How conservative propaganda works in America: The signal and the noise

June 8, 2017 at 8:17 pm

We’ve heard a lot about Russian meddling recently. What we don’t hear about is how more than 50 years of corporate special interest group propaganda fattened the U.S. up, priming our country for Russian influence on the 2016 election.

Let’s think about conservative propaganda using a communications concept: signal-to-noise ratio (SNR).  

Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is a measurement used in communications to compare the level of desired signal to the level of background noise.

In analog communications, such as AM/FM radio or analog television broadcasts, a high SNR ratio means that you will receive a signal with little static or interference.

To enable effective communication, you want to maximize your SNR ratio—more signal, less noise.

How to turn trolls into your best friends

February 23, 2017 at 9:40 am

In the movie Thank You For Smoking, the main character Joey Naylor, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, has a great scene with his son that talks about how he wins.

His son asks him what happens when he’s wrong. Here’s the quick transcript of the scene:

Joey Naylor: What happens when you’re wrong? Nick Naylor: Whoa, Joey I’m never wrong.
Joey Naylor: But you can’t always be right…
Nick Naylor: Well, if it’s your job to be right, then you’re never wrong.
Joey Naylor: But what if you are wrong?
Nick Naylor: OK, let’s say that you’re defending chocolate, and I’m defending vanilla. Now if I were to say to you: ‘Vanilla is the best flavour ice-cream’, you’d say…
Joey Naylor: No, chocolate is.
Nick Naylor: Exactly, but you can’t win that argument… so, I’ll ask you: so you think chocolate is the end all and the all of ice-cream, do you?
Joey Naylor: It’s the best ice-cream, I wouldn’t order any other.
Nick Naylor: Oh! So it’s all chocolate for you is it?
Joey Naylor: Yes, chocolate is all I need.
Nick Naylor: Well, I need more than chocolate, and for that matter I need more than vanilla. I believe that we need freedom. And choice when it comes to our ice-cream, and that Joey Naylor, that is the defintion of liberty.
Joey Naylor: But that’s not what we’re talking about
Nick Naylor: Ah! But that’s what I’m talking about.
Joey Naylor: …but you didn’t prove that vanilla was the best…
Nick Naylor: I didn’t have to. I proved that you’re wrong, and if you’re wrong I’m right.
Joey Naylor: But you still didn’t convince me
Nick Naylor: It’s that I’m not after you. I’m after them. [points into the crowd]

This scene illustrates one of the greatest issues that I see liberals struggle with in the public sphere:

We think we win when we win a logical argument.

Professionals like Nick Naylor understand that you win when you win someone over.

Overcoming objections: A short process to help you address emotional need

February 15, 2017 at 6:44 pm

1965 Rambler Marlin by American Motors Corporation (AMC). A sporty “personal-luxury” two-door hardtop fastback. (Chrostopher Ziemnowicz/Wikimedia)

People who work in sales have known for a long time that buying is an emotional decision.

Think about someone you know who recently made a purchase—like a car. Cars make a great example because people frequently buy cars that express their identity.

If people want to be seen as caring about the environment, for example, they might buy a Prius or a Chevy Volt. If they want to be seen as rebellious or free, they might buy a Corvette or a convertible. People hate minivans because minivans are a practical vehicle. Minivans express that you have kids. Enter the sports utility vehicle—you can be practical and still express yourself!

You get the picture. People buy based on emotions.

In Customer Centric Selling, Michael Bosworth and John Holland sum up what good sales people know:

When a buyer decides to buy from a particular seller, it is an emotional decision. Equally, when a buying committee decides to buy from a particular vendor, it is an emotional decision. When a buyer decides to pay an asking price rather than holding out for a lower price, it is an emotional decision. When a buyer decides to buy from a person he or she is comfortable with, rather than shopping for the lowest possible price, it is an emotional decision.

Yet when you talk to people about their car-buying decision, they often say things like:

  • “I got a really good deal.”
  • “My old car was about to die.”
  • “It gets great gas mileage.”
  • “It will increase in value.”
  • “No one else makes engines like this.”

Research by folks like Drew Westen, George Lakoff, Brendan Nyhan, Jason Reifler, and others has illustrated that more often than not people also make political decisions based on emotions and beliefs, and then rationalize their decisions after the fact.

Using populist Trump against GOP Trump

January 10, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

On Tuesday, Jan. 3,  Americans woke up to news that Republicans were going to gut the House Ethics Committee. The first thing I did was post the news to several groups, with a short ask for people to call their member of Congress.

I called Republican Steve Chabot’s office here in Cincinnati and actually reached someone. I told Steve’s aide I was calling to urge him to vote against gutting the Ethics Committee and commented that it seemed like a funny way to #draintheswamp. She was quick to tell me that Steve had opposed the committee vote and would vote against it.

The attempt at gutting the committee ended up going down like the Hindenburg.

More importantly though, it made something clear: The people who voted for Trump believed him when he said he was gonna fight for the little guy.

Here’s why this matters—and how to use Trump against Trump and the GOP Congress.

