We Live in a Political World

Twitter, Impeachment. and Primaries 

When I went missing, I didn’t exactly go dormant. Instead, I found myself in that most time-consuming sector of the “internets, Twitter.

I’m fascinated by Twitter. The ‘culture’ of the Internet continues to strike me as a hotbed of Golden State-utopianism. There’s a reason one of the web’s earliest and most consistent proponents also appears at the outset of ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.’ That building a new, better-than-ever-seen-before-world nonsense has deep roots on the Left Coast.

Twitter, though, is a different place. Culturally it seems more a mash-up of Speaker’s Corner and half a dozen working-class dive bars I can think of scattered in formerly industrial neighborhoods up and down the East Coast. It’s a loud argument where even the most high-minded proposition stands a better than even chance of descending into schoolyard insults because, well, it’s Twitter.

Monthly Active Twitter Users
2010-2019
Graph by Staista

It also presents an excellent, though I fear entirely mistaken, locale for engaging in any number of quasi-scholarly pursuits. For example, I’m more than tempted to apply my favorite qualitative research method–drive-by-ethnography–to the Twitterverse. What keeps me from doing so is the graph at right. The Twitterverse, you see is more or less a static population, so much so that the corporation stopped reporting these numbers because they didn’t budge.

That sluggish population growth also, I’d submit,  inhibits social dynamism. Economists will tell you that the single greatest contributor to economic growth is a population increasing in size. It’s no different in other social realms. Those golden days everyone harkens back to are not just the result of social harmony, racial repression and global economic dominance. Spend some time with census data and you’ll note that a majority of states saw population growth of 20% or more. More recently, some states keep seeing those rates while others have stalled or shrunk. Those latter two situations do not represent the cutting edges of social or commercial life.

But I digress. The more simple point is that Twitter is where loudmouths gather and that provides an opportunity to think about at least some portion of the population. One just has to keep one’s wits about one and deeply discount what’s observed. I’m a big believer in Goffman‘s sociology of everyday life. I’m less taken with digital sociology, which doesn’t seem to worry enough about mundane things like controls and accurate measurements to suit this failed engineer.

Yet, oddly, Twitter has proven to be the forum that gave me some glimmer of an idea about what I’ve been struggling with for years now. For the life of me, I just could not comprehend the rabid support particular politicians draw, especially politicians that inhabit different ends of the spectrum.

No one who’s a fan of either of these candidates will like my observation that there’s more here that’s similar than different.

That support has been front and center throughout the impeachment investigation and trial and remains so in the primaries. And what’s common about it, at least what always smacks me right upside my head, is the anger behind the support. Leave behind the bromides, the resurrection of lesser Sinclair Lewis novels and the reductio ad Nazium and what’s left is a stewpot of resentment seasoned with a healthy dose of gimme what’s mine.

I’m not smart enough to figure out what the drivers of such anger really are. Most attempts to identify them strike me as overly simplistic. It’s a neat bit of attitudinal ju jitsu, though,  when individuals, failed by the leaders of a system, not through conscious aggression but merely by being repeatedly ignored, believe those leaders to be actively working against them. It’s not surprising that simple answers and identifiable villains are selling so well to so many.

As a kid, I was a Watergate junkie. I turned ten the year of the break-in and for the next two years the government I had just started to learn and think about offered up a daily seminar in ethics and misfeasance. I never thought I’d get a second bite at that apple. And I never thought the second time around would be more threatening to the nation than the first.

That’s my measured response. My in the moment Howard Beale-worthy remarks? Well, luckily, we now have Twitter.

Welcome to Daylight Saving Time.

 

 

 

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