Category Archives: Presidential Elections

A Socially Distanced Franchise?

While I was phone banking in Texas, Nevada, and other states in months before the 2020 election, I fielded a surprising number of questions of access to absentee ballots and mail-in voting, as well as being assured by many voters that they had refrained from mailing in ballots, and were planning to drop their ballots off directly in polling stations, or brave the lines, to ensure their votes counted. I’d like to think they did. (The woman I reached in Texas who had moved from Nevada and was awaiting an absentee ballot to arrive two days before the election, past the deadline of registering in Texas, may have not.)

Since the election, we have entered into a weirdly protracted attempt to game the electoral map, long after the tallying of votes ceased. A range of recounts, hand-counts, investigations of absentee ballots and even querying of the legitimacy of voting machines have been launched to challenge the representational validity of the electoral map. In querying the functions of the map as representation–by querying the tabulation of votes that comprise the electoral map–Trump has stoked tensions in representational democracy. With a disquieting sort of abandon, Trump stoked national tensions by refusing to acknowledge he did not win the election, and indeed raise eyebrows of Preidential decorum. His deep resistance seems rooted in the exceptionalism of claiming the election not “over,” as if unfamiliar with someone else seting the parameters for television attention, or stunned at a narrative unfolding that shattered his conviction of his inabilty to lose, that “in the end, I always win“–and a deep reluctance to admit losing.

But the almost cognitive resistance also reminds us of the confidence that Trump seemed to have had in the preservation of the red map, a confidence that seemed almost born from his ability tot game the electoral map yet again, and overcome the polls even after they pollsters had tried to recalibrate their predictive strategies and demographic parsing of the body politic. The very close margins voting margins suggest we narrowly escaped an alternative history of a second Trump term, and can explain the tenacious grip that Trump seems to have had on an alternative outcome, an outcome that he has tried to game in multiple ways and strategies that eerily echoes with the strategies of gaming the electoral map that seems to have occurred through the orchestration of telling postal delays, delayed returns of absentee ballots, and the strategic gaming of the distribution of a distanced franchise. It forces us to contemplate the counterfactual history of the far darker reality of a scenario where his expectations came true. Indeed, it should make us consider the closeness of overturning democracy.

It had almost happened. In Trump’s White House, a boisterous watch party was underway, crowded with FOX anchors, watching the big screen that FOX results showed to the audience, anticipating the reality of a second Trump term. But all of a sudden, Trump was so incredulous he refused to admit seeing Arizona called at 11:20 as a Biden victory, shouting to no one in particular, “Get that result changed!” Hoping to calm her triggered boss, who must have been catapulted into alternate scenarios of having to leave the White House where he had expected to encamp, former FOX employee Hope Hicks fretted about the newsfeed. Trump seemed unable to not insist on his ability to manipulate the news, and to stay the center of attention, and was uncertain at what endgame remained.

Trump’s every-ready servile son-in-law, Jared Kushner, hurried to place a direct call to none other than Rupert Murdoch, to rectify the FOX call, promising to send better data to the network directly from Arizona’s COVID-denying governor, Doug Ducey (R), in order to rectify the electoral map. IF Trump recognized the danger a flipped state posed to hopes for another red swath in the maps Trump used to give White House visitors since 2017 to commemorate his victory–before framing a version. Even if if it distorted the popular vote, Trump hoped the red heartland would shimmer in the 2020 electoral map forming on the flatscreen televisions tuned to FOX, to offer a similar illusion of consensus that seems to obscure all dissent.

Trump’s outrage reflected the proprietorial relation Trump long cultivated to Arizona in particular in the 2016 electoral map–Trump had after all only recently boasted to Arizonans of the benefits of two hundred and twenty miles of “wall system” of enhanced surveillance capabilities, spending billions on preventing a flow of immigrants from entering Arizona, the state went blue. To be sure, the polls of possible voters predicted two weeks out from Election Day, in a projection from Josh Putnam that reflected the fissile nature of the State of the Union as Election Day 2020 approached.

With the benefit of hindsight, we would do well to distance our mapping of the results of the election in ways that might better map the State of the Franchise than the State of the Nation as an electoral mosaic: long a fan of the purple map, rather than a sharp contrast between red and blue, The Decolonial Atlas took to social media reminding us how the nation might be better understood not only on isolated counties, but by attending to the ludicrously close margins of the vote.

