Trolling and US politics

Trump and trolls…. Its an interesting and difficult question, I can’t really answer it but here is a go at exploration.

I’m going to start by defining a ‘troll’, for initial purposes, as someone who engages in argument by abuse and attempts to annihilate the other, or at best make the other look stupid. A troll generally does not engage in multi-logue or conversation with their victims. They do not aim at creating commonality with the group, or individual, they are attacking. There are other things which are called trolling, but this is what I’ll focus on – categories don’t have to be completely coherent.

Some people seem to enjoy trolling as evidence of their superiority and ingenuity, some people seem to be miserable and want to spread misery (“you only know you exist if you hurt”), and for some it is a strategy of power, enforcement or rebellion (usually phrased as ‘striking back’ – trolls often present themselves as persecuted by their victims).

Applying the term ‘troll’ can also be a political act, which aims to dismiss the other person/people, or at least categorise them so that thinking and interaction can stop.

Trolling seems to be socially validated as well as psychologically validated. Trolling has been part of normal behaviour in the media for a long time, in political comment in particular (it rouses passions and attention). This has been particularly the case for the right wing media(Murdoch Empire etc) – however, trolling generates trolling (conflict normally generates further conflict) and it is now general, particularly amongst readers comments. Perhaps it is now at destructive levels to social cohesion.

I suspect this separation was an aimed for result. If people of different positions/categories cannot talk to each other, or discuss things civilly, then people remain separated and more vulnerable to persuasion by members of their desired social category.

In general we are persuaded by those we identify with, and critical of those we classify as being in outgroups. So we tend to coalesce around ideas (which might be quite ludicrous) as marks of our identity and membership of a valued identity group. Trolling becomes a mark of our loyalty to the ingroup through hostility to the outgroup. That is its pleasure, and if you are good at it, it can bring celebrity, recognition and possibly money – it can increase personal survival.

People build both markets, power groups and loyalties through tolling.

My guess, which is political, is that Republicans chose to go this way, because they could not justify, or hide, the effects of their policies without distraction and without creating an enemy to stop the transfer of information, or ideas, about reality. They also tried to create a sense that the population was not being supressed in the name of increasing corporate power and wealth (‘neoliberalism’), but by academics or intellectuals or ‘progressives’ who were all snobs and hypocrites.

Having a war not only makes people less likely to defect, or have reasonable conversations with the outgroup, it also shows what will happen to you if you fail to stay loyal.

Creating a sense of war justified their normal trolling and encouraged other trolling. The media largely went along with them, until Trump came along and even then they rush to find him presidential or normal at every opportunity, such as after his speech to congress, perhaps out of wanting to create a sense of hope or fantasy that all is really ok. Media is largely corporately owned and expresses corporate interests.

War breaks empathy and if empathy is the fundamental basis of morals, and if an elite can break peoples’ empathy with a scapegoat section of the population (which trolling depends on for its success) then they are fundamentally on the road to as total control as possible. There are fewer acts of violence to enforce their political “order” which remain prohibited.

Trump plays the us and them game well. However, I’m not sure its conscious, as he does not generally seem that competent when challenged. He fumes and abuses in response – he trolls automatically. He is also just an exaggeration of normal Republicanism, so he seems like an ingroup member and could shift Republicans to join him, if he was competent.

The adhesion to Republican extremity, may hold his cabinet together, despite it looking probable that his cabinet will be full of competing personalities who are used to trolling. The question is how long can the group maintain cabinet as an ingroup and take out tensions by excoriating outgroup members?

Note that these people will never have to encounter a person who disagrees with them for any length of time, or encounter a person who has been hurt by their policies – and anyway their political position allows them to dismiss people who are hurt as weak or whiners or something. They also seem to see themselves as persecuted by others (as well as being natural rulers). So it seems unlikely that any of them will gain insight or end their trolling through empathy with others. It would be socially difficult for them to encounter those others as equals. Counter information can easily be classified as “fake news” or as enemy trolling.

To maintain power Trump may become more insular still, and he is likely to declare a real war to bolster his popularity when his policies fail to deliver for his electorate, and they will fail.

That is the logical consequence of Trolling as politics, but we still have to see if it happens.


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