The logical fallacies of Donald Trump

campaignJust when you think this year’s presidential campaign can’t get any more insane, along comes Hillary Clinton’s claim that half of Donald Trump’s supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables.” Mistake or otherwise, it’s hard to argue that she isn’t totally frustrated by campaigning against Mr. Trump’s dirty tricks. She’s been playing defense against the guy from the beginning, and it reveals the difficulty of arguing with a really good salesman, something I don’t believe we’ve ever experienced in American history.

Mr. Trump employs tactics in his rhetoric known as “logical fallacies” in order to manipulate the debate. These are not new, but most people aren’t aware they’re being manipulated in the process, and that’s what makes them dirty tricks. There’s a wonderful book published in 2006 that ought to be in everybody’s library. It’s called “The Thinker’s Guide to Fallacies: The Art of Mental Trickery and Manipulation” by Richard Paul and Linda Elder. It is, in fact, a guide to the strategies and tactics of Donald Trump in a section labeled “44 Foul Ways to Win an Argument:

First remember that those who strive to manipulate you always want something from you: your money, your vote, your support, your time, your soul – something! But they also need you to be unaware of what they are about. They always have something (often a lot) to hide. In any case, their goal is not the use of sound evidence and valid reasoning. In every case, they insult our intelligence by assuming that a manipulative trick will work on us, that we are not insightful enough to see what they are doing.

The 44 foul ways to win an argument are defined as “dirty tricks of those who want to gain an advantage,” and dirty trick number one is straight out of Mr. Trump’s playbook:

Dirty Trick #1: Accuse Your Opponent of Doing What He is Accusing You of (or worse)
This is sometimes called, “Pointing to another wrong.” When under attack and having trouble defending themselves, manipulators turn the tables. They accuse their opponent of doing what they are being accused of. “You say that I don’t love you! I think it is you who does not love me!” Manipulators know this is a good way to put their opponents on the defensive. You may want to up the ante by accusing your opponent of doing something worse that what he is accusing you of. “How dare you accuse me of being messy? When was the last time you even took a shower?”

The beauty (?) of this dirty trick is that it allows the accuser to escape criticism for the same thing in the debate, which Mr. Trump badly needs. Here are just a few examples of Dirty Trick #1 from press coverage over the course of the campaign. Mr. Trump has:

  • …accused the Clinton Foundation of granting favors when Mrs. Clinton served as Secretary of State when his own foundation was fined by the IRS for making an illegal campaign contribution to the Florida attorney general who was considering a fraud case against Trump University. The case was dropped after the $25,000 contribution.
  • …accused Mrs. Clinton of being “trigger-happy” and “an unstable person” in the same speech during which he threatens that Iranian boats that “make gestures at our people that they shouldn’t be allowed to make” would be shot out of the water.
  • …accused Hillary Clinton of making “one of the most brazen attempt at distraction in the history of politics” and attempting to “intimidate” and “bully” voters with her charges that he is fomenting racism with his campaign. Mr. Trump’s own life is one filled with intimidation, bullying, and racism.
  • …accused Hillary of poor health while dictating his own unconventional note from his doctor claiming that Trump would be “unequivocally” the “healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
  • …accused Mrs. Clinton of being a bigot, when he had displayed his own racist views of Mexicans and others. At the time, CNN’s Cody Cain called him on it:

    Trump is employing the technique of the reverse attack. When he is faced with a legitimate criticism of himself, he attempts to deflect away the criticism by attacking Clinton for the exact same shortcoming that plagues Trump, regardless of whether it actually applies to Clinton.

  • …accused Hillary of not being qualified to be president when he has no experience whatsoever in government or politics.
  • …accused Mrs. Clinton of being mentally unfit to be president, while questions about his own temperament abound over his outrageous behavior and statements.

I won’t be voting for Mr. Trump, but I have no problem if this is your choice. All I ask is that you realize you are being manipulated by a master of the dirty trick, the logical fallacies of argument. If you’re okay with that, then who am I to object?


