Saturday, May 21, 2016

#TrumpTrain is a Black Swan Event; Establishment in full meltdown

Nassim Taleb, the author of the pop culture phenom, "The Black Swan" is not highly regarded by actual statisticians but seeped into the collective consciousness by penning a book at precisely when the fulcrum of public opinion was tipping from unshakeable belief in the known to concern of the unknown in the months leading up to the 2008 financial crisis.

It isn't just the improbable rise of Trump's political success, when compared to historical norms, that is the "Black Swan Event", it's that his deeply flawed campaign is succeeding precisely because of its Establishment-defined "flaws" that makes the #TrumpTrain a "Black Swan Event".  It has been the Establishment's relentless excoriation of Donald Trump that has supercharged his ascent into his position of "most likely" to win.

In his book, Taleb posits that a Black Swan event arises because of several events, including:

We focus on preselected segments of the seen and generalize from it to the unseen: the error of confirmation

It is my belief that it is the error of confirmation and the narrative fallacy that have most dramatically given rise to the Trump grassroots support.

Step back in time and rewind to Trump's announcement after the infamous excruciatingly slow ride down the gilded escalator of Trump Tower to a dais where he confirmed the rumors that he was throwing his hat in the ring to compete for the nomination of the Republican party.

Up until Trump's candidacy, the pretense that members of the uniparty Establishment maintained was that they shaped and formed public opinion nearer to the hearts of their oligarchical masters.  The uniparty maintained a dipolar messaging system carefully crafted to maintain the illusion of "choice" and "differing opinion", when in fact, the messaging focused on core tenets that were valued by the oligarchy:  unrestricted borders, free flow of capital, socialisation of risk and privatisation of profit.  An example of this managed controlled messaging would be the media personalities Rachel Maddow, representing the Left, and Megyn Kelly, representing the Right.  Both view themselves as "opinion makers" when in reality, their popularity stems from their schtick of pandering to the already existing confirmation biases of their viewers.  (This is also why neither network has been able to meaningfully grow their viewership).  People to tune in, not to be "informed", but to reinforce their already entrenched belief systems.  

The mass communications sphere is no longer about "pushing down" opinions, values and belief systems, but about responding to bottom up demand.  As most dramatically illustrated by the fall of Megyn Kelly from the heights of mass market favor to reductionist grovelling for a kiss-and-make up" interview with her very nemesis, "opinion makers" reign only as long as their "opinions" mirror the market and not those of their funders.  Modern mass media consumers are social media addicts:  everyone now has the ability to create and maintain their own, individualized media mini-Empire through Twitter, Facebook, GooglePlus, Wordpress and other egalitarian social media platforms. The vast majority use these platforms to reinforce their already existing personally held biases and to self-sort themselves out into similarly strategically aligned tribes.  The Twitter feed has become the preeminent virtue signalling totem, and serves as one's badge of allegiance to certain tidy memes.

The Establishment, smug in their erroneous belief that they controlled and pushed down the "right" thinking and the "right" positioning on policy, missed the Trump phenomena completely.  As with most Black Swan events, it was unpredictable to those within the Establishment, but entirely foreseeable for those within the grassroots movement of both poles of the dipolar Uniparty.

Within the cocoon on the New York - Washington - Hollywood triangle, a consensus ideology had evolved, which was in many respects, completely out of phase with the temperment of the "political base".   Taleb describes this as 

"What we see is not necessarily all that is there. History hides Black Swans from us [if they didn't happen] and gives a mistaken idea about the odds of these events: this is the distortion of silent evidence."   

Harkening back to the concept of the Establishment's confirmation bias, the "silent evidence" of the growing disconnect between the belief systems of the Establishment and the masses was there - the Establishment just chose to ignore it.  A void existed, and Trump stepped in to fill it.

The second most important reason for the meteorical rise of Trump's popularity I believe lies within Taleb's premise of the narrative fallacy.  Prior to Trump, the Establishment narrative was that to be competitive for the Presidency, one had have experience as a Governor of a major state, and/or an experienced legislator well steeped in the nuances and alliances of the Senatorial Club, although that narrative is not entirely supported by actual historical examples.  Only about 50% of the sitting Presidents served as Governors or US Senators before rising to the Oval Office.

The second flaw of the Establishment's narrative fallacy was that they could craft and create the narrative, and force it upon the masses from their lofty position as creators of public opinion and shapers of history.  This arrogance is most cogently distilled in Megyn Kelly's boast prior to the Republican debate that her "gotcha" questions she intended to hurl at Donald Trump would "have the potential to change the course of history" and, unusual for a "Conservative", her fĂȘting by the narrative crafting entrenched Left.

Sure in their position of crafters of the narrative, the Establishment was rocked by the swift backlash from the base to Kelly's attack on Trump, reinforcing the premise that the Establishment no longer crafts public opinion, but to stay market competitive, must respond to the mass market existing confirmation biases.   In this, Donald Trump is most definitively a "Black Swan" phenom.

Initially the Establishment believed that Kelly had "slayed the Donald Trump dragon", and was lauded for her "courage" for attempting to embarrass Trump with her questions about his "misogyny" at the first Republican debates, but the pushback from the base was swift and unrelenting, causing Fox News key demographics to go into free fall.     

The attacks on Trump are viewed by a wide swath of America as attacks on them personally, their beliefs, and their struggles.  They are  not mistaken in their notions that the Establishment abhors and rejects them.  Starting with Susan Roesgren's disingenuous "interview" of Tea Party rally attendees, and the bileous slur "Tea Bagger" crafted by the self-declared "opinion formers", it continued unabated with slam after slam at the core of the American base that resided outside the safety of the triangle.  Is it any wonder, then, that attacks on Trump by the Establishment, serve to coalesce and rally the base around his defense?  Taleb's thesis is that a Black Swan event depends on the observer—using a simple example, what may be a Black Swan surprise for a turkey is not a Black Swan surprise for its butcher.  In more ways than one, the Trump Train movement has caught out the Establishment as a night-before-Thanksgiving Turkey.  It is, at this juncture, highly doubtful that the base will metaphorically pardon the Establishment turkey as is tradition.

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