“Kool-Aid crisis” in America

Anyone who needs us to inform them there is an acrimonious partisan divide in America that has reached crisis proportions has likely been in a coma. And when we say America, we actually mean all of the developed economies. They have all succumbed to the siren call of the highly partisan political divide that has polarized a significant portion of their populations.

It is America, however, where the problem is most acute, and going through its full manifestation both into and after the November general election. This means many people are likely to buy into a particular view, and leave little room for any independent thought. That is also an indication that the politicians who both drive and benefit from this tendency are constrained once in office as they need to fulfill constituents’ expectations.

Media a ‘prime mover’

And media is one of the prime movers behind a process that thrives on soundbite electioneering that requires a lot of TV commercials, creates significant viewing of major events like debates and ongoing press conferences, and most of all… sensationalist stories that sometimes have only a passing relationship with fact.

It is more of a prismatic "narrative" than ‘factual’ news environment, due in large measure to the success of social media. A lack of rigorous fact checking allows for promulgation of ‘post-fact’ quasi-reporting. We will be exploring that at length below. In the meantime consider how Donald Trump made use of many post-fact ideas to defeat powerful entrenched political machines (his nominal party as well as the opposition) while using social media to spend a small fraction on his campaign compared to his opponents.

Capitol Limited

Along the way it must be allowed that Secretary Clinton was a mediocre candidate, and her campaign was poorly run. We have previously noted one of the best post mortems on the Clinton loss, and revisit it here to illustrate it was not only the new media environment which spelled trouble for a rigid establishment candidate. That is our December 5th Political irony abounds FUTURES post (You can obviously link into this) that highlighted the cogent view from our friends at MODERN TRADER in its CLINTON DEFEATS CLINTON election analysis. Owner Jeff Joseph teamed up with his very adept Features Editor Garrett Baldwin to take a tour on the Capitol Limited.

That is the railroad line from Washington DC through the Rust Belt to Chicago. This takes riders through now rotting remains of the U.S. industrial heartland. Had Clinton bothered to assess the situation and propose solutions for its residents she might not have fared so badly…unimaginably handing the key states of Pennsylvania and Ohio to Donald Trump.

That excellent MODERN TRADER editorial was pre-released shortly after the U.S. election, and in addition to its tangential relevance to the current commentary we wanted to wait until it was available on the newsstands for anyone wanting to pick up the January issue. The editorial is at the very end of an issue that typically covers a broad range of interesting topics from major review of the budding (pardon the pun) legal marijuana industry to fixing the problem with which city hosts U.S. baseball’s World Series.

Back to the Kool-AId

The degree of commitment of each side of the US political divide leaves it less than possible to achieve any real synergistic dialog and constructive result. Years have turned into over a decade of substandard leadership in the United States on the back of aggressive and highly divergent views of America’s role …and each side is dead sure it’s right and the other side has nothing to offer. Just look at the massive failure of Obamacare that the Democrats still cling to, damning the Republicans for any attempt to repeal it.

Yet, Barack Obama’s extensive turn to the Left is more than his personal philosophy. It would not have been possible except as a national reaction against the equally poorly planned and executed Bush-Cheney program. The ‘true believers’ on that side presided over a lack of effective oversight of a runaway laissez faire economic phase that led to the Credit and Housing Crisis, and worse. The response to the horrific 9/11 World Trade Center attack was the invasion of Iraq, with the attendant misguided nation building effort. 

Much like Barack Obama’s misguided reflex to totally abandon the field that the American people were prepared for after over eight years of war, each had an extensive belief in a philosophy and culture that would cure all ills without any consideration of the probable downside. It’s all about the unabashed belief in one side of the political and cultural divide to the exclusion of any attempt to consider the potential positive aspects of the other perspective: Drinking the Kool-Aid.

Origin of 'Drinking the Kool-Aid'

We are sure that most of our readers understand the connotation of that phrase. Yet the actual definitive event which took what might have previously been a passing reference to acquiescence to a belief system occurred in 1978. That was the infamous Jonestown Massacre. That saw the death of more than 900 followers of cult leader Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, mostly through voluntary ingestion of a cyanide-laced flavored beverage.

It was in fact Flavor Aid (a cheaper flavored drink), but the popular inference was that it was the more well-known Kool-Aid. And the phrase “Drinking the Kool-Aid” stuck ever since. It was earlier considered to represent succumbing to peer pressure when going along with any dangerous or doomed idea. Yet, as the highly partisan divide widened in the United States and elsewhere, it has been associated with the extreme commitment to any idea or ideology to the exclusion of considering any other ideas might have merit.

