In “Online and Scared” The Moustache of Wisdom says a critical mass of our interactions has moved to a realm where we’re all connected but no one’s in charge. Mr. Cohen, in “Streep vs. Trump for America,” says Americans have been duped by a showman, but to unseat him, liberals must reckon with how they lost sight of their country. Would that be because we don’t pander to racists, homophobes and neonazis? Mr. Bruni, in “The Dark Magic of Kellyanne Conway,” says Donald Trump’s cheeriest defender is a political wonder. Well, that’s one thing you could call her… Here’s TMOW:
And so it came to pass that in the winter of 2016 the world hit a tipping point that was revealed by the most unlikely collection of actors: Vladimir Putin, Jeff Bezos, Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg and the Macy’s department store. Who’d have thunk it?
And what was this tipping point?
It was the moment when we realized that a critical mass of our lives and work had shifted away from the terrestrial world to a realm known as “cyberspace.” That is to say, a critical mass of our interactions had moved to a realm where we’re all connected but no one’s in charge.
After all, there are no stoplights in cyberspace, no police officers walking the beat, no courts, no judges, no God who smites evil and rewards good, and certainly no “1-800-Call-If-Putin-Hacks-Your-Election.” If someone slimes you on Twitter or Facebook, well, unless it is a death threat, good luck getting it removed, especially if it is done anonymously, which in cyberspace is quite common.
And yet this realm is where we now spend increasing hours of our day. Cyberspace is now where we do more of our shopping, more of our dating, more of our friendship-making and sustaining, more of our learning, more of our commerce, more of our teaching, more of our communicating, more of our news-broadcasting and news-seeking and more of our selling of goods, services and ideas.
It’s where both our president-elect and the leader of ISIS can communicate with equal ease with tens of millions of their respective followers through Twitter — without editors, fact-checkers, libel lawyers or other filters.
And, I would argue, 2016 will be remembered as the year when we fully grasped just how scary that can be — how easy it was for a presidential candidate to tweet out untruths and half-truths faster than anyone could correct them, how cheap it was for Russia to intervene on Trump’s behalf with hacks of Democratic operatives’ computers and how unnerving it was to hear Yahoo’s chief information security officer, Bob Lord, say that his company still had “not been able to identify” how one billion Yahoo accounts and their sensitive user information were hacked in 2013.
Even President Obama was taken aback by the speed at which this tipping point tipped. “I think that I underestimated the degree to which, in this new information age, it is possible for misinformation, for cyberhacking and so forth, to have an impact on our open societies,” he told ABC News’s “This Week.”
At Christmas, Amazon.com taught yet more traditional retailers how hard the cybertipping point has hit retailing. Last week, Macy’s said it was slashing 10,000 jobs and closing dozens of stores because, according to The Wall Street Journal, “Macy’s hasn’t been able to solve consumers’ shift to online shopping.”
At first Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, insisted that fake news stories carried by Facebook “surely had no impact” on the election and that saying so was “a pretty crazy idea.” But in a very close election it was not crazy at all.
Facebook — which wants all the readers and advertisers of the mainstream media but not to be saddled with its human editors and fact-checkers — is now taking more seriously its responsibilities as a news purveyor in cyberspace.
Alan S. Cohen, chief commercial officer of the cybersecurity firm Illumio (I am a small shareholder), noted in an interview on siliconAngle.com that the reason this tipping point tipped now was because so many companies, governments, universities, political parties and individuals have concentrated a critical mass of their data in enterprise data centers and cloud computing environments.
Ten years ago, said Cohen, bad guys did not have the capabilities to get at all this data and extract it, but “now they do,” and as more creative tools like big data and artificial intelligence get “weaponized,” this will become an even bigger problem. It’s a huge legal, moral and strategic problem, and it will require, said Cohen, “a new social compact” to defuse.
Work on that compact has to start with every school teaching children digital civics. And that begins with teaching them that the internet is an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information, where they need to bring skepticism and critical thinking to everything they read and basic civic decency to everything they write.
A Stanford Graduate School of Education study published in November found “a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the internet. Students, for example, had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles or identifying where information came from. … One assessment required middle schoolers to explain why they might not trust an article on financial planning that was written by a bank executive and sponsored by a bank. The researchers found that many students did not cite authorship or article sponsorship as key reasons for not believing the article.”
