Late Thoughts Listening To Springsteen
This was U.S. President Obama today, the day after the Donald Triumph the night before, with a little bit of campaign theory. We try really hard to persuade people that we're right and then people vote, Obama said. Salutary. Not quite true.
Not quite true if by persuade the president means the process of using reason to convince others of a particular position. This includes convincing others to change their minds.
I don't sense much persuasion afoot in our times. I don't know if there ever was much persuasion. Maybe there was, maybe not. But now what goes for persuasion is really engagement. And engagement has to do with likes and follows and friends. Social media in the time of engagement has no button that indicates Good Argument or Convincing or You Helped Me See Things Differently. Or, I Changed My Mind.
When engagement is the goal, holding a mirror up is more effective than risking original offence incurred by trying to change a mind. When engagement is the goal, polls—which reflect all positions and their strengths—become currency. Or, content, as the saying goes. When engagement is the goal, passion is the play.
It reminds my of a passage from Bloom.
It does make sense. When arguments take a back seat, what can serve as the source of a verdict between opposing views? Intensity is one of the obvious surrogates.
Intensity comes through loud and clear in 140 characters. And in the war zone.
Convincing might take a little more time and space.
Mikey called tonight to talk. He had two songs to recommend. It went without saying those songs were doing good work for him. Dad, listen to Long Walk Home, he said. And Magic.
The second-most troubling verse from Magic:
I got a shiny new saw blade
All I need's a volunteer
I'll cut you in half
While you're smilin' ear to ear
And the freedom that you sought
Driftin' like a ghost amongst the trees
This is what will be
This is what will be.
And the opening line from Long Walk Home:
Last night I stood at your doorstep
Trying to figure out what wet wrong
You just slipped something into my palm and you were gone
Shelagh and I met for dinner downtown tonight. I felt that getting home too early and, invariably, turning the television, would feel like a return to the crime scene. Strange thought to think about my own living room.
The horserace journalists injected with performance enhancing polls were running on substantial, as it turned out.
We were not having a reality-based conversation, CNN's John King admitted as the truth revealed its face along with the electoral college vote. His colleague Jake Tapper predicted the demise of the prognosticating set, which, presumably, included himself and all of poll-crazed television news.
In the presentation and dramatization of the polls, the polls of polls, the averages of polls, the national polls (as if national popular vote mattered in electing a US president), the polls don't just reflect. They don't just provide a snapshot of the mood of the electorate at a particular moment, as the defenders argue. They also allot resources. They say, for instance, that Oklahoma is not "in play," meaning that citizens of Oklahoma do not get an equitable share of money from either party that attracts participation. And the polls also give orders. If citizens of Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Michigan know that a candidate must sweep those states to keep open a "path to victory," then there is incentive for them to vote strategically. From the polls, political parties steal signs about where to try to suppress the vote and where "getting the vote out" means the most, and, conversely, where the vote can be left to get itself out.
Polling calls forth as many realities as it purports to measure.
There is a riot tonight in Portland.
And there is a new storyline in the media that Trump is showing signs of moderation. Who knows? That may end up being true, or it may end up being untrue. Keep open the possibility that the storyline has emerged so that the media can protect its access.