And that is how America has ended up with sixteen years of substandard leadership from the proponents of first the very Right-leaning, neo-Conservative philosophy Bush team, and the sharp whipsaw around to the Left-leaning, Progressive pacifist Obama regime. The net effect has been worse than boom and bust…it has been a loss of faith in the system exacerbated by rigid political partisanship.

Advantage Trump?

In fact, one of the advantages of the often-erratic President-Elect Trump is that he has no political philosophy. While his politics have become socially Conservative and are openly free market economically, that is not based on any highly-developed ideology. What has been apparent so far, confirmed by folks who know him well, is that Donald Trump is more so ‘transactional’ in his approach.

This is merely to say that he views most things as problems needing solutions, and is willing to entertain a broad range of alternatives. It might be possible that after sixteen years of highly partisan mismanagement and Washington DC gridlock this is just what America needs. We shall see. But ironically (see our December 5th Commentary: Political irony abounds post for more) what we know is that the last US President who was that flexible and solutions-driven was election loser Hillary Clinton’s husband President Bill. And if his personal demons had not plagued his administration, we and many others would have already anointed him the Last Great American President for his ability compromise in ways that benefitted all of the American people.

The media challenge

Yet the even deeper problem is the overall evolution of the media mindscape into a 24-hour-a-day soundbite oriented platform. That is now exacerbated by the significant rise of social media alongside the classical mainstream media. The degree to which Donald Trump was able to implement an ‘end run’ around classical mainstream media was apparent at the time, and has now changed the electoral landscape forever. We will revisit the mainstream media angst over that phenomenon below.

Yet for now it is important to note that much as Obama’s divisive style of governing by executive order paved the way to for the ‘disrupter’ Donald Trump’s election, the mainstream media’s extensive support for the Left-progressive agenda empowered a more direct communication channel. In fact it remains an irony that Twitter is so closely watched by so many, which Donald Trump used to his advantage, yet is the less profitable business by far compared to its major ‘social’ rivals.

That notwithstanding, whether or not you believe the Russians and Mr. Putin were responsible for the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton email hack with the intent of defeating Hillary Clinton (more on that below as well), what was released has not been refuted in any way by the defeated candidate or the Democrats. Considering what was revealed, that is fairly astounding.

New York Times’ unrepentant slant

As far as mainstream media, also consider New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. needing to publish an apology to readers for the misreporting of the likelihood of a Clinton victory that ended with Trump’s election. Yet, even there the NYT allowed that it was entitled to refract the actual events through its own particular prismatic view. At the end of the letter’s first paragraph he was proud to announce that even after so massively misreading the electoral signs the NYT newsroom “…turned on a dime and did what it has done for nearly two years — cover the 2016 election with agility and creativity.”(?!!)

How can the publisher of the major New York newspaper not understand that you cannot both “turn on a dime” and continue as you have “for nearly two years,” unless you are drinking your own Kool-Aid on your spin being superior to objective reportage. The same goes for covering news “with agility and creativity.” It seems to us that engaging in too much ‘contortion’ and being very creative with the news is actually the problem for NYT and many other mainstream news organs; not something to be proud of to the point of crowing about it.

He has definitively pulled the covers off the NYT’s real Weltanschauung, which is that its interpretation is more important than any neutral reality. We review an even scarier manifestation of this below. Suffice to say for now that this makes the whole of the NYT a news source where readers should not count on any relationship to the raw news. That is only exacerbated by the leaked emails exposing reporters sending draft articles to Democratic operatives for review and editing prior to publication.

Both sides do it, with a caveat

Admittedly this is also as much the case for the Right-Center as it is for the Left-Center. Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity is a cheerleader for the Right causes and policies. Yet he clearly notes his role as a commentator, much like the very popular (with the Right at least) Bill O’Reilly. Each is capable of taking liberties with the implications of the news, but is clear it is opinion.

The tendency of Left-Center news organizations to portray opinion as hard news is a real challenge, as it impugns the veracity of their reportage. It also leaves viewers/readers not as clearly informed as they should be on the reality, which corrupts the fabric of society. While this is true in other countries as well, if Americans viewing CBS, ABC and NBC are all feeling informed yet are getting Left-Center spin instead of objective news, it ends up being just another form of…

Drinking the Kool-Aid. Yet this is even more pernicious, because at least Jim Jones’ followers were committed to dying in the hope they were headed for a better realm. The US mainstream media consumers are at least somewhat unaware they are getting opinion versus factual reporting. We found this hard to believe when we first heard about it, yet found it to be true when we checked it out.

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