Succesful Institutions and the Republican Party

With Ted Cruz dropping out of the Republican race for the President, Donald Trump is left as the only truly viable candidate for the nomination. While this may be the will of the American voter, it is a failure of the Republican Party as an institution.

The Republican Party guides conservative thought into a useful and effective organization which seeks to advance those political interests, or it did at one time. The arc of this presidential election so far has mirrored the destruction of the Republican Party as an effective institution. As the party’s split, largely along racial lines in the 1960’s, as discussed in an earlier post, the GOP became the sole political party advocating conservativism. Since that time they have had an increasingly catastrophic failure in branding and while at the same time becoming sclerotic. While Republicans won national elections 7 times since 1968, they have failed to expand their party, they have stood still while the country has not.

They have failed to counter the argument that they are a party for wealthy white men. The evolution of American demographics have doomed the party due to its lack of foresight. Republicans were going to have a difficult time winning the Presidential election regardless of who there candidate was, simply because homosexuals, young people, women, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans do not vote Republican in large enough numbers.

There other major failure is more recent. In an effort to overcome their demographic challenges the Republican Party co-opted and then ignored grassroots conservatives. The Tea Party was a robust movement with both major funding and an active and motivated core of supporters. Republicans gleefully allowed Tea Party candidates to run on Republican tickets in order to win seats in local and statewide elections and then failed (and over-promised) to enact their reforms. This has led to disillusionment with the Republican “establishment”.

The final major failure of the Republican Party has been cowardice. Key figures in the Party have allowed someone who represents both of their major flaws to become the front runner without disavowing him. Donald Trump has doubled down on their branding failure by representing the GOP’s old base of constituents with xenophobia and racism AND by railing against the Establishnent’s failure to take seriously the reforms demanded by conservative activists.

Some responsibility lies with the Obama administration for failing to take the Republican view into consideration and passing the Stimulus package and the Affordable Care Act without many and any Republican votes, thus alienating the group further. But the majority of the blame falls squarely on the Republican Party for allowing a duplicitous demagogue to hijack their institution.

The GOP is a failed institution, one which now, with the face of their Party as Donald Trump, no longer even supports reasonable conservative values. The real problem here is that it is bad for the nation to not have an organization that can properly harness major political thought but also to not have any counter for the Democratic Party. It is not good to have large swaths of the government controlled by a single party that does not have to refine its message, or moderate its most extreme impulses. Democrats will not win on the strength of their ideals, but on the basis of having no organized opposition. Ted Cruz was a poor candidate in this sense as well, but Donald Trump has signaled the death-knell of the Republican Party, and we will not have to wait until Election Day to discover that.

Privacy and Newsworthiness

New norms of privacy are being developed in our intensely digital society. As people place more of themselves online they open themselves up to ever-greater intrusion from cyber pathways. The current young generation has been accused of narcissism for their desire to document their whole lives on Facebook and Snapchat, but the desire still remains to conceal themselves as well as protect themselves from prying eyes. Attempts to reconcile the increased vulnerability have been highlighted in litigation (the Supreme Court ruled that smartphones are different in kind from items like wallets because of the personal information they contain), by doxxing and other phenomena of mob justice online, by the backlash against NSA spying, and by the increasingly personal approach of the news media.

Recently, a court sided with former wrestler and entertainer Hulk Hogan against Gawker media, a purveyor of serious news and commentary, but also of tabloid-style scandalousness and rumor, because it released a sex tape it had obtained of Hulk Hogan and a friend’s wife. In a deposition a senior editor for Gawker facetiously said that any sex video of a person over the age of 4 was appropriately newsworthy to be published for mass consumption.

The Intercept is an often thought-provoking and bias-challenging read. Glenn Greenwald built his media establishment out of his access to the Snowden leaks and that trove has proved to be an extraordinary resource for him and his company. But the inception has, at times, cast its shadow over the day-to-day operations of the newspaper. Not everything secret or classified is newsworthy. The government conceals itself out of an institutional inertia that seeks to keep everything under its control. That over-classification harms not just the transparency of the government, but the ability to understand what is newsworthy.

The struggle for the newsmedia is two-fold. One, it is difficult to distinguish between what is secret and what is newsworthy. With the increased vulnerability of secrets deposited online and their ability to be rapidly disseminated comes difficult decisions about the information that is actually useful to the public. Two, there is no absolute line demarcating the difference between a person’s private life, especially if they are a public figure, and their public life. If every date and sextape a celebrity makes is also a continuance of their business life as reality stars then it is hard to tell what is sacred.

What all of this amounts to is a breakdown of privacy norms that have been in place for at least hundreds of years. When everyone lived in small groups, villages, or communities, there was a very reduced sense of privacy. A problem or personal issue of any member of the tribe or group was dragged into the light and the community dealt with problems and issues as a whole. But now that tribe or community has expanded to everyone with an internet connection, and people are not used to those stresses and pressures. Strengthening privacy laws is an uphill battle. It seems instead that people should grow more tolerant, and that society should shift their thinking to both expect less privacy and to be more accepting of others’ flaws and secrets.