.
As a result, people are accustomed to attacks on the rich by those who want bigger government. But almost nobody has experienced those who want more free enterprise and much smaller government pointing out that the rich have terribly unfair legal advantages in our society—and that this is a bad system.
In fact, this is so deeply ingrained in most people that when they hear anyone criticizing the unfair benefits enjoyed by the rich, they seldom believe that the speaker is making a case for smaller, limited government and less socialism. We are so conditioned, that this possibility just does not compute.
Some may say that I am overstating this point. “Of course the rich and powerful are treated differently than the rest. After all, they are rich and powerful!” While this may be true, such a view is itself a symptom of aristocratic society with preferential class divisions. And in nations where the laws and government treat the rich and powerful differently, freedom is always in decline.
In free enterprise systems, the law allows all people to take part in any investments. If there are laws about bodyguards, firearms, using false names, or anything else, they are the same for every single citizen in the nation. This is what free enterprise means, because such a system gives everyone truly equal opportunities. In a system where Congress creates one set of laws for some, and different laws for those with wealth, status, or position, free enterprise isn’t allowed to give people the full benefit it should.
Indeed, in our system, Congress goes so far as to exempt its own members from certain laws and guidelines; this is especially harmful when members of Congress are allowed special financial opportunities that other people are not. Thus it isn’t surprising to see people elected to Congress and within a few terms become extremely wealthy, even though their actual salary could never generate such prosperity. They are allowed (by their own votes in Congress) to make deals that are illegal for regular people. This is crony capitalism, not free enterprise.
The Local Test
Another way to test the level of free enterprise in your society it to start a business in your local area. In fact, start two. Let the local zoning commissions, city council and other regulating agencies know that you are starting a business, that it will employ you and two additional employees, and then keep track of what fees you must pay and how many hoops you must jump through to gain the needed approvals.
At the same time, have your agent announce to the same government officials that a separate company, a big corporation, is bringing in a large enterprise that will employ 4,000 people—all of whom will pay taxes to the local area and bring growth and prestige. (Don’t really announce this—because if it’s untrue you might be breaking the law, unlike big corporations that are allowed to routinely float such trial balloons.)
Then simply sit back and watch how the two businesses are treated. In most towns, counties and cities in the United States, the small business will face an amazing amount of red tape, meetings, filings and obstacles—the big business will likely be courted and given waivers, benefits and government-funded publicity.
Add up the cost to government of both of your proposed businesses, and two things will likely surprise you: 1) how much you will have to do to set up a small business, and 2) how much the government will be willing to spend to recruit the large business.
This is the natural model in a crony capitalist system. Capital gets special benefits and a different level of treatment by the government. The result in such a system is that the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, entrepreneurialism is discouraged, and many jobs, innovation, investments and growth move to other nations.
In contrast, under free enterprise, everyone is treated the same by the law. Free enterprise is a better system than capitalism—it provides more freedom, opportunity and prosperity to many more people.
Bait and Switch
All of this is more than a mere philosophical or semantic argument about which word we should use. The truth is that many people, probably most people, who feel positively about capitalism actually mean free enterprise when they say “capitalism.” The things they admire about “capitalism” aren’t special benefits to the rich and different laws for the rich versus the poor or middle class, but rather a true free market where everyone is treated equally by the law and where each person has true and equal freedom of opportunity.
The problem is that this definition of capitalism seldom makes its way into official government policies or the law. People support free enterprise, which they call “capitalism,” and the government implements public policy that is certainly capitalism (because it favors those with more capital) but violates the principles of free enterprise. This “bait and switch” is one of the main problems with using the term capitalism.
If by capitalism we mean true economic freedom and laws that treat everyone the same, regardless of their level of wealth, and if this thing we call capitalism made it into our laws and became our operational policies, I would ardently support it. In fact, I would support such a system whether we called it free enterprise, capitalism, or even zebra- or giraffe-ism. The system, not the label, is the important thing.
The problem occurs when people support a thing called “capitalism” because they believe it is free economics for all, and then those in power take this popular support and use it to enforce something very different. This is the current reality, and it is hurting the middle and lower classes by decreasing their opportunities and abilities to prosper. Again, most people don’t even realize this is happening to them.
