Divide and Rule

President Trump is operating from an ancient political playbook.

Gail: Perhaps my single favorite revelation was that our self-made billionaire was earning $200,000 a year from the family empire when he was a 3-year-old. Do you think all the nation’s toddlers are now eyeing their parents and wondering, “O.K., where’s my income stream?”

.. The idea that the president is self-made is almost as laughable as the notion that he writes (or, for that matter, reads) his own books.

..  The Democrats need to come up with a compelling, forward-looking agenda for the 2020 elections. Demanding an end to tax loopholes would allow them to talk about real change for the future while eviscerating Donald Trump at the same time.

.. Do Trump fans care about this stuff? Thanks to our colleagues, we know he’s a phony billionaire who represents all the things they in theory hate about the New York economy. But he’s already run a populist anti-immigration campaign that managed to jump right over the undocumented workers he’s hired.

.. Mainly, though, they don’t care because it’s an investigation that dwells on the past, while the presidency is about the present and the future. And while the rest of us were busy tearing our hair out over Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the unemployment rate dipped to its lowest level since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, the Dow hit another record and trade disaster was averted when a new Nafta agreement was reached by Mexico, Canada and the U.S.

All of which is to say that you’re right. Democrats really do need to come up with a forward-looking agenda for 2020, because if all they have to talk about are the Trump family’s tax dodges from 30 years ago, or if they try to relitigate the 2016 election, they will lose again.

.. Back in days of yore the media was mainly TV networks and big newspapers that wanted to communicate with a large audience. Now the stars are — people who yell. Blogs, Twitter — we’ve been painfully aware since 2016 that power belongs to whoever can get their followers really, really worked up.
.. There’s a lot of talk about divisions between left and center among the Democrats, but it doesn’t compare to what’s happened to the Republicans. It’s really two parties, with the establishment so terrified of the Trump train, they’re afraid to peep.
.. I wish the G.O.P. were more divided: One of the most depressing political facts of our day is the extent to which Trump has captured the party, leaving conservatives like me who oppose him feeling politically homeless.
.. But you’re right. It does feel different this time. And I think the difference is that the fights aren’t really about policy. They’re about our personal experiences and deepest fears.
.. By the end a vote for Kavanaugh was a vote for a guy who went out of his way to rally the troops by turning the nomination into a partisan us-against-the-Democrats battle. I realize the Democrats were not exactly working above the fray themselves. But the Supreme Court is about transcending partisanship. That’s supposed to be the whole point. And if the justices don’t always live up to that goal, that doesn’t mean you pick a new guy who’s given up the fight before he starts... something tells me that if the nominee were Amy Coney Barrett, Democrats would look for a reason to postpone the vote, hope to retake the Senate and then … take revenge for Merrick Garland by refusing to hold a vote.

.. Gail: Not necessarily agreeing, but Merrick Garland is an open sore. Particularly since Mitch McConnell keeps gloating about it.

.. One thing we can probably agree on is that the process managed to degrade and demean just about everyone who participated in it. Blasey never intended to go public, but Washington can’t keep a secret so her name got leaked. I doubt Kavanaugh intended to go on the attack quite the way he did, but, yet he was advised by White House counsel Don McGahn to “channel his outrage and indignation.”

.. The news media reported stories that otherwise violated normal journalistic standards. And most senators made fools of themselves one way or another: The low point for me was Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, who famously lied about his military service, lecturing Kavanaugh on the legal concept of “false in one thing, false in everything,” as I noted in my column.

.. my constant preoccupations: the way this country is organized to disenfranchise urban voters and empower people from rural areas.

.. The 59 million people in California and New York are going to elect Democratic senators. But they’ll be completely canceled out if the less than two million people in Wyoming and Montana decide to go Republican.

The Case Against Google (nytimes.com)

Content recommendation algorithms reward engagement metrics. One of the metrics they reward is getting a user’s attention, briefly. In the real world, someone can get my attention by screaming that there is a fire. Belief that there is a fire and interest in fire are not necessary for my attention to be grabbed by a warning of fire. All that is needed is a desire for self-preservation and a degree of trust in the source of the knowledge.

Compounding the problem, since engagement is improved and people make money off of videos, there is an incentive in place encouraging the proliferation of attention grabbing false information.

In a better world, this behavior would not be incentivized. In a better world, reputation metrics would allow a person to realize that the boy who cried wolf was the one who had posted the attention grabbing video. Humanity has known for a long time that there are consequences for repeated lying. We have fables about that, warning liars away from lying.

I don’t think making that explicit, like it is in many real world cases of lying publicly in the most attention attracting way possible, would be unreasonable.

.. Google recommends that stuff to me, and I don’t believe in it or watch it. Watch math videos, get flat earth recommendations. Watch a few videos about the migration of Germanic tribes in Europe during the decline of the Roman Empire, get white supremacist recommendations.
My best guess? They want you to sit and watch YouTube for hours, so they recommend stuff watched by people who sit and watch YouTube for hours.
This stuff reminds of the word “excitotoxins,” which is based on a silly idea yet seems to capture the addictive effect of stimulation. People are stimulated by things that seem novel, controversial, and dangerous. People craving stimulation will prefer provocative junk over unsurprising truth.

Facebook Overhauls News Feed to Focus on What Friends and Family Share

I very much hope this isn’t just words. The core problem, IMO, is that content that makes us angry, anxious or jealous is a much better driver of clicks than content that makes us happy. I’m sure Facebook knows this. If they really mean it, they’ll accept that they will make less money as a result of this change. It would be the right decision in the long term, but the short term will hurt.