8 min read

How They Controversialized Joe Biden, Self-Fulfilling Social Collapses, and Why Elites Reject Leaders Who Threaten Them

How They Controversialized Joe Biden, Self-Fulfilling Social Collapses, and Why Elites Reject Leaders Who Threaten Them
Nathan Howard

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Hi! How’s everyone? 

Today we’re going to discuss…

How many times does it have to happen?

They Swift-Boated John Kerry.

Who can forget the “Dean Scream”?

They information-superhighwayed Al Gore.

They but-her-emailsed Hillary.

And now, it’s Joe Biden’s turn. 

Whether or not you think he’s a good, bad, or mediocre President isn’t the issue. It’s hard not to see a pattern, a trend, in the above. They do it every time, only this time, the stakes are existential.

How They Controversialized Joe Biden, or, Is This Really a Hard Choice?

It’s a good thing, I suppose, that we recently discussed controversialization. I gave you my own example—how pundits made me “controversial” for discussing incredibly minor, common sense things, reforms, like updating GDP, or voting systems, or what have you. A good thing, because they just did it to…

Joe Biden.

It’s a mess. You can see this explosion surrounding a massive, smoking crater. Should he run, or shouldn’t he? America’s mass media settled on a narrative—that means a kind of groupthink—over the last week or two, and went to the surreal extreme of penning a resignation letter for him.

Meanwhile, even Biden called out the podcasters who are relentlessly haranguing him.

I’m not a Biden super fan. I’m not super against Biden. My feelings are very, very simple. Pick a person, and run. Because the only way they get elected is if we come together, the side of sanity, just as the center and left in France built a National Front, and then a Republican Front, to stop the fanatics.

America’s going to have to do that, too.

But right now? You can see something ugly, strange, and surreal happening, which is that Biden’s been controversialized. Maybe you yourself have bought into this controversy. But my feeling is that it shouldn’t be one at all.

Is Biden really that controversial? Or is this all controversialization? Which is to say, the ginning up of false controversy, by a certain group, the pundit class, journalists, and so on, who are, of course, interested above all, in building their own brands, selling books, drawing clicks, making money, gaining followers. 

Let’s try to think about all this together for a second.

How Self-Fulfilling Prophecies Fuel Social Collapse

The choice before America is pretty simple. 

An old guy, who’s doing an okay job, and no, there’s nothing wrong with being old, or…a fascist with a 1000 page plan to literally turn society into a theocratic totalitarian state.

That’s not a complicated choice.

You can complicate that choice if you want, but it’s not in any way complicated. Anyone sane should say: I’ll take anyone over the guy who wants to shred democracy. The old guy. My plumber. My local librarian. Doesn’t matter.

Sane preferences here are incredibly clear. 

Now. Why does this choice appear complicated? Well, for one thing, Biden doesn’t satisfy the left, in the same Keir Starmer doesn’t satisfy the British left. Whether it’s foreign policy or taking on Big Capital or what have you. Let’s leave that aside, because this is the real world, and in this real world, societies like Britain and America aren’t nearly sophisticated enough in terms of values to really back social democracy yet. Just not going to happen. So our choices are bounded, as they often are, in real life.

The other way this choice gets complicated is when pundits bedevil it by making people afraid. When they say things like “that candidate’s unelectable!” And so a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy sets in. If enough people think said candidate is unelectable to other people, they’ll stop backing them, and the whole thing collapses like a house of cards.

This is what pundits want the power to do. The form of power they want. Chomsky called it once upon a time, “manufacturing consent.” These days, a more accurate description might be: manufacturing controversy. If they can sow enough fear, they will reap fame and fortune. People will turn to them to essentially make decisions for them, and pundits will have the rush of ego, along with money, power, and fame.

But is that good for the rest of us?

Here’s how it all really works.

  • If we all agree to back a candidate, they will win
  • If we can’t agree to back a candidate, they will lose.

Read that again. It’s really that simple.

This is what France teaches us. Still, in America, which is far less sophisticated than France, the side of democracy easily outnumbers the authoritarian side. The problem comes with division. And division comes from the sort of fear sowed by pundits. That guy’s “unelectable,” don’t vote for him. 

But nobody’s unelectable. Today? The side of democracy could agree to vote for Elmo, or Godzilla, and they’d win. All that has to hold is a “front,” in French terms, or to put it less formally, a sort of binding agreement, this is who we’re all going to vote for.

It’s that simple. The problem comes from pundits complicating the issue, by making people imagine what other people are going to do, or telling people what other should do. That’s a form of power—social power, the power to manufacture controversy, and what it’s doing isn’t democratic at all.

It’s distorting democracy.