Freedom for All
In short, call it what you will, but we need a system of truly free economics with laws that treat everyone the same. Words mean things, and the word “capitalism” emphasizes special benefits to the wealthy with capital just as naturally as the phrase free enterprise promotes freedom and enterprise for all. Still, it is the actual system that matters, and all of us would do well to carefully observe political and economic details and nuances—regardless of how things are labeled.
When the laws are altered at all levels so that government entities treat all businesses and individuals the same, regardless of how much capital they have (or don’t have) in the bank or as assets, the natural result is the spread of more business, innovation, entrepreneurialism, jobs and economic growth. Free enterprise, not government favoritism of any sort, is the most effective economic model.
If we want to call the future of our society by the name capitalism, fine. But we must find ways to effectively change the current model to a system where the law treats everyone the same by maintaining true freedom and opportunity for everyone—without special government benefits for a few elites.
It is important to recognize that this is about more than quibbling over what word to use. As long as our society gives special legal and financial benefits to elites, while withholding them from the rest of the people, freedom will continue to decrease and the gap between the 1 percent, and even the .01 percent, and the rest will keep expanding. For the typical family, this means they will have to work longer and harder in increasingly scarce jobs in order to earn less and less. This is a bad economic model—bad economically, and bad for freedom and society.
Today’s Major Challenge
To put this all in perspective, the Trump Era is on target to emphasize mercantilism, corporatism, Keynesianism, and especially crony capitalism.
This needs to change. We need to focus on free enterprise.
But first, people need to realize that this is even an issue. The truth is, the battle between free enterprise and other types of capitalism isn’t just an issue right now—it is the central issue of the Trump Era.
We need to start acting like it.
*(Note to Reader: This post is part of an upcoming new book by Oliver DeMille, entitled Free Enterprise versus Capitalism: Battle for the Future of Freedom.)
August 31st, 2016 // 1:24 pm @ Oliver DeMille
“Sometimes the wicked man undergoes a change for the better,
but the fool never does.” —Anatole France
Seen and Unseen
“Perception is reality.”
“It’s just business.”
Indeed, these two popular sayings are usually voiced precisely to justify doing something wrong. Or mean-spirited. Or both. The truth is that reality is reality; perception seldom is—especially in the age of modern media. And “business” is never a valid excuse for being unprincipled, no matter what the media tries to tell us.
For example, in the 2016 movie remake of Tarzan, the bad guy (a social-climbing bureaucrat whose role is to represent his European king in Africa) kidnaps John Greystoke’s wife Jane, tries to “seduce” her through manipulation and threats, and kills those who try to defend her. Then he sets out to sell her to Greystoke’s enemies. Not a nice man.
Perhaps the most poignant scene in the movie comes after a dinner where Jane refuses his advances and then leaves the room. Once she has departed, the kidnapper notices that her silverware isn’t properly placed on the plate—so he quickly remedies the situation, showing that he has the perfect table manners of the European royalty.
The irony couldn’t be more striking. Such perfect table manners in a man who is a slaver, murderer, thief, racist, and would-be rapist. He has all the appearances of nobility, but no actual nobility. Perception and reality are, in his case, polar opposites. He is the worst kind of degenerate—the kind who hides his decadence behind carefully polished surface appearances. He is Iago. Wickham. Tartuffe.
In this man’s case, perception is the opposite of reality. And to him the phrase “it’s just business” means corruption and debauchery are not only acceptable, but preferable—and routine.
Love and Freedom
The French playwright Moliere (“France’s Shakespeare,” as some literary experts argue) captured this all-to-human flaw in his most famous play, Tartuffe. This classic contains an important warning for today: The way most people gullibly accept the influences of media in modern life is a serious problem.
If any institution sets out to make perception seem like reality, and to justify all manner of questionable things in the name of “it’s just business”, it is modern media. From aggressive paparazzi stalkers to “gotcha” bullying in the name of investigative reporting, to exposés and even seemingly credible reporting that play to an agenda, in spite of available evidence – today’s media has, in large part, abandoned its role as the conscience and “watchdog” of society and become part of the bigger problem. Indeed, much of media is a contemporary Iago, daily whispering the wrong things in the ears of citizens and voters. Sadly, many people seem as willing to listen as Othello or Orgon. Moliere summarized:
“People whose own conduct is the most questionable are always readiest to criticize the behavior of others.”
