The “State of the Union” is shit.

By Dylan R.N. Crabb

Do we really need a televised “State of the Union” address?

At the beginning of every year, Americans choose whether or not tune into the “State of the Union” address delivered by the current president, whom is treated like royalty with grandstanding applause at his every vague word. The past five presidents can sum up one S.O.T.U. in one sentence: the state of the union is shit. Of course, a politician has to keep up a facade for the American public so no one becomes too alarmed.

President Donald Trump’s latest S.O.T.U. address last night was particularly useless because it’s President Trump – an excessively selfish, misogynistic, corporatist, baffoon who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Does this guy really understand the current state of our democratic-republic?

Trump-grandstanding

IMAGE SOURCE: Fox News, <https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/liz-peek-state-of-the-union-speech-showcases-talent-of-trump-on-the-stump>, 2019.

The S.O.T.U. is a partisan sporting event for American politicians. Regardless of who is the President, the two parties with the most political market share use the event to throw miniscule rhetorical punches at each other, distracting the public with their charade of modern tribalism. All the while, their corporate puppet masters make back room deals to fuck over the average American with neo-liberal economics and an imperialist agenda. That’s what American politics has become: charades and back room deals.

President Trump campaigned on pseudo-populist rhetoric which was successful against an obvious corporatist who had been in politics her entire life and who’d flip-flopped on issues more times than anyone could count. Though, once in Office, Trump proved himself even more of a phony. He doesn’t care about working Americans given his cabinet picks (a former oil lobbyist for the position of Interior Secretary?), he only cares about his own ego.

I’m also a selfish person but I have no plans to run for a public office, I would hate that kind of job.

A look into history.

While the nation’s first two presidents felt it necessary to deliver a speech to the national Congress, President Thomas Jefferson disagreed with that assumption. President Jefferson believed a physical speech to Congress was not necessary and a public event idolizing the presidency seemed to monarchial, antithectical to the nation’s democratic ideal. Instead of a physical speech, President Jefferson simply wrote a letter to the Congress in which he laid out budget reports for his agenda (no grandstanding public appeals) and that tradition was followed until President Woodrow Wilson revived public addresses in 1913.

I think two inventions transformed political theatre in the negative during the 20th century: the radio and the television. Ultimately, the radio and the television (more so with television) placed more emphasis on public appearances and optics rather than the specifics of policies. Americans began turning to what a candidates looked like and what he appeared to do rather than what a candidate actually was, Presidents John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan are examples of this public obsession with appearances. Both Kennedy and Reagan were praised for their on-camera talents while their less favorable actions regarding policy stayed out of the spotlight.

How can Americans return to a policy-focused culture shying away from appearances and optics?

MinWage Legislation Advancing in NM House Committees

By Dylan R.N. Crabb

 

House Bill 31, or the “Phased-In Minimum Wage Bill,” received a “Do Pass” recommendation from the House Labor, Veterans, And Military Affairs Committee and was referred to the Commerce & Economic Development Committee where it currently resides.

 

screenshot_2019-01-29 legislation - new mexico legislature
Screen Capture from <https://www.nmlegis.gov/Legislation/Legislation?chamber=H&legType=B&legNo=31&year=19>.

 

The final committee vote in HLVMAC was 6 in favor and 3 against – the three members who voted against the bill are NM Representative Rachel Black (District 51), NM Representative David Gallegos (District 61), and NM Representative Tim Lewis (District 60).

NM Representative Antonio Maestas is the chairman the Commerce & Economic Development Committee, he has not yet scheduled House Bill 31 for a committee vote.

The Age of Memes

By Dylan R.N. Crabb

 

“Have you ever thought about what it means to be a god?  It means you give up your mortal existence to become a meme: something that lives forever in people’s minds.  You barely have your own identity anymore.  Instead, you’re a thousand aspects of what people need you to be.  And everyone wants something different of you.  Nothing is fixed, nothing is stable (Neil Gaiman, American Gods, 2001).”

Humans are very visual with communication often using images to supplement the narrative power of written words.  “A picture is worth a thousand words,” says the old phrase and pictures dominate the modern world of digital communications.

The news industry is undergoing a transformation through digital communications and I think the most successful news organizations to come out on top of that transformation will be the organizations that are fully embracing the web, not the organizations that are trying to keep one foot online and the other foot in physical print.  As much as I hate to admit it, printed paper is becoming less and less practical and digital platforms are becoming more and more relevant as web culture is slowly expanding through its various influencers, conquering the media landscape.  Mobile phones, touch-screen music players, and tablets are the new remote controls of our society.

instantmessagingapps-580x358
Image Source: <https://www.v3.co.uk/v3-uk/news/2416558/instant-messaging-to-overtake-email-as-biggest-digital-communication-platform>.

The ability to search for specific information has become just as important as knowing information and that is a powerful thing for the average person with no defining, exceptional skills.  Technology is an amazing equalizer that not only improves your own life but your ability to help others.  Of course, technology also has a dystopian element.  The so-called gatekeepers – the internet service providers, the search engines, and the speech platforms – now hold immense influence over the decisions of individual people.  I think the solution to that is more market choices for consumers as well as effective anti-monopoly laws from governments, but that leads us into a more specific political discussion.

