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How Trump's Use of Social Networking Changes Governance

February 3, 2017 - 11:22 -- Admin

The Trump presidency operates very differently (obviously) than those of his post-WW2 predecessors.  First off, its goals are completely different:  it's dismantling the neoliberal system.  A system that earlier administrations built up over decades.  Second, and equally as interestingly, it operates more like a network than a bureaucracy.  Specifically, the Trump administration is:

  • More autocratic than bureaucratic.  Single decision maker (softly autocratic) rather than decision through a consensus of bureaucratic elites.  This is faster, particularly within a network setting, but more prone to error.
  • More socially networked than hierarchically networked. Its external social network is on the same level as the governmental bureaucracy.  The social network is now a means of governance on par with the bureaucracy.   
  • National governance isn't just in Washington anymore, it's be conducted everywhere at once.  Everyone, from the government bureaucrat to the corporate executive to the owner of a Twitter account is now an active participant.  It is now much more participatory than it has EVER been.

Reactivity

What makes Trump's networked autocracy (potentially) effective is in how it stays reactive to the rapidly evolving needs of its supporters.  It does this through:

  • Big Data Analysis:  Both Bannon's Cambridge Analytica and Kushner's San Antonio Moneyball operation dig deeply into social networks to profile voters.
  • Online chatter:  Direct online feedback on Twitter or Facebook, as well as chatter in groups like the_Donald, the 358,000 member pro-Trump social network on Reddit.
  • Intuition:  A salesman's gut.  All Trump.  Trump has an intuitive feel for what the target audience wants and needs.  A gut that's greatly enhanced by feedback from social networks. 

Reactive Networked Autocracy

Based on these differences and the evidence of the first few weeks, we can expect this administration's style of governance to operate very differently than the legacy cold war bureaucracy that ran our country since WW2.   Here are some of the major changes:

  • Incremental change vs. Rapid change.  Bureaucrats make changes slowly and incrementally.  Autocrats can make wholesale changes.   Social networking makes it possible to route around bureaucratic roadblocks to create de facto change before the bureaucracy can catch up.   
  • Adherence to Ideology vs. Adherence to Common Sense.  US bureaucratic governance is based on neoliberal ideology and the sciences of social complexity (economics, etc.).   Social networking has made people increasingly aware to the gap between results/common sense and ideology/models (a similar gap toppled the USSR).  Trump exploits that gap.
  • Serial vs. Parallel focus.  Bureaucratic governance mass media coverage focuses on one problem at a time (serially), or as closely to that as possible.  In contrast, networked governance can focus on many in parallel.  This makes it very difficult for gatekeepers to exercise control.

Sincerely,

John Robb

PS:  Despite expectations, even policies that look deeply unpopular errors (like the travel ban on 7 countries) are actually supported by a popular plurality of Americans.  Here's the seemingly (given the coverage) impossible results of a recent national Quinnipiac poll that had a question on a travel ban.

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