Prof. Sam Wineburg, the lead author of the report, said: “Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite to be true.”
In an era when more and more of our lives have moved to this digital realm, that is downright scary.
Next up we have Mr. Cohen:
There are economic tensions in the United States, insufficient to explain the election of a petulant egomaniac to the highest office in the land, and there’s an all-out culture war that does explain it.
Donald Trump will become president next week because a sufficient number of Americans have had it with the confining, tiptoeing, politically correct form of speech and interaction favored by liberal elites on the coasts who believe they hold a monopoly on wisdom and the only key to progress.
It’s the culture, stupid.
The issues that afflict the economy — rising inequality, stagnant middle-class incomes, marginalization — are not enough to explain Americans’ decision to leap off a cliff and entrust their fate to a collection of billionaires and ex-generals under the diktat of a thin-skinned showman of conspicuous “cruelty and ignorance,” in the words of Garrison Keillor.
Meryl Streep, in a speech at the Golden Globes awards ceremony, waded into this culture war. She was Hollywood lambasting the people’s choice. Without naming the president-elect, she singled out his cruelty, as expressed in Trump’s mocking imitation during the campaign of a reporter with a disability. They did that in the Middle Ages, you know.
Trump, goaded, is like a child whose candy has been taken away. He throws a fit. His version of a scream is a tweet (or in this case several) calling Streep “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood,” and a “Hillary flunky,” and claiming — grotesquely — that he never mocked the reporter, my colleague Serge Kovaleski. Trump finished up with his usual gibe at the “very dishonest media.”
Trump’s psyche is no great riddle. He’s a study in neediness. Adulation is what he craves; admonishment he cannot abide. Trafficking in untruths and conspiracies, he calls the press that he secretly venerates dishonest for pointing this out. That’s called transference. Soon he will have at his disposal far more potent weapons than Twitter to assuage his irascibility and channel his cruelty. It is doubtful that he will resist them over time. There is rational cause for serious alarm. If the world was anchored by America, it is about to be unmoored.
Streep did an important thing in pointing to how Trump’s bullying allows open season for everyone’s inner bigot. A time of violence is upon us. She did another important thing in saying that, “We need the principled press to hold power to account.” If Trump sees himself as America’s “voice,” every countervoice is needed, loud and clear and persistent.
But will Streep’s words have any impact with Trump’s tens of millions of supporters, or will they redouble these people’s anger toward elites in Hollywood and other centers of dogmatic liberalism?
Meghan McCain, a conservative commentator and daughter of Senator John McCain, tweeted that, “This Meryl Streep speech is why Trump won. And if people in Hollywood don’t start recognizing why and how — you will get him re-elected.” She has a point. Trump lost the popular vote in November by 2.8 million. But outside California and New York, he won by 3 million. That’s America’s story in a nutshell.
Getting America out of its mess begins with the acknowledgment that New York and California do not have a stranglehold on truth, any more than Kansas and Missouri do. Out there in God-fearing gun country there are plenty of smart, upstanding Americans who, as Mark Lilla of Columbia University put it, paraphrasing Bernie Sanders, are “sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.”
Lilla, in the same important piece, identified the “moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message” as a principal cause of the Democrats’ defeat; and he also called out a “generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups” — specifically the working-class whites who voted overwhelmingly for Trump.
For this, of course, Lilla was widely vilified by the thought police of identity politics. His colleague at Columbia University, Katherine Franke, suggested he was doing the “nefarious background work of making white supremacy respectable. Again.” That’s an outrageous allegation but not one untypical of our times.
It’s not only the alt-right that wants to silence dissenting views. The alt-left is in full mobilization. Trump is a travesty. But just denouncing him without understanding him leads nowhere. As Michael Wolff pointed out in Newsweek, where liberals see an attack on free speech, Trump supporters see the media stifling “real speech.”
The weeks since Nov. 8 have demonstrated Trump’s contempt for his supporters. He wants to “drain the swamp” through nepotism, empower the marginalized through the coddling of the superrich, and toss the ethics of hard-working heartland Americans out the window of that gold-daubed apartment atop his tower. It’s been a stomach-turning display.
With time, more Americans will side with Streep. They will see that a mean, shallow actor has duped them. But to finish with Trump, liberals will also have to reckon with how they lost sight of their country.
