Ideology’s Scale Problems

The Washington Post has an editorial by Paul Waldman about one of the most boggling questions of the campaign: how much coverage is devoted to Hillary Clinton’s corruption problem, compared to Trumps.

The big difference is that there are an enormous number of reporters who get assigned to write stories about those issues regarding Clinton. The story of something like the Clinton Foundation gets stretched out over months and months with repeated tellings, always with the insistence that questions are being raised and the implication that shady things are going on, even if there isn’t any evidence at a particular moment to support that idea.

When it comes to Trump, on the other hand, we’ve seen a very different pattern. Here’s what happens: A story about some kind of corrupt dealing emerges, usually from the dogged efforts of one or a few journalists; it gets discussed for a couple of days; and then it disappears. Someone might mention it now and again, but the news organizations don’t assign a squad of reporters to look into every aspect of it, so no new facts are brought to light and no new stories get written.

The end result of this process is that because of all that repeated examination of Clinton’s affairs, people become convinced that she must be corrupt to the core. It’s not that there isn’t plenty of negative coverage of Trump, because of course there is, but it’s focused mostly on the crazy things he says on any given day.

But the truth is that you’d have to work incredibly hard to find a politician who has the kind of history of corruption, double-dealing, and fraud that Donald Trump has. The number of stories which could potentially deserve hundreds and hundreds of articles is absolutely staggering.

He then goes on to a lengthy list of amazing, gratuitous corruption stories.

Now some of this is just story-telling fallacies. Trump is viewed as “the rude” character and he is covered with an eye to those foibles, whereas Clinton is viewed as “the slick” character so coverage of her is about that, and we call it balance.

But there really seems something more important to this weird proportion. There’s an old Washington saying about press coverage of scandals “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover up.” And it seems if you instead blatantly commit a crime, and just refuse to talk about it but don’t really deny it… the media (and more fundamentally, the viewers they are trying to attract) get bored and don’t want to hear anymore about it.

If you claim innocence however, now there’s an investigation to find the truth of the matter. And there’s innumerable stories comparing your statements about how innocent you are with new allegations of what might be true who knows I’m just saying.

This seems more broadly related to ideology’s greatest power, which is to destroy your reputation. Why is this so important? Because actually ideology can’t do much else in many cases. Our nation’s political ideology can declare Trump a corrupt businessman… and then what? It doesn’t cause him to lose the election automatically, or to shrivel up and die, or deprive him of any of his billions millions. If you just take the hit, you can push through it.

Whereas, if you are still trying to stay in an ideology’s good graces – if you think you aren’t corrupt – then the gatekeepers can make you dance. They can put you through innumerable hoops trying to prove you are still pure and good, be it in the form of formal prosecutions or media investigations or popular mandates via elections. Nothing Hillary Clinton will ever do will prove to those that doubt her that she isn’t corrupt, but all her attempts to do so will generate a ton of stories to pick apart. The good-government gatekeepers become much more obsessed about policing those who claim to adhere to the ideology for sufficient purity, than they do for fighting off those who openly oppose them.


So where else is this familiar. Basically, everywhere.

Republican voters become obsessed about finding the RINO’s who claim to be good Republicans, but might have some unorthodoxies.

Social justice advocates expend far more effort on members of their tribe who claim to be good allies, but have committed various sins (like wearing an offensive shirt) than on the millions who continue to vote for racist and sexist policies and don’t care about their approval.

Democrats are constantly furious about leftists who say they will vote for a Green Party candidate (in numbers as great as 2%) and endlessly analyze their rationale… so they can ignore the hundreds of millions of poor people voting against them, or the even larger numbers of people who don’t vote for them at all.

One of the most hilarious things about the 2016 Republican Primary would be how much some candidates would have their statements picked over for racist meanings… and then Trump just appears and says “ban all Muslims.” The critical world just did not know how to respond to such overt expressions. We see basically the same dynamic for his corruption. Slowly picking apart details of the secret evils of a candidate who wants your approval is much more satisfying than “this guy is a bad guy, he said so openly, now to let the voters decide.”

 

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