All the better to dismantle the mediated conceit of “blue” and “red” states, a better map revealed a nation not riven by dissensus but “just a bunch of purple states full of people who don’t know their neighbors.” The map of margins among votes cast reveals not a divide magnified by electoral votes, but the number of voters whose ballots were effectively distanced from the franchise—distanced not by COVID-19, but rather by several”battleground states” where the election was waged in 2020, with margins not only of less than 5% of the electorate, but indeed less than a single percentage point.

This was the landscape in which the votes can be gamed, Trump hoped, and where the absence of consensus could be manipulated and exploited. As the Decolonial Atlas put it blithely in the legend to another map, the dark purple mediated how Trump viewed the electoral map: Trump voters living in a swing state popped out, and needed to be reclaimed in the electoral college: it placed the Trump voters in blue states, who were pragmatically irrelevant, or those Trump voters red states, whose votes could be taken for granted, or anti-American deep blue states, the targeted audience was clear, whose electors needed to be heard: and for all the concerted phone-banking that I had done in Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and Texas, the map of the Decolonial Atlas, “The Electoral College according to Trump,” suggested that a concerted strategy underlay the quite targeted slew of emails, visits, text alerts, and triggers by which Trump’s campaign had targeted the electoral bounty of Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan and Wisconsin–the new “red wall” to defend his sovereignty.

The Electoral College according to Ttrump/Decolonial Atlas (2020)

The first results appeared to be loud and clear, early in Election Night, as non-metro votes seemed to flow in on election night. Before votes were fully tallied in western states, a reassuringly familiarly red landscape seemed to unroll, casting the bulk of the heartlands of narrow margins red–big prizes like Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin, and Michigan, going red. Rudy Giuliani claimed to have turned in for the night, assured to sleep soundly, all but assured of a repeat of 2016, based on initial electoral returns.

First states called in 2020 Election, according to Politico Map/New York Times

Rudy described it as if he had only stayed up later, the results would have been preserved: he more likely prematurely beleived in success, before battleground states tilted blue later that night, as folks in western states were pleased to learn before they turned in for the night–if able to get any needed shut-eye amidst tense electoral tallies.

And if Rudy imagined that he could stop time, to prevent the “stolen” election from occurring later in the night, with the passage of time and a growing tally of votes and absentee ballots not allowed to be tabulated or opened in several of those battleground states until Election Day by law, the alternative newspaper of unclear consensus, The Epoch Times, did him better and tried to turn back the clock, and adding their own symbology to the electoral map as it stood at eleven o’clock Pacific Time, introducing icons that suspended the arrival of information, by adding icons to designate sites of recounts–Wisconsin and Georgia–and contestations yet to occur in court–Michigan; Pennsylvania; Arizona–to blanket the map with uncertainty, and create the unprecedented additional map signs in an electoral map affirming an alternate reality where the red expanse seemed to dominate the country, and Trump have more electoral votes than Biden, to achieve the desired outcome by suspending time, Miss Havisham style, to the better world “before the lying media called it for Biden”: “recount” and “lawsuit” subtracted four states from Biden victories, literally distancing the franchise further than one ever expected mail-in voting would achieve.

Epoch Times, on Facebook, via Politifact

Rather than present the results of the map in a declarative fashion, intended to resolve the protracted Presidential campaign in a new consensus, Trump supporters as Echo Times issued an altered electoral map on Facebook, qualifying the Biden victories in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that were declared by AP, by introducing a new symbology to the map, suggesting the continued suspension of any set conclusion by both three lawsuits, and two recounts of ballots, that Trump insisted would, once “all the votes are counted,” show the red plurality reassembled.

Trump would of course do his utmost best to generate consensus for a narrative of the “stolen” victory that the Trump team tired to construct alternative narratives about for the next two weeks, entertaining varied strategies to preserve how the map was “stolen” by a media that had ceased to wait on Trump’s word, and weighing the possibilities of refusing to give up his Presidential position..