Who Wouldn’t Get Controversialized? Or, Why Elites Reject Leaders Who Threaten Them

That’s not a way to endorse Biden. I don’t endorse any politician. I endorse disco, puppies, art, fashion, and true love. I’m just teaching you how to think clearly, and let me keep doing that, by asking what’s known as a “counterfactual” to us social scientists. That means: what would happen if.

In this case, the counterfactual is…who wouldn’t get controversialized in exactly the same way? By exactly the same parties calling for a different candidate?

Let’s take a pretty simple example, like Kamala Harris. A black woman. Are you kidding me? If you think that the New York Times would somehow take it easy on a black woman, I invite you to consider how they treated Hillary then, or AOC now. How about the pundits? They’ve never treated any minority or woman candidate as remotely an equal. Punditry is dominated by a certain kind of person, an Ivy League white dude, who dresses like they’re 65 even if they’re 35, for a very good reason: it’s a class.

And that class would engage in exactly the same controversialization if anyone were the candidate. We know that, because they’ve done it time and again. They did it to Hillary. They did it to Obama, for Pete’s sake. They did it, before that, to Al Gore, Howard Dean, Jimmy Carter, and a long, long list of others. They do it to anyone who doesn’t accept that they’re the ones who are the most powerful of all, and they don’t do it to Trump because as much as he insults them, he also gives them plenty of meat for the grinder, and sustains their position and status.

They do it over and over again, and we should know by now that because it’s what they do. And so it’s faintly absurd to say that they’d only do it to Joe Biden. It’s hardly just politicians. Remember how they controversialized, I don’t know, an athlete like Colin Kaepernick? While at the same time, for example, big media was running features—features!—on Nazis being friendly neighborhood types and philosopher kings? Controversialization is what the pundit class does, and so to imagine that it’s somehow Joe Biden’s fault is to make…

The Fundamental Mistake in American Thinking

There’s a sort of fundamental mistake in American thinking. It focuses on people, over systems. Personas, even. And so it’s easy to look at all this, and buy the controversialized line: Joe Biden’s old and weak! Hello, Trump is just a few years younger, and even if Biden’s old and weak, the points remain: wouldn’t they controversialize anyone? Why don’t they controversialist Trump, ever? And in what universe is pretty normal old guy not preferable to aspiring Hitler, who’s also an old guy?

Are you kidding me? When I put it that way, it’s all sort of ridiculous. Because now I’ve pointed out the fundamental mistake. None of this is about people, as in individuals, at all.

It’s about systems and institutions. Pundits amplify this critical mistake, and teach people to only think this way. 

So on the one hand, we have a catastrophically bad institution, the pundit class. It engages a system of controversialization, which makes people afraid to back figures because they’re told other people won’t like them, which is what being “controversial" really is—even if none of that’s remotely true, because it’s all a self-fulfilling prophecy to begin with.

On the other hand, it has to be said, we have another failed institution, the Democrats. How did we get here? Because the Democrats aren’t a modern organization. They have failed systems for leadership, for transitions in it, for developing new leaders, for marketing, for branding, for sparking movements, for outreach, all of it.

What the Democrats Should Have Done, but Didn’t

I helped create modern marketing as you know it, and it’s shocking to me how poorly run the Democrats really are. Even a third rate company would…have…better…all the above than this. It was only the pundits lashed out at Biden that they started beginning to use media properly, for example.

So from the beginning, they should have focused on defining Biden’s brand. Because the sad truth is that’s the only way you can sidestep pundits. Ever notice how pundits never, ever challenge anyone or anything with a Big Brand? From companies to tycoons to products? That’s not because they don’t care—if there were enough clicks in it, it’d do—it’s because their brands are bigger, and the only thing pundits are really afraid of is a Bigger Brand.

We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. The Don Draper in me? I wish the Dems had talked to me, because I could have told them exactly how to brand a figure like Biden so that the pundits would never, ever have messed with him. Age and frailty? They can be incredible assets for an image, tremendously powerful things. Think of anyone from Dumbledore to Abraham himself, and while you might think I’m kidding, I’m not—age and frailty confer almost mythological powers upon people, and even now, in our youth-obsessed, proto-fascist world, they don’t always have to be negatives. But the Democrats don’t have people who are competent, let alone world-class experts at any of this, and so in that regard, they’ve failed too.

Still, for society? The choice is not a hard one, and that’s why people rejected all this furiously, many calling it a kind of soft coup by big media against a President. 

Sure, Biden’s not an incredibly popular President. But the worst thing anyone can do right now? Is listen to pundits.

How the side of democracy wins this election in America is ultimately very simple. Through unity, like the French did, and I recommend all of you read my post about the French elections if you haven’t yet. By using a front-by front strategy. If we all agree to vote for…anyone…they’ll be the next President. But if we don’t, Trump will be.

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