Plays and Politics: Explaining Hillary’s Defeat

November 2, 2016

Theories abound on the fate of flight MH370. The Malaysian jumbo jet, which disappeared 30 months ago, has so far eluded the sagest of investigators and the smartest of technologies. It was out of control when it vanished, they are now saying.hillary-plane

As we head toward election day 2016, we are about to wonder if the same has happened to Hillary. By most accounts, her swing-state leads over Donald Trump have evaporated. Indeed, her campaign is inexplicably descending. African-American voters might not turn out. The FBI might find something in Anthony Weiner’s computer or more on The Clinton Foundation. And The Donald might keep his mouth shut for six more days.

If she loses, here are a few directions to look, for blame or thanks, your politics depending.

  • UNFAIR AND UNBALANCED  By my eye, 40 years of liberal-leaning reporting has fed 20 years of hate-filled conservative media. FOX, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, et al. are reactions to a progressive bias but, sadly, an over-reaction that has created not balance but indestructible caricatures of the opposition, notably the Clintons and so many Democratic politicos. Blame the outlets if you like, but they’ve been driven by profits, and straight news doesn’t make a margin. We have all failed to recognize the peril that has consumed our precious Fourth Estate.
  • THE ABSOLUTIST VOTER  As in nature, the climate for campaigning and governing has grown too toxic for any conventional species of politician. Thanks to a partisanized media, an environment of absolutism has emerged that few who seek or have held public office can credibly inhabit. In its demand for simple answers, the electorate has become intolerant of ambiguity, to say nothing of compromise. This is what begat Donald Trump, a highly specialized creature who found his perfect ecosystem of entertainment and expediency. Blame The Donald if you like, but know that the conditions which support him are of our own making.
  • EQUIVALENCY AS STRATEGY  These phenomena have put a premium on rhetoric and eased the rules that control its civil use. Fifty-five interruptions in one debate is somehow okay today. More important, false equivalencies have gone un-checked. Hillary’s defense of her unfaithful husband is presented as equally abhorrent to Trump’s serial abuses of women. Thus, they are both deemed scarred and the character question is neutralized. Hillary’s various scandals, many of which were propelled by fear-struck Republicans, are presented as equal to Trump’s litany of bankruptcies and law suits. Both are crooked, it is argued, so the factor of fitness to govern also gets tossed. Trump’s refusals to submit tax returns is likened to Hillary’s refusals to submit speech transcripts. Both are hypocrites, the narrative goes, so never mind the trust thing. And when a Clinton contractor is suspected of planning violence at Trump rallies, the consistent, tacit encouragement by Trump himself to commit civil unrest is repositioned as  justified tit-for-tat. The full list is much longer.
  • THE PLAYS AT WORK Using the Taxonomy of Influence Plays or the Playcaller App, it’s easy enough to identify the play each party runs to neutralize or normalize a weakness — the common freezing play, the equate, where one player invokes an idea, issue, event or symbol to help make its point. The Clinton Foundation is a pay-for-play scam, team Trump roars. He who casts stones…is Hillary’s retort. Your charities are shelters for your money, not shelters for the needy. The exchange is tantalizing, of course, and media are quick to arbitrate with well-rehearsed campaign surrogates — seldom independent experts. Whether partners or proxies, the shills exchange call outs, recasts and reflects and invariably fight to a draw. Their media hosts are loath to declare winners, except through the tones and innuendo that support their respective outlet’s leanings. The result is that no conclusions are drawn, no lessons are learned, and the frame a voter has so far adopted is further strengthened, never edified.

Some say it’s race that drives this election. Some economics or gender or the protection of the father figure. Some the preservation of privilege. They’re all good theories. But what might also explain a Clinton defeat is the abandonment of logic and critical thinking and, in its place, the inexcusable substitution of entertainment and spin.

For as much as I advocate a system of influence and strategy, the plays for the 2016 presidency have imperiled our democratic traditions. We should be keenly astute to the strategies of influence, but that does not mean we should rush to endorse or master them. More to the point, the new imperative is to understand and counter their effects and to return to a rational decision-making process. We’re otherwise flying ourselves into the ground.

Post by Alan Kelly

Photo credit: Hillary Clinton’s Facebook