1. The stubborn resistance to accepting the map led to an attempt to rewrite the electoral distribution from a direct rendering of popular concuss, or at least concensus among the states. The refusal to admit to the electoral map that showed hi with a viewer number of electoral votes to his opponent led him to resist the declarative function long given to the electoral map as a declaration of the victor of the Presidential election. Moreover, the attempts to gloss and qualify the results of the election that were recorded in the electoral map openly threatened to undercut the representational nature of the map: the way that the transparency of the electoral map was undermined by Trump and his circle echoes the belief of the Trump administration to rewrite the census, and indeed the gerrymandered redistricting of many states. The udnermning of the representational function of the electoral map is the subject of this post, which examines how the electoral map was long tried to be gamed, and sees the “frozen” electoral maps as interventions seeking to dislodge the actual vote, delegitimizing this electoral map’s representational function.

The contested nature of the franchise can hardly be seen in the map of how voters’ preferences translated into electoral numbers, or an electoral mosaic salutary in abandoning a national dichotomy of red versus blue.

This was a new narrative in the electoral map, unpredicted in many ways. But it was also a vindication of a representational system, in a sort of teaching moment for the nation, that reaffirmed the representational nature of the electoral map. But the fear of subverting the representational function of the map of the election was so strong, and indeed so tangible for the Trump campaign, that the persuasiveness of the scenario of a “stolen election” incorrectly called by Associated Press seemed all but the logical conclusion of a presidency committed to calling out the Fake News.

Politifact Factcheck, November 12 2020: Trump Does not Have More Electoral Votes than Biden

This was not only a “what if” map of conjectural history but the landscape that was supposed to be. For the map was not supposed to break as it did, given the attention that members of the Trump cabinet had so energetically devoted to shoring up electoral votes of battleground states, and indeed the careful protection that voter turn-out ensure a commanding lead, the night of the election, that allowed the American public to have their president on election night. Trump had of course prioritized border security and cautioned the state about the dangers of an illegal vote: but rather than touching on the question of illegal voters, so central to GOP claims of dangers of election fraud in earlier years, a narrative Trump returned to in tweeting “IF YOU COUNT THE LEGAL VOTES, I EASILY WIN THE ELECTION!” a few days later, he argued the data had been manipulated or was wrong: many wanted to turn back to that world of initial electoral returns showing Trump ahead; Trump seems to reveal his data illiteracy in arguing that late votes were improperly skewed Democratic–an argument that effectively destabilized the tabulation of votes and voting process.

Arizona Called on Fox News with 84% Vote Counted

The relation to Arizona was particularly sensitive for Tump. He promised packed arenas of megachurches in that state he would prioritize hard-line border security, as if to ensure a lynchpin to his electoral strategy. Trump seemed to exercise his proprietary relation to the electoral maps, which had served as props for his rule: after passing out copies of the maps to all visitors to the Oval Office, he displayed the 2016 map in the West Wing, counties he had won shaded to obscure a deep national divide.

Voter Density Distribution in 2016 Electoral Map

The distillation of the electoral map was a sort of alchemy that Trump treasured as confirming what he called a “landslide” drew on fewer votes. But the disinformation around the tallying of votes, their arrival, and the counting that created their tabulation was more than dangerous: they were intentionally nontransparent. Trump’s public comments on the election seem intended to bait his base. But as much as cultivate his audience, in ways that emulated his pre-election “call-ins” to Fox Mondays, they give life to a candidacy at is not over–or “un-dead”–and never has to end, suggesting a means to generate funds and contribution for an ambition for “legal defense,” no matter how immaterial was his actual case for fraud.

The results suggest the fragility of elections and democracy, that effectively push the franchise farther and farther from the election, and the election farther from conclusion. For even weeks after the election, strategies were rolled out to reclaim the electoral map, as if it were the property of Team Trump, and had no business turning blue. How to explain the tenacity of the pursuit of this illusion but that Trump was convinced he had gamed the map fully, as best he could, and that the red states would reassemble at his command, ensuring the second term of a man who looked longingly at the title President for Life, mid-way through his first term, in March 2019, and then made it something of a stock line on social media, after conceding that maybe he’d just stick around for six years?

