Election Redux: Liberalism Collides with Social Media

I finally had a major epiphany about American politics, including a clear answer to the question, “how the hell did Donald Trump just become the 45th President of the United States of America?” Many on the left still want to blame it on the country’s sudden lurch into racism and misogyny, but that ignores the mathematical reality that Trump won by winning one-third of the 700 counties previously carried by a black man named Barack Hussein Obama. Or, they will blame it on James Comey’s see-sawing FBI investigation or on Putin’s alleged hacking. And, while all seem to agree Hillary was a flawed candidate (the FBI investigation and the hacked e-mails were just two ways of shining light on that), that still doesn’t explain the rise of Trump.

My epiphany is that the fundamentals of progressive liberalism collided with the meteoric rise in a social media over the past eight years in a way that backfired and caused progressive liberalism to implode on itself. I promise I’ll explain what I mean by that in a second, but first some important numbers on social media. When President Obama was first elected in 2008, there were about 75 million Facebook users in the United States, roughly equivalent to the number of users still hanging on to MySpace at the time (presumably mostly overlapping as users switched from one to the other). I haven’t been able to find a demographic breakdown on FB users in the early days, but I had a 15-year old in 2008 and have a strong recollection that the early days of Facebook (i.e., pre 2008) were dominated by young people. Indeed, I finally dropped my resistance to what I thought at the time was a teen preoccupation and signed up for FB in 2008.

Fast forward to 2016. We adults took over FB. There are now approximately 200 million FB users in the United States, out of a population of about 320 M. The graph below shows the demographic distribution of FB users in 2016. As you can see, young people gave up on FB a long time ago. It’s just us geezers on there now. Indeed, 63% of FB users (about 126 million people in the US) are over 30. To put that in perspective, the US Census tells us that there are about 192 million Americans over 30. So, about 65% of folks over 30 in the US are FB users. FB is only one social media site, but it is clearly the largest and it clearly has the attention of adult voters.

Facebook Users by Age Cohort, United States (2016)

Why does all this matter? I saw this meme posted on FB during the election.

It is, in many ways, completely accurate. Trust me, I tried. Despite all my brilliant political insight on FB for the many months leading up to the election, not one single liberal friend reached out to me and said, “OK, you got me. I was going to vote for Hillary, but you changed my mind.” So, why does any of this matter? Isn’t FB just a medium for each of us to rant our political views and have our like-minded friends “like” the post and our friends on the other side scowl at us or debate us in the comments section? That sure did happen a lot and NOBODY CHANGED THEIR MIND.

That’s where I think the fundamentals of modern liberalism collided with social media. Decades ago, the founding principles of liberalism were about helping people who needed a boost or were being left behind. While the solutions often failed, the heart was always in the right place. That all changed in the last twenty years or so, especially the last eight. The goals ceased to be “help the little guy” and morphed into “let me show my liberal neighbor that I’m even more open-minded than he/she is.” This progressive one-upsmanship led to some really silly stuff, like allowing men to go pee in the women’s room. Frankly, it also led to gay marriage, a notion that was soundly rejected by both President Obama and Hillary Clinton until the one-upsmanship forced them to go there. It led to the complete destruction of the First Amendment rights of students on college campuses. It led to a bizarre scenario where the President of the United States took the side of criminals like Michael Brown over the men and women of law enforcement who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. And, of course, it led to the silliness of climate change. The list is much longer, but the upshot is this. In the races taking place in Washington, DC, New York and California to be more liberal than your neighbor, because that’s what earns you respect in places like that, liberals went way too far. They went into places that were radical and well off the mainstream.

And, it all played out on Facebook. Twenty years ago it would have played out in the salons and wine bars of San Francisco and SoHo. Unemployed voters in Michigan who wanted their politicians paying attention to the lousy economic growth we’d had for eight years would never have known that people on the coasts were more worried about ensuring access for men to use the women’s room. Today, they saw that in real time from a long lost high school friend now living in California, who was posting his enthusiasm for such far-fetched ideas on FB. Many of them had voted for President Obama in 2008 and/or 2012 looking for Hope and Change in things that mattered to them. They were not big fans of Trump and many of them were likely repulsed, as was I, by some of his more objectionable behavior. But, they also knew this progressive one-upsmanship, this showing off who could be more radical to look good in front of their progressive neighbors, was spilling into the real world. They saw it on FB every day. And they knew it had to be stopped.  So, they voted for Trump.