When right wing media isn’t

Let’s begin with this, one of those “People Also Shared” sections from Facebook. These things will point to just about anything and anywhere with the common denominator being the references have been shared on Facebook. Here’s one from my browsing today:

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Notice the first one. It is completely unbelievable and leads to a story on the website Every News Here (ENH). Note that the story begins “News outlets around the world are reporting…”

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This website feels it’s necessary to promote a disclaimer in its top line navigation, which is as follows:

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The story posted here is a summary of a story from the website WTOE 5 NEWS, a link to which is provided by ENH. The main thing lifted from the WTOE site is the quote from the Vatican, which most people would see right through. The Pope would simply never refer to himself as the “Holy See” or the “Holy Father.” The WTOE website’s “About Us” tells the story. It’s a fake news website! “WTOE 5 News is a fantasy news website. Most articles on are satire or pure fantasy.”

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The point of this is that fictionalized stories are regularly provided to impeach Mrs. Clinton, largely through headlines, by people paid to do just that. It’s effective, because everyday people rarely fact-check these items for themselves and dutifully pass them along, but not without first feeling comforted and affirmed that Hillary is the devil in disguise. Despite this, I have faith for the future, because the actions of the followers here is based in ignorance, not stupidity, and that can be fixed.

Meanwhile, we get closer to electing a shallow, slick-talking salesman to administer our federal government. Oy.

It’s all in the party platforms

campaignFrom time-to-time it becomes necessary to engage friends and colleagues on Facebook regarding the current Presidential election. This can be an exasperating experience, especially when dealing with the very Christians I’ve written about in my new book, The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP. I can handle most debates, but recently a woman forced me to silence with the question: “Have you actually read the Democratic Party Platform? Has anybody actually read it?” She went on to note that if we had “actually read it,” we wouldn’t say some of things we were saying. In this woman’s mind, the document is so disgustingly anti-Christian that nobody would ever vote for Hillary, no matter what.

This bothered me, because I consider myself relatively well informed, so this past weekend, I took the time to read both party platforms that came out of the conventions, and I’m prepared to state my case as such.

The Democratic Party platform is an easy read. The GOP’s is not at all. The Democrats seem to easily and directly state their positions, while Republicans find it necessary to embellish and qualify every position with the use of hyperbole and grand narratives, such as constitutional originalism – a product of the 1980s – claims of being the law and order party and the party of religious liberty, and through other embellishments and narratives, especially regarding the military. Among these are mixed certain telltale issues that speak to the foundational GOP, which is the party of unbridled capitalism and concern for corporate profits. Why else sandwich repeal of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act – enacted so the IRS could find and tax offshore accounts – between keeping and bearing arms and abortion? Clever, huh?

I’m not a constitutional or legal expert, but I am a marketer, and I recognize marketing tricks and techniques that may be hidden from others. I can also fact check items in either document when I suspect hyperbole is used as a substitute for facts. Take a look, for example, at this attempt in the Republican document to seize a position of being pro-women while against a woman’s right to choose an abortion:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and wellbeing of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Then there’s the matter of the military and the military budget. Many pages are dedicated to what its writers believe is a Reagan legacy that they wish to enjoin. Here’s just one important (and often quoted) paragraph:

In all of our country’s history, there is no parallel to what President Obama and his former Secretary of State have done to weaken our nation. Our aging naval capabilities are inadequate for their job. The Air Force fields the smallest and oldest force of combat aircraft in its history. The Marines have only two-thirds the number of battalions they have historically needed to meet day to day operational demands. The Army is at its lowest troop levels since before World War II. Our U.S. Ambassador and American personnel were left without adequate security or backup halfway across the world in Benghazi. In summary, we have returned to the hollow force days of Jimmy Carter.

