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Friday, December 29, 2017

Perception management

This post is not about taxes. It's about perception management.

But let's start with the tax bill. Here are a couple of tweets from Kurt Eichenwald:
Here are the Texas Republicans I know who have discovered, to their dismay, that they are NOT in the 1% (they thought they were) and their taxes are going up A LOT: 1. Lawyers 2. Doctors 3. Dentists
Many don't understand how the class system works. The truly wealthy live on rents, interest, investment. People who work are not in that class, even if they are very well-paid.

As we know, any tax relief is transient for those not truly wealthy; the permanent cuts are solely for those who live on rents, interest, investment.
Ive now heard from small business owners I know that they have discovered in fury that their taxes are going up because of the GOP bill. More proof that the "I want a win, let's rush a bill in a couple of weeks changing the entire tax code" is not a good strategy. Policy matters.
This anecdote from a DU reader sounds a similar note. The reader had a conversation with a banker friend, a conservative living in Georgia:
After the closing, he told me that his bank, a small local entity, was planning on marketing the hell out of equity lines of credit and second mortgages in 2018.

I asked him if anyone had gotten the message, that the new tax law expressly eliminates the interest deductibility on new and existing home equity loans. He looked at me incredulously, and admitted he hadn't heard that bit of news.

He offered that, perhaps, maybe, there would be some sort of offset hard-wired into the bill that would balance the scales in this regard. I told him, "nope".
This banker's perception of the bill did not match the Thing-In-Itself. He probably watches a lot of Fox.

Not long ago, in the pages of TPM, Josh Marshall and John Judis had a debate over the tax bill. Judis does not think that the bill will necessarily hurt Republicans in 2018...
Finally, I hear liberals and Democrats pointing to polls showing the tax bill is unpopular. I distrust these polls, especially when they concern voters’ opinion of a complex piece of legislation. Whether a policy is popular or not is usually settled during campaigns when the candidates try to interpret its results. What I am suggesting is that during the campaign next year, the Republicans will not be at a huge, or perhaps even a significant, disadvantage because they passed this bill. If the economy is still perking, they might even be able to turn the bill into a net political plus.
Marshall's response:
Now, the reply to all this is that whatever the bill’s unpopularity now, starting next year people are going to start seeing more money in their paychecks. They’ll see that it really was a tax cut for them too and their opinions will change.

Is that probable?

Not really.

We have a recent example, the legislation Obama and the Democrats passed in the midst of the financial crisis included temporary middle income tax cuts larger than the current cuts in this bill. Politically speaking it made no difference at all. Indeed, most people didn’t even realize they’d gotten a tax cut.
Bingo. Without realizing it, Marshall has pinpointed the problem. THE problem.

At this point, this post ceases to be about the recent tax bill. As I said at the start, I'm here to talk about perception management.

Most people still don't understand that Obama's stimulus package was largely a matter of tax cuts. Most people still think that the stim package was a massive government make-work program which created few jobs. That perception, wrongheaded as it is, drove the creation of the Tea Party, a powerful movement populated with Americans who sincerely believed that their taxes had gone up.

In 2010, polls revealed that the vast majority of Americans refused to see that Obama had cut their taxes, even though he demonstrably had.
Here's the poll question: "In general, do you think the Obama Administration has increased taxes for most Americans, decreased taxes for most Americans or have they kept taxes the same for most Americans?"

The answer:
• 24 percent of respondents said they INCREASED taxes.
• 53 percent said they kept taxes the same
• And 12 percent said taxes were decreased.
Can we criticize Obama for poor messaging? He mentioned the tax cuts in many speeches. Not good enough, apparently: The number of people who wrongly thought that taxes had increased was double the number who knew taxes had gone down.

Perhaps Obama would have done better if he had pulled some Trumpian stunt.

For example, suppose Obama had "accidentally" uttered these words in front of a hot mic: "These dumb motherfuckers don't realize that I cut their taxes." Of course, there would have been a national fainting spell over the horrifying spectacle of a president who uttered the word "motherfucker." The Republicans would have demanded impeachment on that basis alone.

But: The sheer repetition of that sound bite would have driven the message home. At the end of the day, far more than 12 percent would have told pollsters that taxes were decreased.

In that sense, Trump's obnoxious behavior has a certain genius to it.

In the present case, many people will see tax rates go down -- temporarily. At the same time, deductions and health care premiums will rise -- permanently. Will the citizenry put it all together? Will they understand that they are losing money in the long run?

I'd like to think that Americans are smart enough to comprehend such things. But how can I? I've just shown you the polling evidence from 2010: More people believed Fox News propaganda than believed the evidence of their own personal finances.

Let's return, for a moment, to the more recent tax legislation. Forget what the polls are telling you now. By November of 2018, the tax bill will work to the benefit of Republicans. Present criticism of the bill will be used to buttress the "fake news" meme. Such is the power of propaganda.