 

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Cognitive Dissonance in Aleppo

I’m struck by the number of liberals posting on FB about the horror taking place in Aleppo and how these atrocities are affecting innocent women and children. It is admirable that they are noticing this and wishing they could do something to help these poor people. But, do they not realize that this nightmare is a direct result of the failed Middle East foreign policy of the last 8 years? How can they possibly bemoan Hillary Clinton’s loss without acknowledging the significant role she and Obama played in this misery. We don’t know yet whether Trump will do any better, but it’s incredibly difficult to imagine him doing worse.

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Trump and the Complete Meltdown of Humanity

I do have a few liberal friends who aren’t completely losing their minds over this election. Not many, but a few. Knowing that I voted for Trump, they have asked me to give them reason for hope. I believe there are many reasons for hope and, as Trump’s appointments have taken shape, the number of reasons keeps increasing. But, let’s focus on just one: Rex Tillerson as Sec of State.

Today, the super duper liberal Washington Post reported on the horror taking place in Aleppo, Syria and how it has seriously damaged President Obama’s legacy (OK, only the Post would believe there was anything left of the legacy to damage, but I digress). The United Nations has declared Aleppo a “complete meltdown of humanity.” How did this meltdown happen? Certainly a big part of it is the hopelessly failed Middle East policy of the Obama administration, including the now infamous red line, which has been crossed again and again. But, another important piece of this has been the Obama administration’s failure to negotiate successfully with either Iran or Russia, leading to an evil triumvirate of those two plus Assad now calling all the shots in Syria.

I am blown away by all the liberal bloviating on Facebook and in the media about Tillerson’s potential conflict in Russia because of his time as CEO of Exxon Mobil. Really? That’s what has you worried? That a man of utmost ethics who works for a company with very strict ethics and conflict policies and is going to work for a government with equally strict conflict policies, will have a conflict? That worries you more than the “complete meltdown of humanity?”

Here are some simple facts about four people who have tried to get something they needed out of Russia/Putin:

Barack Obama: failed miserably

Hillary Clinton: failed miserably

John Kerry: failed miserably

Rex Tillerson: succeeded

So, the democrats put forth three people as diplomats to Russia over the past eight years and the result was the “complete meltdown of humanity.” Donald Trump puts forth a diplomat who has successfully worked with Russia to get the result he wanted. You tell me who’s best qualified. If that doesn’t make you feel better about the Trump administration and his cabinet picks, it is only because you want to wallow in your own sorrow versus acknowledging what is best for your country. No, check that, what is best for humanity.

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Breakfast Cereal Politics, Part III (The Final Chapter)

If you haven’t been following the saga of my relationship with Kellogg’s yummy sugary cereal in the wake of Kellogg’s decision to enter the political realm, you can read Part I and Part II here. I think the exchange below is the end of it. Hey, all I can do is lead the horse to water….

(for your reading convenience, the entire thread is copied below so you don’t have to actually go to the prior posts to see it all)

———————————————————

John,

Well, in any case, I appreciate your engaging in the dialogue. One last funny story. When I was at HBS, during my first year, my study group met every morning at the student center at 7:30 AM. I showed up every morning with a huge cup of coffee and two strawberry or cherry nutrigrain bars. I ended up doing pretty well first year so on the last day of the 2nd semester, which was our last ever study group meeting, the rest of the guys in the group got together and showed up with 2 strawberry nutrigrain bars each. It was partially to make fun of me and partially to see if maybe my grades were attributable to whatever was in the magic bars. I’m still good friends with those guys many years later and, when I see them, invariably one of them brings up the nutrigrain bars. Indeed, they’ve been a staple of my briefcase “snack bag” on business trips for 20+ years. I’ll miss them too.