This paragraph is not only a staggering degree of hyperbole, but it also is a gross misrepresentation of the facts, which are available to anyone who feels it important to spend the time looking. The two biggest reasons, for example, for a drop in military spending are the removal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and across-the-board cuts that went into place in 2011, when congress and the President deadlocked on the budget (sequestration). Both parties, as a result, must share the blame. Moreover, the President has proposed a 7.8% spending increase for the Defense Department between 2015 and 2016. Nevertheless, the specific claims regarding individual branches of the military conveniently lack context, and that’s why they must be rejected. The aging naval capabilities claim is laughable for two reasons. One, each ship today can do so much more than even those of World War II that any comparison cannot be made with a straight face. Two, the Navy is increasing its fleet size, including twelve ballistic missile submarines, from a formal process completed in 2014. The Air Force claim, too, is absurd. We’re in the largest aircraft procurement in history for the F-35, over 100 new jets per year over the next 20 years. The new long-range bomber project is on hold due to a protest by Boeing, but that’s hardly the administration’s fault. And let’s not even get started on Benghazi, for it was cuts by a Republican-led congress that put all embassies in harm’s way.

The Democratic Party platform presents a hyperbole-less prose for supporting the troops and the military:

We must prioritize military readiness by making sure our Active, Reserve, and National Guard components remain the best trained and equipped in the world. We will seek a more agile and flexible force and rid the military of outdated Cold War-era systems.

We must end waste in the defense budget. We will audit the Pentagon, launch a high-level commission to review the role of defense contractors, and take greater action against those who have been involved in fraud. And we will ensure that the Department of Defense invests its budget wisely.

That last paragraph takes a shot at defense contractors who had their heyday during the Republican administration of George Bush, whose Vice President was a major player in the entire defense industry. Democrats also seek the flexibility to act in our best interests at a moment’s notice, something the GOP doesn’t like under Democratic party leadership at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Here’s the quote:

Democrats will seek an updated Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that is more precise about our efforts to defeat ISIS and that does not involve large-scale combat deployment of American troops.

There are three political issues that are of extreme importance to me personally:

    • Net Neutrality is the single most important issue for those who care about the short and long term future of horizontal connectivity. This is vastly more important that most people realize, for it involves the nature of the ability that everyday people have to participate in managing their own lives and not be at the mercy of the hierarchical self-interests of others. This is what’s disrupting everything today, and only through net neutrality will it continue without interruption. Here, I support the Democrats’ position:

      Democrats support a free and open internet at home and abroad, and will oppose any effort by Republicans to roll back the historic net neutrality rules that the Federal Communications Commission enacted last year.

      The FCC got it right, but the interests of big money cable and telecoms will continue to fight it. What they want is to turn the network into a series of dumb pipes over which they will dictate complete control. Corporate profit is what drives this, and it’s why I’ve used my own money to support opposition groups. I want my children and grand children to grow up with a free Internet, and this is a key area where political parties – and especially their representatives in Congress – need to have their power checked. Hell, the GOP is so controlled by corporate profiteers and their lobbyists that they will never vote against their interests. That alone scares the heck out of me.

      Here’s a portion of the Republican Party Platform regarding this issue. Notice its broad use of fear and hyperbole to sell its message of private sector control of the web. As you’re doing that, also know without a doubt that the U.S. doesn’t own the WORLD Wide Web.

      The survival of the internet as we know it is at risk. Its gravest peril originates in the White House, the current occupant of which has launched a campaign, both at home and internationally, to subjugate it to agents of government. The President ordered the chair of the supposedly independent Federal Communications Commission to impose upon the internet rules devised in the 1930s for the telephone monopoly. He has unilaterally announced America’s abandonment of the international internet by surrendering U.S. control of the root zone of web names and addresses. He threw the internet to the wolves, and they — Russia, China, Iran, and others — are ready to devour it.

