No, this isn’t about the popular vote.
Hillary lost the election.
No, not because she’s a woman.
Because she opposed Bernie Sanders, the people’s champion and clear choice during the primaries. They say hindsight is 20/20, I say that’s as good a reason as any to see just how the politics of our friendly southern neighbours got so jumbled this election period. Don’t doubt for a second that the American election is of importance to Canadians; we live in an increasingly a hyper-globalized world.
The American electoral system is clearly polarized in its structure: there are Democrats, and there are Republicans. But these dichotomous labels do not represent reality. The voting population of America is made up of over one hundred million people, each an individual with specific values, interests and issues. And each of those impossibly complex minds had a choice to make: Hillary, Trump or Stay Home. This polarized environment creates an environment of “either you’re with us or you’re against us” – on both ends of the spectrum. This is not a particularly new development, but the effect was exaggerated.
There does exist a section of the population simply did not vote. This can be caused by any number of reasons, from lack of accessibility to voting locations, to contempt towards both candidates. It is important to note, however, that not voting is a form of voting. “My vote doesn’t matter” is a ludicrous notion, that denies the very idea of democracy. Not voting increases the weight of each vote cast, so non-voters are voting for their contemporaries opinions to be more heavily weighted. In an election between two highly controversial figures, are the blind-supporters truly worthy of having more weight given to their votes? It is likewise important to note that in America, with a yearly budget of over 3 trillion dollars, each vote cast for a winning candidate is worth about $300,000. As in, that’s the per-voter budget allotment over 4 years. Voting allows you to sway which way this money is spent. Not voting puts you, and your values, at the discretion of polarized voters, who, by definition, have less-than-clear beliefs about reality.
But what made this election special? One could say that it was the nature of these candidates: controversial public figures, well known characters-turned-caricatures. But this is a symptom of a deeper change in the world. The state of the media has been changing dramatically for years, but something changed in the last four years that I think it important to explore and understand, if we’re to have any hope of putting any reason and value back into politics.
The numbers are contested, and probably impossible to pin down, but most studies show somewhere in the range of 50% of adults get their news on social media- with the majority citing Facebook as the leading distributor of news in the world. If this doesn’t make you shudder, you should be worried. Not to fall into the catastrophism trope we’re over-steeped in these days, but one would do well to remember the lessons of Orwell’s 1984.
Just how does Facebook, out of millions of articles published each day, decide what it’s going to show you? Adaptive-predictive advertising software keeps track of the ludicrous amounts of data generated by our daily internet usage. Which links we click, which pages we follow, which groups we join, which groups our friends join, pages they like, links they click. They amalgamate this data real-time, and use it to predict which other links, pages and groups you might be interested in. They do this to maximize your time spent scrolling, increasing your exposure to advertisements, which is where their revenue comes from. And yes, these advertisements are tailored to you the same way.
(If you’re interested in Facebook’s idea of you, if you request a copy of your account data to be emailed to you, along with pictures and messages is a document called ads.txt, which includes keywords associated with you, and a history of ads you’ve clicked)
Lets step back for a second, shall we? Imagine you’ve been convinced by your best friends to attend the monthly meeting for a hip new cult. This cult has a simple message: nothing has ever been as important or sacred as peanut butter; the Peanutbutterians.
After the preliminary social necessities are covered, the meeting is called to order, and our valiant leader takes the floor. “We have among us, it seems, a traitor. Someone seen talking to a member of our enemies, none other than the second-in-command of the Jamians!” Gasps all around, then a stark silence. A women in the back you hadn’t noticed stands up. It is clear this is the accused. “It is true that I’ve befriended members of the Jamians, but I insist, we might learn something from them! They aren’t so different from us-” She gets cut off by a chorus of screaming, booing and jam-based insults, before being ushered from the room.
What happened was the a voice spoke out against the most extreme views of their group, spoke to the potential that indefinite fighting might not be the answer, and was promptly alienated, for attempting to shift the conversation in the forbidden direction. This has several effects- first it shifts the average extremism of the Peanutbutterians up several notches. It also decreased the potential-for-moderation several notches. It renders the ingroup more extreme, twice over. The members, like you and your friend have two choices: agree, or be alienated.
