Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why Kevin Drum thinks that Millennials are dupes

Kevin Drum, a progressive blogger also of Mother Jones, recently wrote an article blaming Bernie Sanders for millennials’ distaste for Hillary Clinton. If Sanders hadn’t pointed out that Clinton was in the pocket of Wall Street, Drum argued, she would not have lost millennial support. By making this argument, Kevin Drum is supporting Donald Trump. Since millennials like Bernie Sanders...Drum is pushing millennials away from the Democratic Party.
This passage, from Nathan J. Robinson's latest, works as an effective rebuttal to the supposedly pragmatic logic of Clinton apologetics - but I think it actually cuts even deeper than that.

Writers like Drum think that instead of telling the truth (or what we think is the truth), we should try to anticipate how our audience will respond to various talking points, and then game out our response accordingly. If this means not telling the truth, so be it. This, as discourse gamers see it, is being "pragmatic" and "savvy", and it's usually set in contrast to the naivete and self-indulgent piety of people who think that we should just tell the truth.

The problem, as Robinson points out, is that discourse gaming often even fails by purely pragmatic standards. Here, Drum thinks that he is cleverly engineering a Clinton victory by attacking her critics - but by alienating potential allies, it seems just as likely that he's contributing to her defeat. Speaking generally, Drum thinks he has a handle on the discourse politics at work here, and thinks that he's savvy enough to game them; but for whatever reason, he's getting them wrong, and advancing the very outcome that he thinks he's working to avoid.

To this, I'll just add that the there's probably a good reason why discourse gamers overestimate their competence: hubris.

It is not, after all, as if Kevin Drum thinks that anyone who hears criticism of Clinton is going to vote Trump. That's obviously untrue, since Drum himself heard what Sanders had to say, and simply found it unpersuasive. What Drum actually thinks is that while he can handle frank and open criticism, other people can't. This is always a foundational assumption of discourse gaming: everyone else has to be shepherded and manipulated into conclusions that we were able to reach through basic judgment and reasoning.

When you have this kind of condescending view of everyone else's intelligence, you're obviously going to then proceed to make all kinds of stupid mistakes when you're trying to manipulate their reactions. Here, the same hubris that inclines Drum to think of Millennials as dupes also keeps him from realizing that they might object to this. It reminds me of nothing so much as a pickup artist who thinks of a woman as a "target" who can be "gamed" - and who also thinks that she won't notice. Both approaches routinely fail, and for many of the same reasons.