Thanks again,

Bruce

On Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 10:49 AM, Bryant, John <John.Bryant@kellogg.com> wrote:

Dear Bruce,

Thank you for your message. I can’t change your perception, all I can do is tell you the truth. There was no political intent here.

Regards

John

Sent from my iPhone

On Dec 1, 2016, at 8:33 AM, Bruce Robertson  wrote:

Hey John,

First, many thanks for the quick reply. I wasn’t sure I’d get one. My first reaction to your response was that it was really weak. Of course, it’s a political maneuver. Unless, you also planned to pull ads from, say, CNN, who behaved in a demonstrably unethical way (e.g., giving debate questions to one candidate and not the other), then you’re not only politicizing cereal, you’re doing it in a partisan manner. That is, unless you’re saying that the “value” of honesty is not one of the core values held by Kellogg’s.

Then, I asked myself what it would look like to give you the benefit of the doubt. That is, what if you really believed you didn’t do it for political reasons. Unfortunately, the conclusion doesn’t change much. Even if it was unintentionally political, every single person I spoke to about it or who read and commented on my blog about it, agreed that it was political. Thus, if you didn’t intend it to be, then you have a serious perception problem.

What’s more vexing to me as a business person, is why you would deliberately alienate something like 50% of the population (and probably an awful lot of cereal and Pop-Tart lovers in there) to either make a political statement or risk an unintentional one? I get that Breitbart has some fairly strong views, but the recent election showed that those views are shared by a plurality, if not a majority, of Americans. When you presented your 2017 budget and strategy to your board at the Q4 meeting (or when you present it if that meeting hasn’t take place), did you say, “we’ve made a strategic decision that we don’t want to sell sugary cereal to Republicans this year? Thus, we’re projecting a base case revenue decline of 47%?” I’m sure some people will be too addicted to Sugar Pops to give them up so maybe 47% is overly pessimistic, but based on my non-statistical sampling of my blog and FB followers, you’re facing a real decline. I’d be interested in why you’d do that and how you’ll defend a potential shareholder lawsuit that might result (not from me, to be clear, I’m not a shareholder) from such reckless management.

Anyway, thanks again for the dialogue. Certainly interested in your thoughts on my analysis of this. I’m off to have some Lucky Charms!

Best,

Bruce 

On Nov 30, 2016, at 9:04 PM, Bryant, John <John.Bryant@kellogg.com> wrote:

> Dear Bruce,

> I can assure you that our decision had nothing to do with politics.

 

Regards > > John

> >> On Nov 30, 2016, at 4:04 PM, Bruce Robertson  wrote: >>

>> Hi John,

> >> I read about your decision to end your relationship with Breitbart so I wanted to share with you the end of another very long relationship – mine with Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats.  For as long as I can remember, at least 30 years, I have had a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats before bed. In my house, we call it “Basketball Cereal.”

> >> Funny story – when my son, who’s now 23, was about 5 years old, Grant Hill was on the Mini-Wheats box soaring high above the rim. So, my son started calling it basketball cereal. The name stuck. I think it embarrasses him now when I call it B-ball cereal. All the more reason to do it! So, it’s not without some sadness and nostalgia that B-ball cereal is now forever banished from my house.

> >> Breitbart has served an important role in our national media, though I don’t always agree with all of their stories. More important, I simply have no interest in politicizing my breakfast cereal (or, more accurately, my before bed snack cereal). It’s regretful that you made such a poor decision that 45 million of us who read Breitbart should stop eating your products, but you’ve left me no choice. Heck, it might even be good for my waistline – there are a few cals in the ol’ B-ball cereal. If you change your mind and decide to focus on what you’re good at (making yummy sugary cereal) and stay out of the realm of things you’re not so good at (politics), please send me an e-mail and I’ll head over to the grocery store and restock on B-ball cereal.

>> >> Oh yeah, and this is important enough that I plan to write a blog about it so my readers hopefully make similar decisions!

