All posts filed under: US Election

Reassessing Cultural Divisions in the United States

If there was any doubt before, this election cycle brought home how divided the U.S. is on issues of national identity. It also brought political and cultural tensions to the surface, displayed in acts of outrage and the strident expressions of the partisans of different views. Old ways of dividing the social landscape no longer apply, and some of the events of the last few years are so bizarre it is difficult to believe, had they been scripted as a movie, the plot could have been pitched as anything other than satire even five years ago. Yet this is the world we wake up to every day. Consider arch-progressive Michael Moore’s resounding expression of the popular sentiment in support of Trump, or the fact that we now have a president-elect that was once used as a throw-away joke on the Simpsons in 2000, someone who retweets his fans’ remarks, and who campaigned in large part on his business acumen while his business life reads like the scandalous decline of a B-grade Hollywood starlet. This is …

The BuzzFeed Fiasco Shows Us Why Trust in Institutions Is Dying

Editor’s note: this is an unfolding story based on information that the author and editor are not privy to. As such, this essay is not an analysis of the alleged incidents reported in the dossier released by Buzzfeed, but a comment on the prudence of releasing such unverified information to the public, which is not heretofore a standard media practice.    I was almost planning to turn my laptop off on a freezing English winter night, when the C4 hit my phone. A colleague texted me asking if I was checking Twitter at that moment. BuzzFeed apparently did some clickbait, and dumped raw, uncorroborated, third hand HUMINT (human intelligence) data with a nudge nudge wink wink “see what you make of it” type caveat, about Donald Trump. This material included a lurid tryst with a bevy of Moscow maidens apparently recorded by secret devices. BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith spouted some neuron altering, circuit frying justification on why he chose to go ahead in publishing this “dossier”, because apparently Americans “should decide for themselves.” (Although, the …

Donald Trump and the Failure of Mainstream Social Science Part III

I published an article on Sunday where I argued that mainstream social science is pervaded by ideology and that this blocks good scientific methodology. I attempted to demonstrate this yesterday with a concrete example. Today, as the final part in the series, I suggest some methodological changes. First, let me briefly restate what I consider the core problem: prevalent use of morally charged terminology in the social sciences that serves to enforce an underlying ideology. Examples include terms like progressive, xenophobia, and authoritarian. Why does this terminology exist? The answer, I suggest, is that throughout Western society over the past couple of centuries, values have consistently shifted in a particular direction, and this has led social scientists to consider the trend universal. This leads to a conception of values as having a temporal direction. Some values are of the past, and some are of the future, and the more one travels in either direction the more pronounced this becomes. Which is reflected in the use of morally charged terminology. Values that are considered of the …

Donald Trump and the Failure of Mainstream Social Science Part II

I published an article Sunday where I argued that mainstream social science is pervaded by ideology and that this blocks good scientific methodology. In this article, I cover a concrete example that is relatively recent and available online, a paper titled Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash. Published in August 2016, the paper’s authors are Ronald F. Inglehart of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arber and Pippa Norris, McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. It’s part of the Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper Series. Harvard is one of the world’s most prestigious public policy universities, and Norris is one of the world’s most cited political scientists. The paper’s objective is to identify the main cause of the rise in support for ‘populist’ parties that have disrupted politics in many Western societies. Two causes are considered: economic disaffection and cultural disaffection. The paper examines each cause by connecting them to different demographics through hypothesis …

Cut Out The “Literally Hitler” Hysteria

So, the unthinkable happened. The tyranny originating from boring old Blighty, now spreads to heartland America. Armed marauder gangs now roam the streets, murdering, pillaging, plundering, violating constitutional rights of people who voted, as Hunter-Killers buzz in the night sky looking for any remnants and pockets of rebel resistance. Millions of liberals, especially celebrities, are now leaving Western shores in a mass exodus just like the Second World War actresses who left Nazi Germany to settle in California. But there’s hope. A small bunch of rebels, armed to the teeth with playdohs, colouring booklets, chocolates and hashtag “#LiterallyHitler” are now determined to take the fight to the Trump camp. The “International Community” is now in talks over whether we should arm the moderate rebels, promote “real liberal democracy” and/or otherwise form a transitional government abroad, possibly headed by Jessica Valenti and Amanda Marcotte. With a cabinet formed of the editorial board of Vox and Guardian. Or at least that’s what you might think if you’re an alien (from outer space, not Mexico) following the emetic …