      We salute the Congressional Republicans who have legislatively impeded his plans to turn over the Information Freedom Highway to regulators and tyrants. That fight must continue, for its outcome is in doubt. We will consistently support internet policies that allow people and private enterprise to thrive, without providing new and expanded government powers to tax and regulate so that the internet does not become the vehicle for a dramatic expansion of government power. The internet’s independence is its power. It has unleashed innovation, enabled growth, and inspired freedom more rapidly and extensively than any other technological advance in human history. We will therefore resist any effort to shift control toward governance by international or other intergovernmental organizations.

    • The second issue that concerns me greatly is the conflict between Israel and its neighbors, the Palestinians. Those who are regular readers will know that I have Palestinian family living in Amman, Jordan, so this issue is quite personal, and my window on the Middle East is wider than those (American) who cover events entirely through the Israeli narrative. In this particular issue, I find fault with both parties, for neither party platform expresses support for Palestinians, especially when it comes to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS). There are other reasons I can’t support either position. The Democrats will “continue to work toward as two-state solution.” This is fantasy, for Israel will never agree to it. Therefore, the only solution can be one-state, but that will require a completely different mindset, especially among the Jews who make up the vast majority population in the current state of Israel.As a taxpayer, I am offended that we should send $4.5 billion in annual aid to Israel without oversight or stipulation as to how it is used. We give Israel a free pass to behave in any manner they choose with regards to “protecting its borders.” I have many Christian friends who passionately love Israel, and their love is genuine. It is truly a remarkable place in all the earth. But you know what? My family used to love living there, too, because its name isn’t what makes it remarkable, and for us to look the other way while right wing expansionists engage in genocide against the Arabs who used to live there is unacceptable to me. While I’m not happy with either party on this, it is the Republican Party platform that “condemns” BDS as anti-Semitic and should be denounced by those who favor academic freedom. The GOP document suggests that you cannot be against ISIS and not “for” Israel and calls Israel “an expression of Americanism, and it is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel.” It also calls for moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, a very dangerous proposition. “Our party is proud to stand with Israel now and always.”
    • My final important personal issue has to do with drugs and drug enforcement, especially the changes in the last year from the DEA regarding opiates and prescription pain medications. Just last month, I was denied insurance coverage for cough medicine containing codeine, even though I was bordering on pneumonia. I could not afford to pay for it absent insurance, but both Medicare and my insurance company refused. I used to be a chronic pain patient, and I wrote two years ago about the senseless restrictions being placed on pharmacies and patients in the DEA’s reclassifying hydrocodone as a schedule three narcotic. I’ve argued that the people making these rules have never been inside a pain clinic and that the move was entirely politically based on fear and hyperbole about opiate misuse impacting, what else, our children. This move criminalized even legal use of the drug, so that drug enforcement – and especially out-of-control federal prosecutors – could swing their dicks.And wouldn’t you know, this issue is written into the Republican Party platform.

      Heroin and opioid abuse touches our communities, our homes, and our families in ways that have grave effects on Americans in every community. With a quadrupling of both their sales and their overdose deaths, the opioid crisis is ravaging communities all over the country, often hitting rural areas harder than urban. Because over-prescription of drugs is such a large part of the problem, Republican legislation now allows Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans to limit patients to a single pharmacy. Congressional Republicans have also called upon the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ensure that no physician will be penalized for limiting opioid prescriptions. We look for expeditious agreement between the House and Senate on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which addresses the opioid epidemic from both the demand and supply sides of the problem.

      This paragraph alone makes me question the intelligence of the entire document. It is fear-mongering, and it handcuffs the entire medical profession in ways that are draconian and autocratic, all to make a few more law enforcement bureaucrats feel more secure in their positions. Honestly, folks, what have we come to? Now that marijuana laws are being viewed in a different light, the DEA has to have something equally antagonistic in order to justify its budget. Besides, the core of this entire issue is poverty. The drugs are just a symptom, and “cracking down” only hurts people with legitimate needs for the medications.