> >> Yours in yummy little sugary cubes of wheat,

>> >> Dr. Bruce Robertson

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Breakfast Cereal Politics, Part II

As you may have read in yesterday’s post, I wrote a nice note to the CEO of Kellogg’s about his inane decision to pull all advertising from Breitbart simply because they appear to have offended his liberal sensibilities. To my surprise, he answered me, albeit with a weak weasely message. His reply and my reply to his reply are copied below, along with my original e-mail. As you’d expect, the order is from the bottom up.

—————————

Hey John,

First, many thanks for the quick reply. I wasn’t sure I’d get one. My first reaction to your response was that it was really weak. Of course, it’s a political maneuver. Unless, you also planned to pull ads from, say, CNN, who behaved in a demonstrably unethical way (e.g., giving debate questions to one candidate and not the other), then you’re not only politicizing cereal, you’re doing it in a partisan manner. That is, unless you’re saying that the “value” of honesty is not one of the core values held by Kellogg’s.

Then, I asked myself what it would look like to give you the benefit of the doubt. That is, what if you really believed you didn’t do it for political reasons. Unfortunately, the conclusion doesn’t change much. Even if it was unintentionally political, every single person I spoke to about it or who read and commented on my blog about it, agreed that it was political. Thus, if you didn’t intend it to be, then you have a serious perception problem.

What’s more vexing to me as a business person, is why you would deliberately alienate something like 50% of the population (and probably an awful lot of cereal and Pop-Tart lovers in there) to either make a political statement or risk an unintentional one? I get that Breitbart has some fairly strong views, but the recent election showed that those views are shared by a plurality, if not a majority, of Americans. When you presented your 2017 budget and strategy to your board at the Q4 meeting (or when you present it if that meeting hasn’t take place), did you say, “we’ve made a strategic decision that we don’t want to sell sugary cereal to Republicans this year? Thus, we’re projecting a base case revenue decline of 47%?” I’m sure some people will be too addicted to Sugar Pops to give them up so maybe 47% is overly pessimistic, but based on my non-statistical sampling of my blog and FB followers, you’re facing a real decline. I’d be interested in why you’d do that and how you’ll defend a potential shareholder lawsuit that might result (not from me, to be clear, I’m not a shareholder) from such reckless management.

Anyway, thanks again for the dialogue. Certainly interested in your thoughts on my analysis of this. I’m off to have some Lucky Charms!

Best,

Bruce 

On Nov 30, 2016, at 9:04 PM, Bryant, John <John.Bryant@kellogg.com> wrote:

> Dear Bruce,

> I can assure you that our decision had nothing to do with politics.

 

Regards > > John

> >> On Nov 30, 2016, at 4:04 PM, Bruce Robertson  wrote: >>

>> Hi John,

> >> I read about your decision to end your relationship with Breitbart so I wanted to share with you the end of another very long relationship – mine with Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats. First, who am I? For as long as I can remember, at least 30 years, I have had a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats before bed. In my house, we call it “Basketball Cereal.”

> >> Funny story – when my son, who’s now 23, was about 5 years old, Grant Hill was on the Mini-Wheats box soaring high above the rim. So, my son started calling it basketball cereal. The name stuck. I think it embarrasses him now when I call it B-ball cereal. All the more reason to do it! So, it’s not without some sadness and nostalgia that B-ball cereal is now forever banished from my house.

> >> Breitbart has served an important role in our national media, though I don’t always agree with all of their stories. More important, I simply have no interest in politicizing my breakfast cereal (or, more accurately, my before bed snack cereal). It’s regretful that you made such a poor decision that 45 million of us who read Breitbart should stop eating your products, but you’ve left me no choice. Heck, it might even be good for my waistline – there are a few cals in the ol’ B-ball cereal. If you change your mind and decide to focus on what you’re good at (making yummy sugary cereal) and stay out of the realm of things you’re not so good at (politics), please send me an e-mail and I’ll head over to the grocery store and restock on B-ball cereal.

>> >> Oh yeah, and this is important enough that I plan to write a blog about it so my readers hopefully make similar decisions!