There are two inferences to be drawn here. Firstly, it is clear with knowledge of both sides that peanut butter and jam are best together. Secondly, this is the scenario, albeit an artistic exaggeration, of any polarized debate, like Democrat/Republican, except unlike PB&J, we don’t actually get to pick one or the other, both are our neighbours.
Anyone deemed slightly Democrat will be denounced by Democrat friends for any moderate expressions. Which means that:
-any group of Democrat-leaning folks have been missing out on voices of moderation, so
-these folks will only be seeking out Democrat-approved news articles and media, so
-these folks will only be suggested Democrat-approved articles and media by both friends and technology
Starting to see the vicious cycle? Facebook’s Trending News section is tailored to suit your particular cult-values. A second layer of confirmation bias is taking place; on top of you seeking out only confirming pieces of evidence in regards to your opinions, now confirmation articles are served right to you!
It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see how this process creates a reality (and to a far greater extent, appearance) of extreme polarization and isolation. Few voices of moderation, few alternate opinions, few avenues to engage the other side in constructive discourse.
The plot thickens: fake news articles surpassed real articles in engagement levels on Facebook over the course of 2016. Articles such as “Pope Francis Endorses Trump” and “Law Clear, Hillary Ineligible for Office” are both entirely fabricated, but sensational enough that they received huge amounts of engagement (but very little fact-checking).
Important aside: while this process was and is driven by capitalism and profit-focused businesses, the effect of boogeymen- media giants controlling our realities, is less supported than the chaotic system understanding, where algorithms are just focussed on wasting your time, with whatever will please you. No lizardmen, no deep conspiracy. Systemic faults.
All of this in turn created an environment of polarity, in America, on the internet, and in our classrooms, that prevented us from being able to see clearly what was going on around us, and led to one of the most contested and uncertain elections America has known.
To clarify some facts about the American Election is in order. It seems:
-Non-white individuals voting Republican increased ~5% this election.
-“White supremacists” make up somewhere between 1-2% of voters.
-~4% of Americans believe lizardmen control all governments.
-Hillary did not kill off the witnesses who we’re going to have her sent to jail.
-The Democrats lost the election when they undermined Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders again? Yeah I havn’t got to this part yet. Remember how we agreed that voters are incredibly complicated, confused and diverse individuals, with lots of issues and needs they care about? This lends itself to a simple premise: A politician with a diverse view of what diversity is, appeals to more voters. Sounds pretty simple right? To be clear: Hillary’s campaign had a less diverse view of diversity than Trump. Hillary’s campaign was primarily about race and gender. Racial diversity, and gender diversity. Trump campaigned on economic diversity, geographic diversity and opinion, political and social diversity (first amendment). The Republican campaign had a more diverse view of diversity (correctly or not) which enabled them to pick up voters who, for example, felt more threatened by issues like economic uncertainty. And it might’ve won them the election. You know who had the most diverse view of diversity (Opinion: most right everything)? Bernie. But the elections over. Bernie can’t win. I’m over it (mostly).
By falling into polarized politics, we’ve created exaggerated caricatures of the candidates. By insisting that Trump is part of the KKK, and that Hillary created ISIS, the path is being cleared for legitimate Klansmen and Warlords to run in elections. We can’t keep crying wolf on this. I’m not suggesting we normalize racism and violence, but mass protests in the streets undermine our credibility when something truly terrible does happen. Remember when we were concerned Donald wouldn’t accept the results of the election?
Stop giving racism and hatred more free advertising. Stop terrifying people. Making people feel unsafe is being reinforced from both ends. From those who commit race-crimes and those who exaggerate race-crimes, creating a toxic environment for all. No, everyone doesn’t hate everyone. No, America hasn’t reverted to old ways. We’ve been given insights into how America has looked all along, and what can happen when we stop being critical.
We need to see it exactly how it is, and avoid catastrophism: People can make this work, through unity and tolerance, and seeking understanding, or people can continue to polarizing the world into two distinct teams. Only one of these paths leads us away from violences and oppressions.
We owe it to ourselves, and each other, to look for what we missed, to engage in constructive discussions. And this should serve as a lesson that reaches farther than politics- these kinds of polarizations can happen anywhere opinions are in play. And for the love of whatever it is you care about, be conscious of where you get your news!