The Republican Party Platform mentions Hillary Clinton only twice, once about human rights and the other about abortion. However, it refers to President Obama twenty times, while the Democratic Party Platform mentions Donald Trump by name thirty-two times. While Mr. Trump is running against Mrs. Clinton, his party is positioning itself as running against the outgoing administration. I find this fascinating, for as I read the platform of the GOP, I kept thinking, this platform in the hands of anybody other than Donald Trump might actually work to manipulate voters to a Republican administration for the next four years. This is further evidenced by how the Democratic Party platform pounds away at the Trump candidacy by going after the man’s ignorant rants and by exploiting outrageous statements and beliefs that are no where to be found in his own party’s platform. This is likely why so many republicans even have trouble with Mr. Trump.

But don’t just listen to me. Go read these documents for yourself. And FACT CHECK. Don’t take either side’s statements as fact, just because they sound like what you’re used to hearing.

Democratic Party Platform
Republican Party Platform

Announcing my new book

contractI’m very happy to announce that OR Books in New York will be publishing my new book about my days as Pat Robertson’s producer with The 700 Club. We’re going to call it “The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP,” and it should be available by December, which is a pretty quick turnaround for a publisher. You will be able to pre-order via the web in a few weeks, and I’ll keep you posted about that.

This has been quite an adventure, and I’m very proud to be associated with OR Books. They are a unique independent publishing company embracing “progressive change in politics, culture and the way we do business.” Believe me when I say we are a perfect fit, and I am so, so excited.

As you likely already know, I’ve been working on this book for 18 months and thinking about it since I left CBN in the wake of Pat Robertson’s run for President in 1988. It’s a book for Christians – especially Evangelicals – although its message will be a very hard sell to this group. It will do well with Christians on the left, but it’s really for everyone who was ever influenced by the hard wind that blew in the era of the televangelists in the 1980s. “The Gospel of Self” is my term for the broad use of the Bible as a self-help manual, a handbook for personal salvation, as opposed to the bigger issue of pleading the cause of the poor and the afflicted. I will get a ton of criticism for my views, but the facts are always what really matters in the telling of history. I provide documentation, including portions of my sworn testimony with the Criminal Investigative Division of the IRS. It’s a compelling story and includes my postmodern predictions for the future of the church.

I’ve been writing about online marketing for over 15 years, and this will give me a chance to try some things that haven’t been done as well as doing things the mass marketing way. Can you tell I’m pretty pumped?

A great big thanks here to Jeff Jarvis, my old friend and colleague from the trailblazing days of early blogging. Jeff is the one who opened this door for me, and I will forever be in his debt.

Another big thanks to my newer friend, Brian McLaren, who has been a strong supporter of this effort. McLaren is a prolific author and the key founder of the Emerging Church movement. His work dovetails nicely with mine over the last 20 years, and I’m proud to call him a friend. He has a new book coming out next month that I’m looking forward to reading. I could not have stayed the course of my vision without Brian’s encouragement.

The false narrative of right wing media

(Excerpted from my forthcoming book “How Jesus Joined The GOP”)

In the early 1980s – during my days with CBN – we innovated “TV Journalism With a Different Spirit,” a news animal that sang a different song from others in the journalism world, whether television or print. We knew what we were doing, and it was very clever. In the process, we built the philosophical model for Fox News and many others. Here’s how it worked:

The idea that the press represented only a liberal perspective was developed in the days of Richard Nixon, specifically by his vice president, Spiro Agnew. Agnew argued that the President ought to be able to speak directly to the American people without going through what he viewed as a liberal filter, one that would distort Nixon’s views through its blurred lens. Nixon’s was the first conservative administration in the golden age of television, and it struggled with its inability to control the message during an incredibly volatile time in history. Many others took up the claim in the wake of Watergate. After all, only a political opponent would strive to take down a sitting President, surely not a press that advertised itself as objective.

