The Republican Base’s Malevolent Algorithm

An entirely unsurprising poll shows that sixty-seven percent of the registered Republicans in the US support the current administration’s policy of separating children from their undocumented immigrant (or asylum seeking) parents at the border. (Those children are then imprisoned in cages in concentration camps with no plans for their release or reunification with their parents.) This poll supplements an essay on Stephen Miller whose headline reads ‘The Outrage Over Family Separation Is Exactly What Stephen Miller Wants.”

It will ‘fire up the base,’ you see, and bring them out in numbers for 2018.

The ‘base’ is, of course, why Trump will never be impeached by the Republican Party; it brought Trump to power; it will keep him in it. This is democracy in action; at its ‘best.’ The ‘people’ have spoken–through an electoral system of sorts–and we know what they want. The ‘base’–the ‘fuck your feelings’ crowd–reliably dislikes its Other: the libtards, the bleeding hearts, the snowflakes, the gays, the blacks, the Spanish-speaking, the feminists, the social justice warriors, the Marxists, the postmodernists, the coastal elites, the teachers, the unions, the gun control freaks, the atheists, the campus radicals, the brown, the immigrants (undocumented or otherwise.) The list goes on.

The reason for cashing out the content of the vox populi as a long list of dislikes and resentments is quite simple: this animosity toward its Other animates the ‘base’; apparently, it is the only policy justification it requires. A simple mechanical test for policy evaluation emerges: Does policy X cause fear, anger, dismay among members of the list above? Does it cause them to issue denunciations and condemnations of the Great Leader? Then it must be Good; if not, it must be Bad. Legal academics and concerned philosophers of technology spend a great deal of time pondering the problem of how to regulate automated decision-making; this is one algorithm for political decision-making that seems to have slipped under their radar. The perversity of this politics might make some parents recall the days of using the infamous ‘reverse psychology’ on a recalcitrant toddler; if you want them to do X, you must suggest that they do Y; the immature toddler, unable to realize he or she is being played, does instead. But comparisons and analogies with toddlers are ultimately unsatisfying; toddlers are also quite cute and entertaining and cuddly at times, and the Republican ‘base’ is anything but. Toddlers grow and mature; the ‘base’ appears to prefer curdling.

The presence of the ‘base’ and its frightening acquiescence to any moral atrocity as long as it meets the requirements noted above render wholly ineffective any political strategy that aims to change the Republican Party’s course by shaming it or pointing out its hypocrisies or inconsistencies. (On Twitter, a whole phalanx of tweeters is dedicated to racking up high RT counts by indulging in precisely such activity.)

Fortunately for the US, not all of its citizens are members of the base. Unfortunately for the US, all too many are. Trump will serve at most till 2024; the ‘base’ will be around much longer.

Stephen Miller Is Punchable, Yes, But He Is Worthy Of Emulation Too

Martin Shkreli has good cause to be aggrieved. He spent considerable time, energy and financial resources aiming to attain the title of America’s Most Punchable Person, and succeeded spectacularly. Unfortunately, the incoming Trump administration has upended many American verities, and Shkreli has found himself similarly displaced from the hearts and minds of the American people. The first pretender to the throne was Richard Spencer, the sunglasses-wearing neo-Nazi who, demonstrating once again that half-baked racial political theories will have a long life in the warm glow of the Bannon rays emanating from the White House, earned himself a punch in the face on the day from one of the half a dozen or so spectators attending the Trump inauguration. Now, another contender is here, and I’m afraid that Shkreli’s pretensions must be put to bed: there is no way that even the smirking, obnoxious, ‘Pharma Bro’ can contend with Stephen Miller, Donald Trump’s national policy adviser. (Duke University has a lot to answer for; both Spencer and Miller are Duke graduates. While Spencer does not seem to have distinguished himself with any overt racism during his college days, Miller set the groundwork early for his work in the Trump administration by earning a reputation as an unrepentant racist. An academic friend of mine–who teaches at Duke–noted that while he never had the (dis)pleasure of teaching Miller, Miller had already established himself as a “shithead” on campus.)

Miller’s appearance on the Sunday morning talk show circuit–to lay the groundwork for the voter suppression strategy that is destined to be the centerpiece of many state legislative initiatives this year and the next, as a prelude to the 2018 mid-term elections–will be memorable for many reasons. Foremost among them, of course, is that Americans now have confirmation–if they needed any after the excruciating 2015-2016 election season–that Goebbelsian propaganda techniques i.e., the endless repetition of lies over and over again to turn them into the unvarnished truth are the new normal in national politics. (The Republican Party and conservative talk show luminaries like Rush Limbaugh, Alan Jones, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and their ilk have paved the road, and the Bannon-Miller cavalcade can now merrily zip along on its many lanes.) Voter fraud in the 2016 election is the new ‘Barack Obama’s missing birth certificate’ and unlike that oddity, this one is going to cost many Americans their vote. Moreover, thanks to the effrontery of some Federal courts and their judges in deciding to hold the legal line against the reckless exercise of executive power, the rhetorical barrage to relentlessly undermine the judicial system has continued; as Miller infamously put it, the President’s ‘authority will not be questioned.’

Miller read his lines from a teleprompter; he was prepared to implement the next piece of the Bannon communication strategy and he was efficient, even if affectless, while doing so. Offering refutations of his many lies is going to be exhausting, and Bannon and Miller know it. The only possible counter strategy is to put out an opposing message–one that actually speaks to alternative policies and visions–and to relentlessly repeat it on every possible occasion. It is no shame to learn from one’s enemies; indeed, one must.