Indivisible: A short guide for the resistance by former congressional staffers

January 2, 2017 at 12:23 am

If Trump’s cabinet appointments are any indication, the Republican agenda is going to be selling off the remainder of the country to private interests. Betsy DeVos at Education is a proponent of privatizing schools. Tom Price at Health and Human Services is an opponent of the ACA. Scott Pruitt at the EPA is an oil lobbyist. Rick Perry, the candidate for the Department of Energy, has proposed scrapping the Department of Energy. Corporate raider Carl Icahn is going to be advising the president on regulations. Paul Ryan has plans to privatize Medicare.

It seems pretty obvious what’s coming: Republicans and the Trump administration are going to try and realize the corporate special interest dream of selling off the country to the highest bidders.

I think the way to stop this is to oppose everything loudly. As the authors of “Indivisible: A Practical Guide to Resisting the Trump Agenda” write:

The hard truth of the next four years is that we’re not going to set the agenda; Trump and congressional Republicans will, and we’ll have to respond. The best way to stand up for the progressive values and policies we cherish is to stand together, indivisible — to treat an attack on one as an attack on all.

This is not what we’re used to. We’re used to talking about what we believe in. Unfortunately, Republicans are going to control all three branches of government so if we have any hope of keeping the country in the hands of “We, the people,” we’re going to have to resist. This guide is well worth sharing for its outstanding practical advice. What’s in the four sections of the guide:

  1. What we can learn from the tea party: How the tea party targeted individual representatives of Congress
  2. How members of Congress think (Hint: re-election, re-election, re-election)
  3. Identifying and organizing your local group for action
  4. Four tactics that work

I’m not going to go into the detail, but I thought I’d talk about some highlights.

Aftab Pureval, Hamilton County Ohio’s new Democratic Clerk of Courts, and how he won

December 6, 2016 at 3:29 pm
[caption id="attachment_2159" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Aftab Pureval for Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval for Hamilton County Clerk of Courts[/caption]

The Hamilton County Clerk’s office was not a race Democrats should have won. The Hamilton County Democratic Party was up against Tracy Winkler, a member of the Winkler local political dynasty. Robert C. Winkler is the current Common Pleas Court judge and Tracy is married to Ralph Winkler, the current Probate Court judge.

Out of the blue comes Aftab Pureval, a young former prosecutor and Ohio State student body president who took a leave of absence from his job at Proctor & Gamble to run for clerk of courts.

How did a guy with such an strange-sounding name (strange for Southern Ohio, anyway) beat a strong incumbent?

America is angry. If we don’t speak to this anger, we’re in trouble

July 27, 2016 at 6:30 pm

While taking a short break from work this afternoon, I ran into my next door neighbor. She is an older lady who is about as liberal as I am. She said to me, “I’m afraid Trump is going to win.”

Recently, I’ve heard this from a couple of other people as well. It’s wise to never discount intuition—especially when I have the same feeling. So I started thinking about why I feel this way, as we often intuit things before we’re able to explain them. This was how I wrote about how “Donald Trump isn’t going anywhere” in August 2015. This is just how people’s brains work.

So I threw aside the piece I was going to write this week to think about why.

By now we all know that politics is about emotion, yet often we still don’t really understand this. Why?

Because it’s not translating into speaking to the outrage America feels. Because I keep seeing posts and discussions about policy and how Hillary is adopting policy changes. Because we seem to be talking about policy and relying on anti-Trump sentiment. Because we’re not speaking enough to this anger in a way that isn’t anti-Trump.

If we don’t genuinely speak to the anger America is feeling, we’re in a lot of trouble. Here are some examples and some thoughts on how to genuinely acknowledge the very real pain people are expressing.

[caption id="attachment_2132" align="aligncenter" width="640"]The famous moment where Bill Clinton went off script during the 1992 presidential debate. The famous moment where Bill Clinton went off script during the 1992 presidential debate. (Screenshot/YouTube)[/caption]

How to get to Planet X, the change we desire

July 5, 2016 at 8:29 am

planet_x650Planet X is that place liberals want to be. The planet people like Bernie Sanders talk about. Where we believe Elizabeth Warren lives. It’s where people understand climate change and don’t think it’s the government testing secret weather machine weapons. It’s where racism is understood as a problem, as well as a key driving factor in economic inequality. It’s where reason and fairness and mutual responsibility live and where democracy once grew.

Here’s the rub. You can’t teleport to Planet X.

So how do you get there?

Seven things you can do to do fund change

May 27, 2016 at 8:29 am

This election season has been a great time to talk about change and how change happens. Most progressives will agree that we need professionals fighting for change. This means activists have to be able to make a living. When having conversations with people about spending money to influence change, the […]

The people with the least amount of power are the people most likely to use it

May 10, 2016 at 10:42 pm
[caption id="attachment_2080" align="aligncenter" width="650"]Two agents in a contact center (Diana Varisova/Wikimedia). Two agents in a contact center (Diana Varisova/Wikimedia).[/caption]

One of my first jobs was at a call center. It was a while back but something one of the trainers said to us during onboarding stuck with me:

The people with the least amount of power are the people most likely to use it.

What he meant was that people who feel powerless seem to be more likely to try to exert the little power they have. For example, when someone is calling you and their computer is broken, they feel powerless. For this reason, they’re often quite angry and “demandy,” to coin a term. They’ll often demand that you do something immediately, as if somehow this is going to fix things faster.

Perhaps this lesson has stuck with me because of how often I’ve observed it to be true. Why care? Because I think this has a lot to do with the current state of politics. And if you recognize it, it can help you have better political conversations.