Stuff it up your butt, Roger. I’m sick unto death of being told I’m not a “real American” because I’m not a gun-humping, screeching member of y’all-Qaeda. Now here’s Mr. Bruni:
If you happened to watch CNN on Friday morning, you saw a brutal exchange about Russian hacking between a righteous anchor with steam coming out of his ears and a right-wing operative with ice in her veins.
“Chris Cuomo bulldozes Kellyanne Conway,” said a headline in one of the many publications so impressed by the encounter that they reported on it.
If you happened to watch CNN on Monday morning, you saw that Conway was actually back with Cuomo for more.
Surprised? Then you don’t know the first thing about her.
She’s no mere mouthpiece, no measly surrogate. She’s more like the David Blaine of political spin, intent on working feats of magic that few others would attempt and surviving situations that would cripple any ordinary mortal. He catches a bullet in his mouth; she makes Donald Trump sound like a humble servant of the common man. He lasts 44 days in a plexiglass case over the Thames; she lasts 40 minutes with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.
She reunited with Cuomo not just to pooh-pooh Vladimir Putin’s misdeeds anew but to answer Meryl Streep’s complaint about the way Trump once mocked a disabled journalist. And she came up with that gem about disregarding the president-elect’s words and judging him instead by what’s in his heart, which she apparently knows to be good. She has done Blaine one better. She’s a stuntwoman and a cardiologist.
As the cabinet nominees submit to their inquisitions and Trump holds his first news conference since the election, there’s a surfeit of political spectacle this week.
But for sheer, jaw-dropping wonder, I doubt that any of it will improve on a typical Conway television interview, which is a circus of euphemisms, a festival of distractions and a testament to the stamina of a willed smile. She looks cheery when attacking, even cheerier when attacked and absolutely radiant when descending into a bog of half-truths and fictions. It’s always sunny on Conway’s side of the street.
And it’s always a landslide when her candidate wins. She describes Trump’s victory as a mandate — never mind its narrowness or all that Russian nefariousness — and dismisses his critics by citing their inability to see that heady triumph coming. They had no foresight. Now they have no grounds.
Waving away what Hollywood stars said about Trump at the Golden Globes, she told Cuomo: “That place, this network, frankly, all believed the election would turn out a different way.”
She also questioned why Streep would go after Trump and not the “four young African-American adults in Chicago screaming racial anti-Trump expletives” at a disabled young man in that chilling Facebook Live video. Is this the new bar for taking Trump to task? You can’t do it until you’ve completed a roll call of every bully in the news?
“Saturday Night Live” is transfixed by Conway, but they don’t get her quite right. As portrayed by Kate McKinnon, she experiences pinpricks of horror over abetting Trump’s ascent. The real-life Conway shows no such remorse. She’s exultant to the point of taunting Hillary Clinton’s aides for their defeat, as she did when she appeared with them at Harvard in December for an election post-mortem.
That was the occasion of my favorite Conway-ism. She was asked if Trump’s baseless insistence that he would have won the popular vote except for millions of illegal ballots constituted presidential behavior.
“He’s the president-elect, so that’s presidential behavior,” she said.
Many journalists don’t get Conway quite right, either, assigning her more power in Trump World than she has. When you’re doing that much TV, you can be in only so many meetings.
What she possesses is a showmanship that Trump can’t help appreciating. I know dozens of people who despise her politics but are mesmerized by her performances. She’s the Streep of “Fox & Friends” (of “Morning Joe,” too) and a perfect emblem of these polarized times, when no claim is too laughable or denial too ludicrous if it counters the supposed insidiousness of the other side.
She’s also the gold-haired standard for a rising generation of unflappable partisans. I imagine that Kayleigh McEnany, the Trump apologist on CNN, studies her moves the way a backup quarterback watches the starter. Should Conway go down with a broken fibula, McEnany’s ready to lead the drive.
The Trump booster Anthony Scaramucci is perhaps another of the sorceress’ apprentices. With MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle last week, he was Conway-esque in pivoting from the questions he was asked to the answers he preferred to give.
But he needs practice: I heard nothing at the altitude of Conway’s claim this week that the Democrats demanding more financial information from Trump’s nominees were “political peeping Toms.” What pith. What alliteration. What a year we’re in for.