These complaints fell on deaf ears, because the complainers lacked a media stage from which to make their case. As a result, they had to rely on that same blurred lens, so efforts to “speak against liberals” were dead before they started. We had such a stage at CBN, one of the original ten transponders on the first RCA communications satellite, Satcom 1. Moreover, ours was a video show, and we had the production chops to create whatever we wanted along the artificial plane known as political perspective. It didn’t matter that the press didn’t really belong on this plane, only that it was convenient for our purposes, which we claimed to be preparing the world for the return of Jesus Christ.

So we publicly moved “the press” in its entirety to the left on this political plane in order to insert a convenient fence on its right edge. We placed ourselves (and the ilk of Rush Limbaugh, etc.) to the right of that fence, which gave the appearance of the bigger overall culture being represented under the banner of “news.” After all, most people were either liberal or conservative politically, and politics – or influencing politics – was our real goal. I can’t possibly overstate this reality. You don’t change the world by changing the press; you simply must make the case that the press isn’t neutral, and the rest is easy. The press, of course, helped us with this, because it was easy to pick news coverage hooks that represented a more progressive view of culture for us to hone in on. We were free to assign bias even in cases where the press was simply doing its job.

Dog bites man, it’s not news. Man bites dog, it is news. This simple old metaphor points to the false narrative we created, because the very definition of news is tied to that which is different, that which is, well, “new.” And new always means progressive, for basic conservative logic is tied to the status quo and the maintenance of tradition and its accompanying hierarchies. Many if not most journalists are educated, passionate about their trade, and ethical when it comes to the rules of professional observation. Only in the sense that some of this can be applied to “liberalism” is the press liberal. It’s a fake moniker given to them without their consent by people who need it to be that way in order to fit their own self-serving narrative. There is no conspiracy. Journalists don’t regularly gather to discuss how they’re going to manipulate unknowing masses with lies and deceit. That is much more likely to be found with those who claim participation in “right wing media.”

Evangelical Christians almost always leave out the original pioneers in the pro-life movement, the Catholics. This is an important element in understanding right wing media, for the Catholic Church is hardly conservative. In addition to calling out the pro-choicers for what was actually taking place in the wake of Roe v Wade, Catholics also pleaded the cause of those “unwanted” babies after they were born, and also opposed the death penalty. That, my friends, is the very definition of pro-life. Catholics also tended to vote for the left, so their voice in the debate about abortion carried far more weight than that of any other group. But that voice didn’t fit the narrative of the right, and the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In seizing upon abortion as an Evangelical Christian cause, the political right gained an emotional grassroots appeal to which it wasn’t entitled. The same thing applies to many of the right’s causes, because political power is the real goal.

The mere suggestion that manipulation can result in rolling back laws that are tagged as culturally offensive to some is folly and a chasing of the wind. This includes the idea that if only conservatives could appoint enough Supreme Court justices, they will eventually overturn Roe v Wade. The odds of this ever happening are remarkably small for many reasons, and wishers would do well to consider anyway that the original opinion in Roe v Wade was written by conservative justice Harry Blackmun, a Nixon appointee to the court. Nevertheless, right wing media needs to continually dangle this carrot in order to maintain the hyperbole in its claims as members of the press, albeit with a different worldview.

Right wing media is not, nor will it ever be, a part of the press, for its core purpose is the manipulation of culture through distortion, the very thing it assigns to the so-called “liberal” media. Moreover, many contemporary right wing media outlets are nothing more than political operatives with the sole purpose of repeating over and over again their purely political arguments. To this end, nothing is out-of-bounds, for baseless and provable lies are fair game in a sea of ethical emptiness. Again, the irony is that these groups practice out loud the very things they accuse their political opponents of doing in disguise, as if that somehow justifies deliberately “balancing” the public square by any means necessary. Even when bonafide “fact checker” organizations prove beyond a reasonable doubt the falsity of certain claims, these political hacks continue to repeat the allegations, presumably because they feel under no obligation to retract or otherwise accept responsibility for such lies. Moreover, they know that as long as they can keep the drum beating, there are people “out there” who’ve been trained to listen regardless of the evidence.