But Shakespeare and Moliere aren’t done with their scathing critique. In both Othello and Tartuffe, the power of the villains is based on pretending to be loyal, credible, dedicated to the truth, always genuinely helping the people. But appearances can be deceiving.
Not that anything is wrong with real faith, true commitment to what’s good and right. To the contrary. As Moliere wrote: “I have wit enough to distinguish truth from falsehood. And as I see no trait in life more great or valuable than to be truly devout, nor anything more noble, or more beautiful, than a sincere piety, so I think nothing more abominable than a pretended zeal…”
A few journalists get it right. They truly serve us all by doing things the right way. But the overall field of media is too often overrun with pretenders—like Iago, Tartuffe, and their peers—doing business instead of journalism, emphasizing headlines, ratings, and sales rather than what really matters. In Orwell’s famous Animal Farm, for example, the media icon is pig- aptly named “Squealer.”
The only solution to such media agendas is a populace made up of citizens who think for themselves. “Love requires a firmness of mind,” as Moliere assures us. The same is true of freedom.
Too often, especially during elections, voters let media spin guide them. Like the character Orgon, deeply caught in the web of Tartuffe’s lies, tells Cleante—who has pointed out that Orgon should be wiser, not so easily swayed:
“Brother, your advice is the best in the world. It is very rational, and I highly value it. But you must not fret if I don’t follow it.”
Seriously? How often do we listen to Wickham’s silver tongue even when we know inside that something is wrong? Why do we let Willoughby, dashing Willoughby, sway our minds? A smile, a frown, or the seemingly-credible assurance of a popular Network Anchor. We swoon and follow.
“How strange these humans be! They choose the path of fools, though they know it lead to ruin … Emotion rules their ways.”
In the Moliere play The Would-Be Gentleman, the characters heatedly debate whether M. Jourdain is a good man and should be accepted into their society. Some criticize him; others praise him. But one comment sways a number of people. Dorante simply describes Jourdain as:
“A very polite man.”
This is the high art of media spin. Use exactly the right words to convey a certain impression—one that convinces, and lasts. Yet media commentary on candidates is far from objective. It is almost always steeped in some agenda.
Success and Rules
Best-selling author Neil Pasricha noted that in his industry, writing books, there are three types of success:
- knowing that your book is excellent and helpful to people
- selling lots of books
- getting lots of praise from book reviewers and critics
He then wrote: “Here’s the catch: It is impossible to have all three successes.” If you can get one, great. If you can get two, wonderful. But he’s never seen anyone get all three, largely because if you achieve any two of these, they will get in the way of the third.
The election process is similar. If a candidate gets lots of votes and knows he/she is truly trying to improve the nation, it’s almost impossible to also get the support of the political media. You can aim for two, but if you aim for all three you’ll likely weaken the ones that really matter.
For this reason, what the media says about elections is often (usually) off on election night. Marketing experts Ries and Trout made it one of their famous 22 Rules of effective marketing that whatever the media says, it is always wrong in some way—and wise people know it and look for it. They take media reports with a grain of salt. Always.
In elections, specifically, the forecasters are notoriously inaccurate. Why? They pay attention to others in the media, not the masses. Studies show that people answer surveys and polls differently than they vote, so studying the actual intentions of the masses before an election has proven very difficult.
Wisdom or Wisdom
Pasricha also noted that common wisdom is often confusing:
- Birds of a feather flock together vs. Opposites attract
- Nothing ventured/nothing gained vs. Better safe than sorry
- You get what you pay for vs. The best things in life are free
- Good things come to those who wait vs. The early bird gets the worm
- The pen is mightier than the sword vs. Actions speak louder than words
In short, we don’t really understand how elections actually work. Sure, if they’re fixed, or manipulated, or rigged—that’s one thing. But a truly free election is nearly always a surprise. Madison called every free election a “peaceful revolution.” Not truly predictable. We have to wait for the people to actually vote to know what they’re really thinking.