There is no doubt that technology has improved lives for people all over the globe and internet access is a huge part of connecting people with products and services beneficial to altruistic endeavors.  Even comedians are utilizing the Web to spread short messages for quick laughs – “memes” as they have been coined.  Imagine how a person from the pre-industrial age would spread his idea to a million eyes and ears across just his own country let alone the world.  Today, one just has to post on Twitter and, if enough people see it and share it, instant pseudo-celebrity status (for about five minutes).

 

web20
Image Source: <http://www.vmagroup.com/digital-communications/>.

 

A computer (including a smart phone, a digital tablet, etc.) is a powerful tool.  It should be used to a society’s benefit rather than to dumb down a populace but perhaps I’m writing optimistically.

A Shifting Pendulum in American Politics

By Dylan R.N. Crabb

 

The Democratic Party is moving further to the political Left, embracing more collectivist modes of ideology and doubling down on their identitarian activism.  Today’s typical “Progressive” is now a caricature of my generation (Generation Y, the millennial generation) and it’s embarrassing; from screaming at Republican senators in the nation’s capital, to banging on the door of the Supreme Court of the United States after the confirmation of a new conservative-leaning Justice, to forcefully shutting down academic events hosting conservative speakers, it is apparent that Leftists (not liberals) are becoming more radicalized in this strange post-truth era.

How did we get here?

I think it started with internet connections and the World Wide Web which dramatically increased access to information for the general public.  Greater access combined with more diversity is a double-edged sword in media because, with more choices of programs, confirmation bias becomes more prevalent; individuals will naturally gravitate toward programs that confirm what they already believe.  This is why it is so important to make an effort to seek out points of view alternate to your own.  The American public is currently experiencing the negative, balkanizing effects of confirmation bias.

What’s the solution? 

I think the solution to our wide-spread confirmation bias ironically involves the very tools that encouraged this virus of the mind, although it also requires a change in mindset in each individual.  We need to consider different sources, the motivations behind particular narratives, and power bases behind specific media companies.  The ideological leanings of a journalist or commentator affects their news coverage as does the primary financing of an organization.  In short, we need to be more skeptical.

Skepticism requires curiosity and acting on curiosity requires initiative.  Journalist Tim Pool points out one the most stark differences between the political Left and Right today: the Left generally has no qualms with alienating individuals whom disagree with their mainstream narratives while the Right is constantly seeking out disagreements for the sake of discourse – the Left pushes people away with their dislike for nuance while the Right is actively recruiting people.  This new inclusiveness on the Right will likely lead to a new conservative movement among younger Americans.  We’re already seeing rising conservative media outlets catapulting young and energetic talking heads to national fame – figures like Ben Shapiro, Tomi Lahren, Roaming Millennial, and Dave Rubin are immensely popular with young people partly because they don’t condescend young people about how “oppressed” they are by forces beyond one’s control.  A general narrative on the Right is one of an individualistic spirit of exploration and invention endemic in American history.

Liberalism was once the champion of individualism and personal liberty but liberalism has been corrupted by its own hubris.  Leftists coming to dominate the fields of entertainment became obsessed with the appearance of diversity while ignoring diversity’s most important facet: the intellect.  Now, the intellectually lazy neo-liberals are being beaten in the marketplace of ideas by their Right-wing counterparts who still see value in showcasing diverse opinions regardless of appearances and communicating across ideologies.  If the Left wants to have a fighting chance in this new media landscape of individualism and curiosity, I think they need to rediscover liberalism and the intellectual traditions of Western civilization – from Hammurabi’s Code, to the oratory of Pericles, to the revelations of the Enlightenment, to the rational populism of Presidents Roosevelt.

Truth V.S. Ratings

By Dylan R.N. Crabb

 

Who do you trust when you can’t trust anyone?

Trust takes time to build and can disappear in an instant, so it takes long-term planning to maintain trust with a person.  Building trust requires thinking ahead about the repercussions of your actions on other people – sacrificing quick pleasure today for more pleasure in the future.  That does not sound conducive to a 24-hour news cycle in which a news station must develop new methods of holding the attention of an audience in a society that rewards instant gratification more than long-term planning, a society that records success in quarterly reports with the expectation of indefinite growth.

Screenshot_2018-08-02 Why don_t people trust the news and social media A new report lets them explain in their own words

“Why don’t people trust the news?  Concern about bias, spin, and hidden agendas (Ricardo Bilton, Nieman Lab, 2017)”

The 24-hour news cycle has ruined the news industry – it’s no longer about effective journalism with an intent on holding power accountable to people – it’s about voyeuristic, sadistic, and instant pleasure for the worst aspects of ourselves.  We are not going to find content of substance on the “mainstream” networks designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the public and there is a shift taking place from traditional forms of media to new media.  Some new media stars (commentators, pundits, call them what you want) are gaining their own audience by mocking the old guards, making substantive new content through satire.

Let’s compare an interview from BBC’s Newsnight to it’s satirical counterpart by rising YouTube entertainer Wizard of Cause:

Both of the above videos inform the audience about the people involved in the interview but which of the video is more entertaining?

If media spokesmen want to regain the trust of the public, I think the first thing they need to do is place more faith in the public, particularly their audiences.  Rather than dumbing down content to make viewing require less effort to undertake, trust that the viewers can figure things out for themselves.  Perhaps newsmen can learn some things from comedians.