When viewing side-by-side pictures of Trump's inauguration crowd and Obama's crowd, Trump supporters say that the Trump crowd is larger, despite the evidence right in front of their own eyeballs. Millions of people who don't know what a computer server is think that Hillary committed a crime when she had one set up. Millions of people still think that Hillary's "30,000 emails" were "bleached," even though the FBI recovered most of those messages and found them to be piffle. Many people think that Hillary sent classified messages on her email system, even though she never did. Many people truly believed that she was at death's door, health-wise, during the campaign, even though she wasn't. (I expect her to outlive me.) Many people still believe in Pizzagate.

Many in this country believe that, in 2016, Comey favored Hillary and treated Trump unfairly. That's like saying Russia invaded Germany in 1940. Yet people buy it.

Trump and his supporters keep repeating that Rosenstein is a Democrat, or that Mueller is controlled by the imaginary Great Dem Conspiracy, or that the Russia investigation is the creation of a Great "Globalist" Conspiracy. Some right-wing congressfolk are actually starting to talk about the "Globalist" bogeyman in public. What's next? Are we going to see references to the Illuminati on the House floor? Are Republican senators going to warn the world that Queen Elizabeth is a space lizard?

And now Trump wants to bring back birtherism. I'm not kidding. Does Trump truly believe that Obama was born in Kenya? I doubt it. But he wants Obama to be so perceived.

Fox News and the Republican media machine could convince half the country of any proposition, however absurd, if they put sufficient resources behind the campaign. They can convince a huge chunk of the country that white people glow in the dark. That really buff dudes can fly by flapping their arms. That Roy Moore didn't just win in Alabama but also in three neighboring states. That Social Security creates tooth decay. Anything.

How can we have a democracy when the managers of perception routinely turn reality into silly putty?
This post puts me in a dark place, but the honest answer is you can't. It's why freedom of speech and the press is essential to a functioning democracy. It is so the government cannot control access to reality and so the citizens can be informed enough to make a reasonable assessment of their leaders when it comes time to vote. If we cannot discern reality, we cannot have a healthy democracy. It's why the slow capitulation of journalism to "both sides" and access above all us is eroding our country. When journalism loses sight of its job, which is to inform its readers above all else, then a democratic society cannot properly function.

But don't worry. As we all saw yesterday, the NYT is ON IT when it "interviewed" (transcribed) Trump. And don't dare criticize them because we got valuable information from kissing Trump's ass and hearing him ramble! I mean, who among us didn't know he was a crazy, incoherent liar?

Happy New Year!
Maybe we can get a truly hard hitting "Rural, white Trump voters still support Trump" article soon?
The print and broadcast news media stabbed Al Gore in the back, repeatedly, in 2000.

Not Fox News.

Not AM Hate Radio.

But supposed legitimate entities like the New York Times and Washington Post.
Americans approved the Iraq Oil Grab thanks in part to Judith Miller Stenography at the Times.
The perceptions you write about are the result of the "Mainstream News Media" putting ad revenue before country. What better way to attract readers than reporting on the Great White Dopes's lunacy and Robert Mueller's investigation. I can see it, editorial and production meeting across America deciding Trump would generate lurid news items therefore lets get him elected.
If the 2016 election proved anything it is that political communications have moved on and that the MSM is largely irrelevant. If you can micro-target voters with personalised propaganda via social media, and do so outside of any political sourcing or financing regulations, then you can achieve just about whatever political goals you want.
The NY Times has a lot to answer for. Raines, described the shape of Pres Bill Clinton's penis in a bid to encourage further accusers (the type who had obviously never seen it). That fucking Safire, PR man, with his weekly guaranteed predictions that Whitewater would soon prove to be big, big, really big. The historical Miller, Tierney, the moron Brooks, Ross Douchebag, the racist Brett Stevens, their latest hire. The horrible Dowd, she of the nitwit brother.

All those sneekily reactionary, or grudge-carrying book reviews. One of the funniest recent idiocies was getting Dershowitz to review Scalia. Going on about what a fine wit and great genius Scalia was. Great guy. It elicited two letters they printed, in the Book Review, both scathing, one pointing out that Scalia was nothing more than a conman doing the world's easiest job, serving the rich. So, at least there's that.

Aww hell, I'm ashamed to be a subscriber.

The consistency is so clear. Lots of Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. Served up in a steaming mass almost every day for that interesting demographic, the few remaining readers of what used to be called "news." Folks like me who will not be reached by social media, except by reading about it in a blog.
Before there was a Fox News, Rush and co. were able to convince many that Clinton's tax hike that affected only the top bracket was a tax hike on everyone.

The important thing to notice is the 'and co.' part, since Rush was only a mouthpiece for a widespread propaganda network. He was just one of the earliest recipients of the talking points put out on blast faxes, so he was a kind of bellweather.

These days you can see the evolution of the method, when some dozens of commentators begin using the same rw talking points on the same day. It is well coordinated.

"This post puts me in a dark place..."

Ditto. I'm all about being Cassandra, but the people -- your readers -- need hope!
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