This will probably be even more the case in an election where the two candidates (Hillary and Trump) are so hated by so many people. A lot of voters won’t cast a vote for either. We won’t know…until we know.
In this election, perception isn’t reality. Not even close.
August 3rd, 2016 // 9:44 am @ Oliver DeMille
“Some Americans are actually using Facebook to choose the President?”
Some articles are deeply serious, others are informational, and still others ask an important question or share valuable history or principles. This one is meant to be fun. But it also has an underlying reality that is worth considering.
For decades the daily political cartoon in newspapers was the pinnacle of political satire in America. Today memes, vines, and jokes on social media have taken its place, and studying these genres tells us a lot about where the American populace stands on top issues.
For example, investment advisor Charles Sizemore recently noted that now we have two of the most hated political candidates in history—Trump and Hillary. This is mirrored by a popular online joke that goes something like this:
Hillary and Trump are in a boat that is sinking in the middle of the ocean. Who gets saved?
Whether dark humor like this offends or causes laughter—as it does with divergent audiences—it usually only goes viral if it reflects something that resonates, one way or the other. To be frank: This election has much of America baffled. Just plain baffled.
“Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?” a number of people are asking incredulously. “Really? Those are the only real choices?”
The nation is amazed.
History and Choices
Another meme features a picture of Donald Trump and the caption:
“I don’t always run for president, but when I do, I try to offend as many potential voters as possible.”
Or compare this:
“No matter who you vote for, this election will be historic:
First female president: Hillary Clinton
First Latino president: Marco Rubio
First Jewish president: Bernie Sanders
First Canadian president: Ted Cruz
Last president: Donald Trump”
Some people will laugh at the “Canadian” reference to Cruz. Others will shake their head and call the whole thing tasteless. But the words: “Last President: Donald Trump”? Priceless. Some will agree. Others will adamantly disagree. But it’s worth a laugh. And it communicates something that a lot of people worry about.
Sometimes a certain meme hits really close to home. For example, one says:
“If Bernie Sanders is elected president, he’ll be the first socialist president elected since 2008.”
Another meme shows Senator Clinton with a strong look on her face and the caption:
“Silly Americans. Laws are for poor people.”
A number of the jokes and memes are truly distasteful. Others are downright disgusting. Researching political memes brought me a number of laughs, but the really bad ones made me shake my head in shame for our nation. At least in the days of political cartoons an editor had to sign off. I like the freedom of our current model, but at times people take it too far.
Overall, I don’t know if the memes, vines, and online jokes help our political discourse—or hurt it. Probably some of both. But I do believe that a few of them cleverly capture the nation’s mood in ways we seldom find in the mainstream media. For example, consider the following two memes:
1-A small boy is pictured, about to poke a butter knife into an electrical socket. He’s clearly going to get shocked. The caption reads:
A lot of people are feeling exactly this way right now.
2-Donald Trump is standing next to a huge wall on the border with Mexico, and the wall is lined with gold and stamped with a huge T. The caption reads:
“Think I can’t get Mexico to fund the wall? Well I got the media to fund my campaign!”
Some memes are both sad and funny, like a picture of Jeb Bush with the caption:
“ONE CHILD LEFT BEHIND”
Another meme shows Donald Trump dressed like Biff from Back to the Future, shoving Jeb Bush (dressed as Marty McFly’s teenage dad) into a high school locker. Compare this to a meme with a picture of Nixon. He says: “I deleted 18½ minutes of footage. Hillary Clinton deleted thousands of emails. Who’s the crook now?”
Form Where You’re Standing
I won’t even get into the political vines. They can waste a lot of time, and YouTube is full of the political good, the bad, and the ugly. In fact, on the topic of the election, there is a lot of truly ugly. The memes are typically much tamer. And, the more I compared the two, the memes are generally better—funnier, and more effective. (The funniest of the vines I came across is the Trump/Star Wars Emperor dialogue, with keywords: “Star Wars: Interrupting Trump”.)
The truth is that the political cartoon genre, the idea of political satire that uses one image to cut right to the core of the matter—and forces us to see truths that we may feel but haven’t yet clearly articulated—can be very insightful.