The press is a political animal only insofar as it covers politics, and even I have to admit there can be mischief in this particular hen house. NYU journalism professor and author Jay Rosen has been studying this for 30 years and refers to the Washington Press Corps in particular as the “national press or political press.” He argues strongly for transparency and accountability and against opacity and demagoguery. He’s also acutely aware of the difference between “journalism” and this “political press.”

If your job is to make the case, win the negotiations, decide what the community should do, or maintain morale, that is one kind of work. If your job is to tell people what’s going on, and equip them to participate without illusions, that is a very different kind of work.

The press is the latter and politics is the former. Right wing media, however, claims to be the latter while functioning as the former, and this is why its narrative is a fraud. Again, there is no such thing as “right wing media.” It is entirely political, and we shouldn’t stand for it. Drudge is not a journalist. Hannity is not a journalist. Limbaugh is not a journalist. A thousand websites with “news” in their titles are not practicing journalism whatsoever. They are like the local advertiser who presents his commercial message during the 6 o’clock news disguised as a news bulletin. There are ethical rules against this, but in desperate times, there are also exceptions.

Finally, nearly every attempt to create a “left wing media” has failed, the most visible being Al Franken’s program on the Air America Network. Billed as an alternative to conservative talk radio, Franken’s show never garnered the ratings of his counterparts on the right and certainly didn’t inspire a generation of progressive radio talk shows. While there are some successful progressive programs today, there doesn’t appear to be a wellspring of an audience for this fare, perhaps because it’s so obviously there only to counter the right.

Right or left, these “media” are political activists and not members of any journalistic effort whatsoever. We’ve got our work cut out for us, if we are to educate the public about how they’ve been duped and manipulated by smart political operatives, those who only have their own best interests in mind. We pioneered this in Virginia Beach, and while our motives may have seemed to be just at the time, the truth is we were just another group of social engineers with the political motivations of power and influence.

Of Spectators and Participants

spectatorsIn response to many questions years ago about the nature of postmodernism as a cultural era, I described it as the “Age of Participation,” for technology was making it possible for us to participate in culture in ways that were once impossible. As a young boy, I used play “bombs over Tokyo” with marbles in the back yard. We were about ten years downstream from World War II, so the name of the game was a reference to the war. When we were able to buy toy planes, we’d play the same game, but it took a great deal of imagination to actually put ourselves into such a game of good guys and bad guys.

Such it was with just about everything we did, from cowboys and indians to our little rubber models of Disney characters. It was all about making up some story and interacting with each others toys. Not so today.

Video games are so advanced today that the Armed Services actually use them as simulators to train the people who defend our freedoms, and this is what I mean about the Age of Participation. We are no longer forced into a spectator role in our games and entertainment; we can actually be a part of the experience, and this is only going to become more and more immersive.

But it’s way more than just games and entertainment. The Age of Participation will unfold as one in which free people are deeply connected and able to participate in a great many other walks of life. This is a staggering threat to our cultural status quo, which demands that the have-nots be spectators and not participants. It’s right out of the mind of social engineer and father of professional journalism, Walter Lippmann, who with his buddy Edward Bernays wrote the books on how respected intellectuals should run things for everybody else.

Bernays wrote: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.”

In his 1955 essay “Walter Lippmann and Democracy,” Herbert Aptheker refers to Lippmann as an “offended and frightened snob” to say such things as these:

“…there is no possibility that men can understand the whole process of social existence.” Forgetting “the limitations of men” has been our central error. Men cannot plan their future for “they are unable to imagine it” and they cannot manage a civilization, for “they are unable to understand it.” To think otherwise, to dare to believe that the people can and should govern themselves, that they can and should forge social systems and governments enhancing the pursuit of their happiness here on earth—this is “the gigantic heresy of an apostate generation…”

In writing about Lippmann, contemporary intellectual Noam Chomsky published the following insightful paragraph:

“The public must be put in its place,” Walter Lippmann wrote, so that we may “live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd,” whose “function” is to be “interested spectators of action,” not participants. And if the state lacks the force to coerce and the voice of the people can be heard, it is necessary to ensure that that voice says the right thing, as respected intellectuals have been advising for many years.

