I'd better write this postmortem now: too many other people in my blogging ambit have been writing their own post-election takes, which means I'm going to be left behind.
As I've repeatedly said on this blog, I take no pleasure in a Trump victory, although I do deeply and vampirically savor the defeat of Hillary Clinton. Part of the reason for the latter comes down to an admittedly childish psychological dynamic: the Schadenfreude that arises from watching Wile E. Coyote endlessly defeated by the insouciant, bubble-headed Road Runner (see the cartoonish video below for a good examination of that Schadenfreude). Hillary has tried and tried to get the brass ring; now she's too old and too feeble to try again. She'll be around 73 years old if she decides to campaign in 2020—far too old to be viable, and she won't inspire any deeper level of trust, given how many hopeful Democrats she's let down.
So Hillary and her husband are done. They won't be occupying the White House ever again. This isn't to say we've heard the last from the Clinton Dynasty, however: there's still Chelsea Clinton, who's been groomed and conditioned by her parents (assuming Bill is her father and not Webb Hubbell) to be a natural pol, and Chelsea herself has already procreated, thus guaranteeing yet another generation of Clinton hellspawn to plague me until I die.
But that's not an immediate concern: Chelsea won't be a national threat for another few years. We Americans now stand at the precipice, at the edge of a new era. A man with almost no political experience has won the presidency. He's been variously described as mercurial, temperamental, flip-floppy, untrustworthy, sexist, racist, and bigoted in a hundred other ways. In the face of this resentment and anger, I side with Scott Adams, who dismisses most of these claims as mere marketing—an attempt to persuade the voter. Adams observes that much of the post-election rioters' anger is the result of their inability to deal with their own cognitive dissonance. That said, I think that none of us—pro or con—truly has a grasp on who the real Trump is, and this won't come out until he's actually in the pilot's seat and has had a year or so to prove what sort of chief executive he can be.*
I can tell you one thing, though: the media, which Trump has consistently punked and antagonized, will try to spin Trump's every move as negatively as possible, and if I've learned anything from this election, it's that I will no longer trust the mainstream "legacy" outlets to report my own name to me, let alone their "facts" and opinions about politics, or about anything that might be touched by political agendas, such as climate change, higher education, health care, etc. It's funny... the media used to sneer at bloggers, noting that bloggers were little more than armchair commentators who still relied on news outlets for their information. Since the years in which those snobby sentiments were expressed, the tables have turned, and now it's media outlets that rely on street-level, blogger-style journalism for on-the-scene videos and the like. Events get tweeted, these days, far faster than they get vetted, processed, and regurgitated by news outlets. Journalism has been democratized, and if you're worried that consumer-created testimonials represent the deterioration of journalism, I say relax: journalism has been taking a hatchet to its own integrity for decades.
The above rant comes off, perhaps, as self-righteous and self-assured, but that's not the case. The big takeaway, for me, for this election, was the discovery of how wrong I was to put any amount of trust in anything the media were saying, especially from last year to now. Like many people, I viewed Trump's candidacy as a joke. I admit now that that impression was heavily colored and conditioned by the mainstream media, i.e., the so-called MSM. Partly at the behest of commenters like King Baeksu, I started reading other sources and listening to YouTube talking heads like Styxhexenhammer666. Styx says things that I find goofy, but in general, I've found that he's been right way more often than he's been wrong. And like Scott Adams, Styx has had the balls to make predictions, not merely to engage in Monday-morning quarterbacking. I didn't like Styx at first; his nasal, droning tone and weaselly, skeletal looks were off-putting. But I listened to him anyway, and found what he was saying to be reasonable, not crazy at all. I've even come to appreciate his often-mordant wit, although I cringe whenever I hear him mispronouncing or misusing a word.**
A corollary of the above is that I was mistaken to give any credence to Nate Silver and his vaunted algorithm. Scott Adams, echoing something my buddy Charles had said a while back, noted that polls don't really predict anything—they're just a snapshot of the very recent past. In that sense, it might have been wrong to take Nate Silver's 538 site as predictive of anything. There are problems with this point of view, though. First, Silver was obviously ego-invested in looking like a guru. His site was his way of marketing his own supposed awesomeness. Next, people use statistics, including poll statistics, to plot trends and predict the future from them. One poll might not be a predictor of anything, but a series of polls can produce graphable, and thus extrapolatable, results. Further, it's a bit misleading to imply that polls are somehow irrelevant for prediction: Silver's 538 site says, flat-out, "Chance of winning" on its front page. If that's not a future-oriented phrase associated with prediction, then what the hell is? The entire point of that page was to provide an updated forecast—a FOREcast—of the candidates' prospects. So get it out of your head that Silver wasn't trying to pass himself off as a prognosticator. He definitely was, and that's definitely the reputation he garnered from his pre-2008 performance and his one-off lucky shot in 2012.*** Aside from those brief periods, his predictions have been shaky. Again, I say none of this with self-righteous smugness: these insights are all admittedly post hoc. But the upshot is that Nate Silver is, as far as I'm concerned, a charlatan whose day is now done. He largely based his algorithms on standard polling; standard polling proved—as pundits like Styx said—irredeemably biased. That's a fault of the polls, but it's also a fault of Silver's algorithm, which naively assumed lack of bias. I don't know about Silver, but I personally won't be caught making that same mistake again.