A picture of Star Wars characters carries the caption:
How you see your candidate (picture of Jedi master Obi-wan Kenobi)
How you see their candidate (picture of Darth Vader)
What they’re both really like (picture of Jar Jar Binks)
The kernel of truth in this simple meme is sobering.
With memes, such satire reaches more of the younger generations than the older. But they can teach us all. And over time, I suspect they’ll become more influential.
An important question right now: How will memes and vines impact future campaigns? And what will they evolve into?
By 2020 they could significantly increase in influence. In fact, since Kanye West has already announced his 2020 candidacy for the White House, maybe we’ll see the full election on a real-time streaming reality show app. Keeping Up With the Candidates. Something like this—or worse—is coming, no doubt.
July 22nd, 2016 // 2:49 am @ Oliver DeMille
Loyalties and Addictions
Many nations, and the global market as a whole, are moving from the Loyal Economy to an On-Demand Economy. (See Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, 2016, 72) This is just what it sounds like. Our societal focus is increasingly on what we want–not what we need, should want, or have already agreed to.
This shift is impacting work, business, management, leadership, professions, and even families, churches and communities in massive ways. It has already taken a significant toll on relationships in our modern society. Indeed, almost no part of human life has remained untouched by this momentous change.
Just think of all the ways damage can be caused by a shift away from loyalty, and changed to whatever someone wants instead, and you’ve got a pretty good indication of the problem. For example, as a society we have historically been known for being loyal customers—we either love or hate the Yankees, Cowboys, Lakers, etc., and many people have traditionally been very passionate about Ford or Chevy, West Coast or East Coast, City or Farm, New York Times or Wall Street Journal, Prada or Gucci, and so on.
As for Republican and Democrat, these attachments were often multi-generational, and as zealously maintained as one’s religion. For a number of people, these labels (GOP or Democrat) defined “who they really were as people” more than any other feature.
But in the Digital Age we’re losing many of these connections. A lot of people now switch allegiance to sports team based on how the best clubs are playing this season, and we change “favorite” recording artists or television shows almost as often as we change our socks nowadays. We press “Like” one day, and don’t press it the next. Just follow the Twittersphere—changing loyalties is new a national hobby. Or addiction.
With the endless options of the Internet constantly streaming in front of us, it’s not surprising that many customers—most customers in fact—consistently try out new options. Why not? Maybe the next one will be better.
The same is true of many companies. It used to be that good employees were given numbered pins each year or decade—to show how long they’d been at the company. The ideal was once to work your whole life with one organization, move up the ranks a little or a lot, and retire in the same company and town where you started your first job. The whole company threw a party, and you were presented with a gold watch, an engraved silver pen, or another memento of your long-term loyalty.
Today few companies exhibit such loyalty. Some, in fact, routinely purge upper-level management in order to replace more expensive employees with cheaper, younger models who are decades from earning a pension. The laws have made it much easier to carry your retirement savings with you from company to company, and a lot of people are constantly on the lookout for a better job elsewhere. There are popular apps dedicated to this habit.
Given today’s technology, and the nimbleness big organizations must somehow try to exhibit in order to remain relevant, such changes aren’t surprising. In fact, they may simply be the new way of things, the new normal. The old is always being replaced with the new. This week. In fact, in the news cycle Monday’s “crises” and “tragedies” often go unmentioned by Thursday.
Thus it isn’t shocking that our political leanings are going through an era of upheaval as well. During modern periods of economic and cultural stability, a majority of voters stick with the parties. Whether you like this approach or not, it’s usually the reality. Such majorities may be “silent” most of the time, but on election day they vote like the experts knew they would. They toe the party line.
Parties or Menus
We have seen this kind of stability erode a great deal since 2006. The iconic memory of 9/11, followed by the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or win the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan easily and quickly, threw the electorate for a loop, and the Great Recession that followed moved us decisively away from political stability—at least for a while. China, Russia, the Middle East, North Korea, fluctuating prices, an economy that never seems to recover, and so many other things contribute to a growing sense of chaos, and of things getting worse.
Indeed, elections seem to get crazier and crazier. Predictions by the top experts, and the masses of talking heads, are now routinely wrong.
