Unimaginably Conventional

Senator John Coryn unleashed the following, crushing Tweet:

The president is not doing cable news interviews. Tweets from his account are limited and, when they come, unimaginably conventional. The public comments are largely scripted. Biden has opted for fewer sit down interviews with mainstream outlets and reporters.

What a searing critique: the President’s Tweets are “unimaginably conventional.” Of course this is utterly boring news for anyone who has been following the President: he just isn’t interested in Twitter. For Coryn, this is evidence of only the latest conspiracy theory: that Biden is not really President. If the standard for the Presidency is perspicacity on Twitter, clearly Wendy’s hamburgers will should rule.

What was Trump Twitter?

Tiptoe Through the Trumps.

Barrett and Sims helpful report on political bias on social media concludes that there is no evidence of partisan bias, it is simply that the right wing information ecosystem is so concentrated that when perfectly normal and legitimate changes (really any changes) take place there are impacts on those big accounts. The right wing media ecosystem is like Delta — they route pretty much everything through Atlanta (and sometimes Minneapolis), if there is a storm in Georgia, the whole web feels the effects. The left wing media ecosystem is like Southwest — there are planes going to focus cities everywhere. Sure, storms effect Southwest but it is nothing like Delta.

At his peak, President Trump was able to produce dynamic disequilibirum. His tweets were a paradox as they were news in their own right but were also attempts to set the agenda for the news. As such they were a short circuit which rose in temperature until it ignited. Trump also often broke the normal communication rules for the public sphere by acting in a decidedly un-presidential way. Strategically, the main move for Trump was to disrupt any stable equilibrium. This is much in line with what Nasim Taleb termed anti-fragility, thundering reactionary voices gain from disorder. We can only describe this as a kind of world making where Trump would produce the conditions for his rhetoric to flourish. His main move was to produce dynamic disequilibrium, he liked the pot boiling.

Toradol and the Public Sphere

Not all powerful pain relievers are opioids. Toradol, a powerful NSAID, offers real relief and actual treatment for some conditions. The problem, as all too many NHL players have come to realize, is that it can only be used for a short period of time without severe side effects. It turns out that some inflammation is a good thing. Why were the first few weeks of the Biden Presidency so low key? That’s the Toradol, now the President is just moderately chill, but still he will never be dynamically disrupting the balance of the system.

Legitimation is an important idea in the public sphere, which holds that any institution functioning as the system (generally a state like thing) must continuously perform actions to continue to be seen as legitimate. Manuel DeLanda sketched out legitmation on two axes: one physical and one symbolic. If a government were to be symbolically legitimate (good procedures etc) but fail physically, the state would fail. Likewise, a state with a rich symbolic life that also provides goods would be legitimate. The other quadrants (symbolic yes, physical no & symbolic no, physical yes) offer a variety of challenges. One particular point of interest is the paradox of plenty, where publics only perceive increasing material conditions. Thus the welfare state that produces a good life becomes illegitimate because it isn’t always making everything better — the crisis is that the system can never provide enough to grow forever.

Positive Feedback Loops

The early Biden administration when combined with the Trump Twitter Deletion started largely as the shot of Toradol. Now governance is happening, which is often described as “ramming through” legislation by majority vote, which is just as much of an oxymoron as unimaginably conventional. The general sense of dread that Coryn is expressing is understandable, Trump was in graph theoretic thinking, a node that would produce a giant component. Whatever sub-graph of the public sphere you would slice, his node and influence was there. Now this has passed and the conspicuous absence of the powerful node is allowing the network to reconnect in all sorts of healthy configurations. Given the lessons of the last seven years it stands to reason that a giant node will never be allowed to form again. Biden’s strategy should be clear then: allow the public sphere to heal by removing the entire central node then hit hard with practical legitimation. Although this strategy is likely annoying for those seeing more radical change the play is clear: legitimate the system.

Associate Professor of Social Media, Oregon State: These are my opinions, not theirs. Read my book: Selling Social Media (Bloomsbury Academic), 2018.

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