Donald Trump and the Failure of Mainstream Social Science

Donald Trump’s victory in the recent US presidential election was a shock to many people. Polls, media pundits, even political insiders almost universally predicted that Hillary Clinton would win comfortably. In the aftermath, there will surely be questions about why they misjudged the situation so badly. I would argue, though, that the problem runs much deeper. The occurrence of a very similar situation in the United Kingdom a few months earlier suggests that this is not just a polling flaw, nor is it just a group of pundits misreading a single event. The underlying problem, I propose, is in the social sciences. These are the institutions expected to study human behaviour scientifically, and whose theories are spread to the rest of society. Yet many social scientists have quite openly voiced surprise and perplexity at both the Trump and Brexit events, often supporting their statements with proclamations of immorality directed at the voters. There’s something disturbingly unscientific about this, in my opinion. Imagine a group of physicists responding to an event they are unable to explain …

Corporate America’s Old Boys’ Club is Dead and Why Big Business Couldn’t Stop Trump

If corporate money controls our politics, as Bernie Sanders and others have claimed, then how did the Republican Party – the reputed party of business – manage to nominate a candidate whom almost no one in Big Business supports? And why have so many been so silent about it? A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reports that not one CEO at a Fortune 100 company has donated to Trump’s campaign, whereas one-third supported Mitt Romney in 2012. Many in business have said privately that they are terrified of a Trump administration and the possibility of trade wars and ballooning deficits, yet few CEOs vocally oppose him. So why isn’t a CEO social movement taking to the barricades against a Trump presidency? One possibility: To mobilize a movement, you need a social network, and CEOs no longer have one. In other words, corporate America’s “old boys’ club” is dead. The question is: Is that entirely a good thing? As our research – and Trump’s rise – shows, not necessarily. Building the old boys’ club …

The Clickbait Candidate

What happens to democracy when technology helps our impulses trump our intentions? While ‘interrobang’ sounds like a technique Donald Trump might add to the Guantanamo Bay playbook, it in fact refers to a punctuation mark: a disused mashup of interrogation and exclamation that indicates shock, surprise, excitement, or disbelief. It looks like this: ‽ (a rectangle means your font doesn’t support the symbol). In view of how challenging it seems for anyone to articulate the fundamental weirdness of Trump’s proximity to the office of President of the United States, I propose that we resuscitate the interrobang, because our normal orthographic tools clearly are not up to the task. However, even more interrobang-able than the prospect of a Trump presidency is the fact that those opposing his candidacy seem to have almost no understanding of the media dynamics that have enabled it to rise and thrive. Trump is perhaps the most straightforward embodiment of the dynamics of the so-called ‘attention economy’ — the pervasive, all-out war over our attention in which all of our media have now been conscripted …

Five Key Debate Moments That Altered the Course of a Presidential Race

Every presidential election year in my American Political Campaigns and Elections course, I get an opportunity to spend a full lecture discussing with students some of the famous moments from historic presidential debates. I explain to students that while the presidential candidate debates are supposed to be about presenting policy alternatives to undecided voters, almost no one pays any attention or remembers what the candidates say about policy. Instead the media covers the debates and voters interpret the debates in a winner and loser format. Which candidate connected to voters the best? Who had the best zinger or inspirational line? Some famous moments in debate history have reinforced the public’s negative perceptions of candidates, while other key moments have helped dispel such notions. Here are five from past presidential debates, chosen for their impact on the election campaign and outcome. 1960: Kennedy-Nixon In 1960, Richard Nixon had served as the Republican vice president for eight years after six years in Congress. Senator John Kennedy had served in Congress for 14 years, but was only 43 …

The Paradox of Democracy

Jason Brennan’s lengthy and provocative essay on democracy, is a follow up to his book and it challenges the foundational wisdom of our time, that democracy is good and moral. I hesitate to spoil the book so early at this stage, but democracy according to Dr Brennan, is inherently flawed, and that’s not because people are stupid, or misinformed, but they lack the incentive to know. In simpler terms, this data rich book shows that people who vote, take their voting rights for granted, and essentially cheer their side or team, without understanding the nuances of such momentous decision making, which affects everyone’s lives. Everyone under the sun opines on politics and economics, unlike neurosurgery and astronomy; even though politics and economics are also highly specialised areas which require knowledge and consideration. Brennan looks at data collected over a sixty year time-span, which suggests that most of people who take part in political process wouldn’t pass a University Politics or Economics 101 course. Nor are they even interested in understanding or knowing how basic taxation, …