This isn’t driven by a cycle, however, meaning that we can’t chalk it all up to “a phase” the nation is going through before it reverts back to its traditional, normal behaviors. Cycles and trends do sometimes explain things that happen, but this time something more is going on. The rise of nearly-ubiquitious digital mobility is still in its infancy, and it is quickly restructuring politics (along with marriage, family, community, education, career, business, the economy, etc.).
Voters are less and less likely to be Loyalty Voters, emotionally attached to one party that stands for their culture, their beliefs, their family traditions. Indeed, in a world where more and more people are routinely questioning their birth culture and family traditions, they’re not likely to let loyalties based on these things get in the way of change.
Specifically, we are entering a Pragmatic Era in politics, where people want on-demand government. They want a menu of options to choose from, not a political party and its bureaucracy. They don’t really want to choose between candidates. They want a little of what one candidate has, but without the rest of his ideas. They want some of what another candidate promotes, minus his personal views, or his stand on [fill in the blank…]. They like what they hear from one candidate on one day, but disagree with what she says the next.
It’s not so much a targeted electorate where the candidates try to win over the biggest special interests—like it has been for the past two decades. What’s emerging now is, to repeat, a growing clamor for on-demand politics. Voters want to unbundle government. They want to be able to select “yes” items and “no” items from every candidate running for high office.
In other words, they want Washington to live in the Digital Age. They want to directly email—or, better still, text—presidential candidates and have an on-going dialogue with them, and then continue the dialogue after the president is elected.
“I liked your speech yesterday at Georgetown, except for the part on naval upgrading. What actually needs to happen is…”
Moreover, they want the President to answer their email.
“Thanks, Amy. I see your point. I’m meeting with the Joint Chiefs later today and I’m going to tell them your recommendation—and order them to do it. They really need it. Good thing you’re on our side and sent me that email.”
Today’s voters want the government to respond the way Amazon does. Immediately. In fact, they want to be able to sign up for the President’s Prime service—free answers within the hour, and nearly-immediate government implementation of whatever you tell the Oval Office to do.
“Get your policy implemented by Tuesday at 8 p.m., if you order it in the next 8 hours and 41 minutes. To get it by Monday at 8 p.m., pay an extra $3.99 and click here…”
As a result of this shift in voter expectations from their government (and the fact that government is still stuck in the 60s–or maybe the 70s–ways of doing things), hardly anyone is truly happy with any election anymore. Presidents Bush and Obama may well be the last loyalty-backed presidents. Indeed, barring a major military threat that unites the nation against a common enemy and brings back a loyalistic approach, most future presidents may well be one-termers.
That’s worth repeating. We may be entering an epoch of one-term presidencies. We’ve already seen the voters moving this way with their seeming schizophrenia in presidential versus Congressional elections. They routinely put one party’s candidate in the White House and simultaneously fill the Congress with the opposing party.
Again, what the voters really want is a truly on-demand system, where they can elect national leaders and direct their actions issue by issue, “no” on this, “yes” on that—preferably with a click of their computer—er, smartphone. This is leading in the direction of more democracy, specifically a more democratic system built around online voting. And, honestly, most modern Americans see this idea as excellent, obvious, and overdue.
In response, I have two words:
If you have studied them in depth, you know exactly what I mean.
But most people haven’t.
And that means we’re in for a wild political ride just ahead. It might contain a series of one-termer presidents (the nation swinging pendulum-like to and fro, then back again, over and over), a serious party shakeup with a new dominant national political party (or two), or it might be something even more surprising.
Whatever is coming, there is a widespread sense that it’s big. And we don’t even have Steve Jobs to walk out on a black stage in his black t-shirt and announce the future. If he were still around, he’d tell us to hold on to our hats, because this flight into the Era of populism, globalism, voter pragmatism, and digital-age on-demand revolution is just beginning. And the only thing we know for sure is that it’s going to get bumpy.
(Solution: It’s more important than ever for regular people to deeply study the core principles of freedom! The politicians and “experts” aren’t going to fix this for us—they’re the ones piloting the current chaos. For a beginning reading list of core freedom principles—and audios to go with each— join Black Belt in Freedom)