> >> Yours in yummy little sugary cubes of wheat,

>> >> Dr. Bruce Robertson

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Before Bed Snack

For many years I have had a bowl of cereal before bed, nearly always Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats. That’s probably not the best thing for my girlish figure, but it’s an indulgence I’ve always allowed myself. Until today. Well, not because I’m worried about my waistline. Kellogg’s announced that they will pull all advertising from Breitbart because all 45 million of us who read Breitbart are apparently out of step with their values.

Here’s my letter/e-mail to John Bryant, the CEO of Kellogg’s.

Hi John,

I read about your decision to end your relationship with Breitbart so I wanted to share with you the end of another very long relationship – mine with Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats. For as long as I can remember, at least 30 years, I have had a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats before bed. In my house, we call it “Basketball Cereal.”

Funny story – when my son, who’s now 23, was about 5 years old, Grant Hill was on the Mini-Wheats box soaring high above the rim. So, my son started calling it basketball cereal. The name stuck. I think it embarrasses him now when I call it B-ball cereal. All the more reason to do it! So, it’s not without some sadness and nostalgia that B-ball cereal is now forever banished from my house.

Breitbart has served an important role in our national media, though I don’t always agree with all of their stories. More important, I simply have no interest in politicizing my breakfast cereal (or, more accurately, my before bed snack cereal). It’s regretful that you made such a poor decision that 45 million of us who read Breitbart should stop eating your products, but you’ve left me no choice. Heck, it might even be good for my waistline – there are a few cals in the ol’ B-ball cereal. If you change your mind and decide to focus on what you’re good at (making yummy sugary cereal) and stay out of the realm of things you’re not so good at (politics), please send me an e-mail and I’ll head over to the grocery store and restock on B-ball cereal.

Oh yeah, and this is important enough that I plan to write a blog about it so my readers hopefully make similar decisions!

Yours in yummy little sugary cubes of wheat,

Bruce Robertson

 

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Predictions for Trump I

My buddy, Mike Mertz, reacted to my Election Reflection 2016 blog by challenging me to make some predictions for the Trump administration. Mike’s challenge was in the context of his bizarre assertion on Facebook that my prediction, back in 2012, that Obama would stick it to the poor and middle class was so obvious that “most middle school kids could have predicted it.” Ouch! I find it more than a little revisionist to sit in 2016 as a strongly left leaning “independent” like Mike and say this was so obvious just four years after Obama ran for re-election on Hope and Change for the underclasses. Then again, Mike also told me recently that, back in 2012, a season in which the Cubs lost 101 games, he predicted they would win the World Series in 2016 and exactly a week later Donald Trump would be elected president of the United States. He just forgot to tell anyone about his prediction at the time.

Notwithstanding the unwarranted attack on my 2012 prediction, which turned out to be center of the bull’s-eye accurate, I’m game for some bold Trumpian predictions, so here goes:

  1. Trump will be far more socially liberal than anyone on the right is thinking. Folks, Donald J. Trump is the first president in American history to enter the Oval Office supporting gay marriage. Obama was opposed to it until the liberal base told him to pretend to change his mind (c’mon that’s not an issue you suddenly have an epiphany on). As a side note, Hillary was also anti-gay marriage and is on record as such. Trump spontaneously grabbed a gay rights banner at a rally and held it up on stage.
  2. Many republicans will be unhappy with him. See prediction #1.
  3. Many democrats will secretly be happy with him, but will never admit it. See prediction #1.
  4. The energy sector will have a resurgence as the silliness of climate change abates, setting us up for less foreign dependence on energy long term. The second part of this (less dependence on foreign energy sources) will take decades to prove out, but I’ll be around for Mike’s compliments when it does. The majority of the country supports smart and environmentally sound exploration of our domestic sources of energy. Sadly, the Obama administration let a very tiny minority of green zealots dictate a huge swath of the American economy, and not just the energy sector itself (though it’s a big job creator). Many other sectors depend on energy and, while energy prices are relatively low now, it is impossible to predict them into the future (just ask Jimmy Carter).
  5. The regulatory environment will become more rational. This should cut across all sectors from financial services (bye-bye Dodd-Frank) to the environment (bye-bye cap and trade by executive fiat) to, pray God, pharmaceuticals (please somebody kick some ass over at FDA). If I had to pick a single reason for the perpetually miserable eurosclerotic style economy of the last 8 years, it has been Obama’s hyper-regulatory approach. As a business person, I assure you that businesses don’t invest and grow when there’s regulatory uncertainty. Liberals have bemoaned the fact that US corporations are holding billions of dollars in cash reserves, without investing it. Well, that’s why. Trump can free a lot of that up with regulatory reform. I believe he will.
  6. Obamacare will not be repealed and replaced, but will be improved. What I mean by the first part of this sentence is that there is zero chance that any politician has the political will to take away an entitlement. Thus, anyone who got new insurance under Obamacare will get to keep it (wait, now I sound like Obama). However, I think Trump will stick to his campaign pledge of deregulating the health insurance market to allow companies to sell policies across state lines. This and other pro-competitive reforms will put this sector on a path to being more market-driven, which is the only way out of the current mess. But, don’t look for any major changes here. Obama created a huge mess and it will take more than four years to untangle it.
  7. Pharmaceuticals and medical products will be back in vogue (full disclosure: my professional life involves investing in these two sectors). The unrelenting assaults on the pharma and medtech industries by liberals has hurt them over the past eight years and, even more so, over the past year as everyone predicted a Hillary victory. It’s always been an empty attack as these two sectors represent about 10% of overall healthcare spending in the US and much of that spending saves money in the more costly sectors of hospitals, nursing homes, and physician visits (i.e., getting a $5000 stent prevents the next heart attack, which lands the patient in the ICU for 10 days at $10,000 per day). Trust me, this is good, especially for anyone over 50. The liberal assault on these sectors was crushing innovation and that’s bad for those of us who are entering our prime years of health care consumption.
  8. Congress will become relevant again. It will be very interesting to watch how Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Mr. Trump work together. Obama’s monarchical approach of reigning by executive order has done a fair bit of damage to the fiber of our tripartite government. Trump will need to use some executive orders to quickly undo the damage done by Obama’s executive overreach, but then I think he will work with congress to pass laws, in the way the Founding Fathers envisioned it. This will be fun to watch.
  9. The Art of the Deal will arrive at the White House. This prediction goes somewhat hand in glove with prediction #8, but goes well beyond it too. When Mr. Trump threatened a trade war with China during the campaign, liberals and even many conservatives completely wigged out. Savvy negotiators, like your humble blogger, knew/hoped/ strongly believed, he was starting a negotiation with the Chinese. Obama was bad at many things, but chief among them, was his total lack of negotiating skills. I blogged about that (here). He went up against some very savvy negotiators, like Putin and the mullahs in Iran, and got his ass handed to him every time.  Whenever two people or two sides want different outcomes, a negotiation ensues. Trump has made a career out of successful negotiations. Obama was a community organizer; the most complex negotiation he had conducted prior to getting the job of Chief Negotiator on behalf of 320 million Americans was with his office staff as to what font to use on the letterhead of his community organization. When people said Trump was unfit to be president, they completely missed this very important part of his DNA. I predict it will make him very successful in many critical negotiations (note to climate change zealots: when he says he’s pulling out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, then hints he might not, he is negotiating. So be calm.)
  10. Ten seems like a nice round number for predictions, but I really only have nine. So, I’ll make a more blanket prediction that the Trump presidency will surprise people on the upside. OK, so that’s not such a bold one with expectations so low. But, I actually think he will do well and that he will do well for a lot of folks. I think the poor and middle class, who largely elected him to office and who Obama so totally screwed, will do better. Trump will be a lot more populist than probably most conservatives will like. But, as the WSJ recently opined, it will be populism combined with the practical and workable solutions typical of conservatives, as opposed to the dreamy populism of Bernie Sanders (everything is free and nobody has to pay for it!!!).

OK, Mike, there you have it. I’ll talk to you in 2020 (and again in 2024, I hope).

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