As we look at the chaos of today’s election season, we would all do well to remember that the whole system needs the kind of reinvention that only an informed and involved public can produce. In this sense, I have hope that 2016 is a part of the forthcoming cleansing and not something to be feared, an awakening on many levels that we’re all tired of being led around by Chomsky’s “respected intellectuals” for their own benefit and not ours. This will require a different kind of education than what’s being discussed today, one that I view as inevitable so long as we are connected and able to share freely amongst ourselves.

I’ve written many times about historian Chris Lasch and his wonderful 1990 essay, “The Lost Art of Political Argument.” This lengthy essay is eye-opening, especially as it relates to Lippmann and Bernays, for Lasch makes the case that the fall in citizen participation in the political process in the US is directly tied to the rise in the professionalization of the press. Participants need argument; spectators need a view of the arena in which others play, and that has been the role of an elitist press for many years.

We need lessons on arguing a position instead of simply passing along memes that tickle our ears but were created by somebody else. That’s simply lazy.

  • Let’s argue and not inflame, knowing that those who wish only to inflame are playing us through our emotions and fears. The only people in this for us are us, and we need to resist the temptation to be conduits for somebody else’s gain. In politics, nobody speaks the truth, for truth is not the goal of politicians. It must, however, be ours.
  • Ad hominem attacks are never allowed. Following this simple rule alone would lower the decibel level considerably as we worked out our differences publicly. Sadly, those who are smart in the ways of marketing know how easily people fall for character attacks in the place of reasoned argument, which makes the American public complicit in the hubris and hyperbole coming from those they support.
  • Argument is not a dirty word. It’s just a noun. In Webster’s 1828 dictionary, the first definition reads like this: “A reason offered for or against a proposition, opinion, or measure; a reason offered in proof, to induce belief, or convince the mind; followed by for or against.” In other words, it’s simply stating your case with reasons. Too much of what we have today is the parroting of marketing or propaganda without reasoning, neither of which come close to Mr. Lasch’s use of the word “argument.”
  • Reasoning must be fact-based. Following this would be the most useful rule, because much of what we pass along today are emotional responses to triggers we “just know” we understand. This is useless in the creation of an argument, but it is so clearly satisfying to those resonate with the message solely on an emotional level. Smart marketers are able to use emotion in stating what they’re selling, and we all badly need to be educated about this trickery. Emotion is not to be confused with passion, for there is certainly a place for passion in the expressing of one’s argument. Those who argue that passion is the enemy of reason are blinded by their own arrogant convictions of rightness.
  • Facts from both sides in an argument must be on the table. This is why reason is so important to the art of argument, because the idea isn’t to blow the other guy’s facts off the table; it’s all about proving those facts to be otherwise. If that cannot be done, then your argument is weak, and this is why public debate is so useful. We’re all entitled to our opinions, propositions, and convictions, but unless we can state them in an argument, we run the risk of falsehood creeping into our consciousness.

The outcome of public debate will often depend on consensus, and we must be prepared to accept that, although we can always go back and hone our argument so as to make it more convincing. There is no appeal process. We accept and we move on. We take the matter up again the next time public debate brings it to the table in the process of our participatory culture. Nothing can be set in stone.

If we no longer wish to simply exist as manipulated spectators, then we must agree that participation involves a willingness to set our own wishes aside occasionally for the betterment of the whole. That means being prepared to listen along with stating our own case.

Call me idealistic, if you wish, but I don’t view the future through dystopian lenses. Life wants the human race to survive and thrive. I’m convinced that the explosiveness of the early twenty-first century is a necessary stage through which we all must pass, because as big as the world seems, it’s really just an island that we share in the midst of a vast and mostly dead universe.

We need each other. We really do.