I saw this election, more and more, as a battle of doxastic practices. The term comes from philosophy—especially from such areas of study as phenomenology and epistemology. It's a fancy way of saying "how we form beliefs," which is a bit different from the issue of "how we acquire knowledge" (epistemology). When you say with great conviction, for example, "I know Trump will be an excellent president," you're speaking from your beliefs, not from actual knowledge. Your beliefs might have a great deal of evidence to support them, but one major difference between belief and knowledge is that belief has an aspect of futurity to it, a sort of faith about how things will turn out. This is true even when you're stating a belief about a current state of affairs: "I believe you're telling the truth" sounds like a present-tense avowal, but there's still futurity involved. What you're really saying is, "I believe what you're claiming will turn out to be true." Some philosophers say knowledge is merely a species of belief, and they use the phrase justified true belief to describe it.**** Whatever the case, beliefs were definitely at play this election, along with the worldviews that supported them.
One set of doxastic practices—shared, strangely enough, by liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans—involved trust that the MSM would provide some measure of truth, even if the right and the left disputed just how truthful the MSM were. Nate Silver's polls also leaned on the MSM's data, so their bias reinforced Silver's own bias (you're not so naive as to believe, at this point, that Silver was unbiased, are you?). There were subtextual assumptions about journalistic integrity and the usefulness of mathematical models to make predictions. A rival set of doxastic practices, however, was being touted by people like Styx and Scott Adams. Looking at a completely different set of indicators, these folks saw the race playing out in other ways. This set of doxastic practices focused less on math and more on the vagaries of the human heart: it was a point of view rooted more in things like psychology and anthropology than in statistics and trust-in-media.
I belonged, until a few months before the election, completely and utterly in the first doxastic camp. It wasn't until I'd sat down and listened to a whole slew of Styx's videos, and had read a slew of Scott Adams's posts, that I began to think that Trump might just win this. Meanwhile, on my Twitter feed, the insistence of some liberals on "Hillary in a landslide!" began to sound increasingly hollow. While I still wasn't on board with the "Trump in a landslide" crowd (of which Scott Adams was a member), I was no longer thinking that Hillary would win this so easily. The second set of doxastic practices had begun to take over.
A lot of people still insist that the US media (except maybe for Fox) aren't biased at all—that they report the news as fairly and objectively as possible. Well, I've got news of my own: the conservative critics have been right about bias all along, and if you still insist that significant leftward bias doesn't exist, you're either willfully blinding yourself or congenitally stupid. Liberal bias is an ambient media reality. It affects and infects the news at every level. (This applies as much to Fox as it does to the rest of the MSM, of course, although in the opposite direction.) Conclusion: if you want reliable reporting on anything, you have to look elsewhere, especially at the still-nascent, rag-tag online media that are burbling out of social-media networks and places like YouTube.
