Sunday, June 12, 2016

THOSE MISGUIDED POLITICAL MISSILES OF SOCIAL MEDIA

By Dominique Paul Noth
Some Sanders backers still look askance at Clinton on social media

Now that Hillary Clinton has locked down the Democratic nomination for president and Barack Obama has publicly endorsed her, I’m awaiting the side reward – my social media subsiding into some semblance of rational discussion.

Total receding will never occur, of course.   Social media is here to stay until the next digital revolution. It it both relevant and ridiculous. 

Along with photos of your pets, favorite dining spots, pinnable interests and family albums,  it has even replaced newspapers and television as main sources of information – self-confirming information in many cases, since people friend people they think are in their camp.

Few do as I and other journalists do,  go strolling among the various Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat  and Facebook feeds to smell what is going on – and that is the accurate olfactory verb. More of our citizens get excited by tweets and the like than by traditional sources (even when those are a ripped-off factor of social media excitement).

Tweets and company have become an irresistible fever, even elevated in some quarters to idolatry. Donald Trump represents that nadir, actually boasting about 50 dead in an Orlando gay nightclub shooting. 

The jaded truisms about social media  remain true.  People say things on the Internet they wouldn’t say in person or even on the phone.  Which only reminds voters of how self-involved in self-congratulation Trump is. And how some people on the Internet are proud of displaying their ignorance.

Internal standards of ethics concocted by journalism’s watchdogs, even to the point of demanding addresses and other checkpoints in letters to the editor, have disintegrated.  On the Internet they usually don’t exist at all.

News reports from reliable reporters are stolen or repurposed – and often mixed with satirical commentary pretending to be objective information.  That creates threads that seem like news, linking together several URLs from “reliable investigators” who seem to agree with the point the poster is trying to make.  In the real world this is known as cherry-picking. But who bothers online to check? 

The Internet has become so important that it even leads cable news around by the nose. Think of how many TV outlets look for validation through the digital feeds they engender.   They count tweets as soldiers in their own cable army. And since we tend to look for articles that support our pre-existing opinions, trollers sense that isolation and try to disrupt it. 

In this cyclical dance of doomsaying, demons of language and attitude are unleashed.  A few extremists come off booming like a battalion

Who are these weirdoes so devoted to Bernie that they now say they will vote for Trump?  Is that 3 people or 300?  Or 300 sounding like three so similar are their posts?  Such a radical swing between polar opposites of “outsider” is beyond belief except in the land of Bizarro from the old DC Comics.  It makes supporters of Sanders sound like radical dimwits, which most are absolutely not. In fact, if you are abandoning Sanders to vote for Trump you never understood Bernie in the first place.

The state of social media messaging makes it especially difficult for responsible journalists.  The volume may just be on my feed. Your feed may have high volume in another direction. Threads on election fraud, pleas for delegates to change their minds combine facts with fiction. 
Actor-playwright Denis O'Hare

I know Sanders people who feel that Clinton backers have been the main online offenders, but that is not my experience.  (I’m with Hillary but I held my online tongue for a long time.)  It’s much more like what an eminent actor, the usually outspoken Denis O’Hare, explained in an MSNBC interview.  O’Hare is best known from tons of movies and as a regular on “The Good Wife,” but I also know him as co-writer of the one-man  “An Illiad” that I have previously admired.

O’Hare explained why he guards his enthusiasm for Hillary in conversations with his peers.  It is not just their passion but their eagerness to share it and dismiss alternative viewpoints, he noted.  So atypically he tiptoes.

There’s a lot of that going around in the Hillary circles.  They know the bashing has been going on for decades. “Like horse-racing, Hillary-hating has become one of those national pastimes which unite the √©lite and the lumpen,” Henry Louis Gates wrote in a New Yorker article – in 1996! 

Now, there may be legitimate emotional as well as intellectual reasons why the Bernie or Bust people stand doggedly by idealist values. That is what  brought them into politics.  They don’t see history in the round and they still are prone to shoot down any favorable remarks about Clinton's progressive idealism.  The doubters exist among neighbors, family and colleagues who were (are?) on the Sanders side. 

The clinging  is particularly strong in Wisconsin.  During the primary, many Clinton supporters I know hung back about speaking  aloud.  They were circumspect because some really wanted a strong showing for Sanders –they wanted Hillary to feel the pressure.  They agree with many of his main themes even though they agree more with Clinton’s suggested strategies to reach such goals in a gridlocked society. But expressing that online? They knew it would blow up their feeds.

I suspect that Sanders’ primary win in the state is another reason Obama and Clinton are coming together to Green Bay as the president’s  first active campaign event (originally June 15 but in the wake of Orlando horror it is being rescheduled).   Cleaving together here may require special attention.  Obama is not only itching to get into the fray and has strong backing in Wisconsin, but he knows residents have suffered horribly under Walker – so horribly that the failure to remove the governor may have derailed the better angels of their judgment. Few people can accept when slower and steady wins the race.

I told one friend that Bernie was talking about the sort of “take no prisoners” goals the progressives will need in 10 years once the legislative and executive branches are aligned -- but that Hillary represents a better way to maneuver the current system.  

And I noted as almost a side comment in a previous story focused on school issues:   “Sanders has certainly moved Clinton to the left on things like attention to income inequality and deeper government funding for higher education.  But Hillary  has actually moved Bernie to the left on issues like early child care and gun regulations.” That’s factually true but I was braced to be FB-bombed. 

It gets even more confusing. Both Sanders and Hillary are veteran established politicians who have made deals along the way (though Bernie’s escaped discussion, except for gun votes, during the campaign). Both understand that relying on polls taken five months before November (about who would be stronger against Trump) is a flimsy flight of imagination.

Today some Clinton backers are a bit uppity that Sanders is not showing his party’s clear choice the recognition both her victory and her historic accomplishment (the “first woman” thing) deserve.  But note who isn’t getting uppity -- Biden, Warren and Obama who went out of their way to pour respect on Sanders, appreciation of how he has opened up the party and understanding of his own time schedule and need to deal with his blindly enthusiastic supporters. That respect was built at length into their endorsements of Clinton.

For such pains, the extremists among the Sanders backer have labeled them – and Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, a noted progressive leader in the Senate – as turncoats abandoning progressivism because they support Hillary.  The attack on Brown in particular must drive diehard progressives mad. 

Ever hunting for eyeballs, cable news has gone out of its way to find the strangest  Sanders creatures  who say they will vote for Trump over Hillary, so angry are they that Bernie lost. Some don’t even admit he lost.  But that  is la-la land (the 3 or 300 problem previously discussed).  Trump is a genuine danger to progressive longings.  Clinton’s high negatives are bound to come down the more people realize who Trump is  and when Sanders is not prominent as a polling contrast. 

Wisconsin  may actually need a deeper dose of healing.  Locally, the GOP may not much believe Trump is a Republican. But patience with their brand of GOP as well as his has run out. Yet nationally they are asked to  go for a  more patient pace rather than the attractive absolutes. 


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com. 



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