Even though my perspective was beginning, slowly, to change during the final few months of electoral campaigning, I was still shocked to see what happened on Election Day: Trump took states that I had thought would be solidly Democrat—states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. What came out, in much of the aftermath commentary, was the so-called "rust-belt revolution"—disaffected working-class folks who had gotten tired of eight years under the Democrat agenda, and who yearned for change. On Twitter, some of my non-American "tweeps" began openly to fear that a similar rust-belt phenomenon might be brewing in their own countries. Time will tell; I'm obviously the last person you should turn to for electoral prognostication, especially about a non-US country.
So now, for better or worse, we're stuck with Donald Trump as the captain of our ship of state. I still have my doubts about him—about his intellect and his temperament in particular. I don't think, as some of my tweeps do, that he's got psychological problems. Or more precisely: if Trump has psychological problems, I don't think they're any worse than whatever mental problems have plagued previous occupants of the Oval Office, whether we're talking about narcissism or something more sinister. My attitude, now, is that we need to make do with the man we've got, so I'm willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt.
One of the criticisms I take seriously is that "Trump is in this for Trump." This criticism puts The Donald on the same venal, self-aggrandizing level as Hillary Clinton. Here's the thing, though: if Trump, like many presidents before him, is out to create a legacy, then he'll be motivated to do whatever he thinks is best for the country as opposed to either leading haphazardly or leading with blind arrogance. That gives me hope.*****
As we move forward into the Trump era (God, that still sounds weird), I'll be relying less than ever on mainstream outlets for thoughts and opinions. I'm now building a small but growing network of online sources that I trust more to deliver commentary and interpretation. These sources don't make any bones about their own non-objectivity: in truth, the MSM isn't objective, either, and probably never has been. The moral difference between the MSM and these ragtag commentators is that the MSM still promotes the lie that it's engaging in objective journalism, and on some level, most of us still swallow that nonsense. I do hope Styx is right, and that the MSM is dying a slow-but-steady death. Decentralized, democratized news online is the wave of the future, and whatever it may lack in professionalism, it makes up for in general lack of spin. Boots-on-the-ground journalism is now the way to go. Don't believe me? Then get used to being fed more garbage by the palace-guard media. I've learned my lesson: my doxastic practices were wrong; others' were right.
ADDENDUM: be sure to read Victor Davis Hanson's "Why Trump Won."
*Let me stop you right there if your reply is going to be, "But Trump's been a TV personality for years! Of course we already know who the real Trump is!" Two responses to that: (1) telling me that "he's been a TV personality for years" doesn't give me any reason to believe we have ever seen the real Donald Trump; (2) what's at play here is Trump's character as president, not his character as CEO. As is true for any first-time president, we have no idea what his presidential chops are.
**Styx mistakenly says "overarcing" when he means "overarching." He once pronounced gyrating with a hard "g": "guy-rating." He also routinely misuses the word denigrate, which means "speak or write damagingly of." He'll say something like "this current trend denigrates Hillary's chances," which is simply incorrect usage: he should say erodes. I've heard him make other silly gaffes as well. Styx says he's self-employed as a writer and editor, and generally speaking, he's normally quite literate-sounding and capable of stringing together very complex chains of clauses in his videos. I'm actually pretty impressed by his facility with language, but he's not perfect. None of us is, really.
***If you're a Silverite who doesn't want to hear me say mean things about poor Uncle Nate, you can continue to wallow pitifully in your confirmation bias by reading this generally sympathetic Reddit link. Silver writes a partial mea culpa here, although it's not enough to evoke any sympathy in me, given its occasionally arrogant tone. For myself, I'm pretty much done with Silver. Charles recommended that I read his book, The Signal and the Noise, and I do still hope to do that because I respect Charles's opinion. But I'll be reading it with a huge block of salt strapped to my head. Styx thinks that, next time around, Silver needs to hire an anthropologist onto his team if he's hoping to increase his predictive accuracy.
****Knowledge, in contrast with belief, is rooted in fact. You can know the sun is shining if you're out in sunlight; you can believe the sun is shining if you're inside a deep cavern, but a spelunker has to assume several unknowable factors before she can say, "I know the sun is shining up there." (Maybe a war occurred while she was underground, and now dust is blotting out the sun, creating eternal night. Is she sure this isn't the case? Can she be?)
*****Yeah, yeah: you could say that a similar selfish, legacy-oriented impulse has motivated other presidents. Probably so. But why should that be less true of Trump?