Trump’s taunts have had a way of revealing dark specters in national politics, and the notion of stepping aside so that the nation would get used to a robotic Vice-President Pence, or give space to Don, Jr., might have had some appeal. But the lust for perpetuity led him to view the map as a bedrock of Trumpets support on which he could surely game a sense of victory. There is a sense that this deep sense of being haunted by dreams for a red expanse turned into the horror film as Rudy Giuliani held it up as a model for the nation, in almost apocalyptic terms, just days before Georgia declared its electoral votes would be for Vice President Biden.

The troubling dissonance between the objective truth of the map, and the map this behind the scenes anecdote of Election Night reveals reveals a deeply dangerous undermining of the difficulty of the objectivity of the map that is the subject of this post. For the declaration of Arizona as a Biden victory must have seemed a deep personal affront–not only as it came from FOX, but he had promoted not only the construction of the “most comprehensive border wall structure anywhere in the world” that June in Phoenix, which Biden excoriated as “expensive, ineffective, and wasteful.”

Trump’s base-baiting speech acts may well reveal a dark political reality–as well as create deep divides. His rejection of the current electoral map, and the victory of Joe Biden, has tried to subvert public trust in the very nature of elections, black-boxing voting machines and the tallies of absentee voters’ ballots, as if they were not translations of a popular will, but vulnerable at several points to the subversion of the voice of Trump voters, dependent on human error, or duplicity, and not accurate tallies but based on machines and multiple vulnerabilities that proliferated in the very indirect routes of voting that seemed exposed by early voting and the rise of absentee voting that was necessitated by COVID-19–tampered ballots; vote harvesting; votes that arrive after the deadline independent of postmarks; votes erased by tampered computer tallies–as the vote was cast as having been undermined by the very practices of health safety. Yet if the summer seemed somewhat quiescent for some in DC, the acceraltion of cases of COVID-19 before the election, after those hot summer months, seemed to bloom–perhaps starting from that North Dakota rally on July 4.

Trump had gained the current electoral map as best he could, loading the dice so the the states might again allign in a sheet of red, it may well be that the spread of COVID-19 infections to which he had so brusquely turned the other cheek disrupted gaming in its the virulence of its contagion, even as its spread wrecked a violence on the political body of the nation.

The pandemic provided a disruption Trump could not game even as he sought to focus attention by gaming of the electoral map again by which he hoped to reproduce the red state-blue state divide. If the distribution was glossed, analyzed and discussed since 2016–and of which this blog was also guilty–to seem permanent in the nation, it could not be recreated. Trump had long gamed the system, but was unable to game the electoral map in the face of massively mismanaged disruptions of the coronavirus, often in formerly red states, even as emissaries form his cabinet tried to assure voters he was managing the economy, energy industry, schools or law and order. As the very counties that afflicted with severe job losses due to coronavirus moved away form the red column, areas with high job loss voted for Biden, the rapid acceleration of rates of unemployment, reshaped the electoral landscape as an act of God.

2. Donald Trump has elected, as if trapped in a broken record, to prolong his attempts to game the situation again over the final days of his Presidency, dedicating himself to distorting the tabulation of votes either to save face or to distort the commanding narrative. By deferring concession and tauntingly entertaining his base with images of an alternate reality of his inauguration for a second term by undermining the direct reporting and consumption of electoral maps. Trump delights repeating the potential for alternative outcomes as if this were the script of a new Reality TV show job uncertain ending, of which he was in charge–unveiling votes subtracted or reassigned in Michigan; destroyed ballots in Georgia; corrupt processing of the ballots in battleground states; rumors harvested off the dark reaches of the internet–as if to suspend election night over multiple days, a week, or even more, as if to raise the specter that the conclusion of the Trump Presidency will never end, creating alternate maps of the election and false claims to victory, and claiming that legally cast ballots should not be counted. His base even charges the deception of voting ballots through offshore servers, as if the vote was distorted by foreign-made machines.

Is it possible that projecting such nefarious errors conceal an even darker scenario in which incorrect tabulation and counting of absentee ballots would serve to game the electoral outcome to Trump’s advantage? Already in April, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, travels of Alex Azar to swing states grew in ways that privileged the campaign above the nation: HHS Secretary notoriously waged a public messaging campaign of “Health versus Health” as he traveled to key battlegrounds of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Maine, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, at Trump’s request to direct public debate of the issues of managing national health: the theme that overriding focus on the needs to socially distance was creating public health issues across the nation of well-being was similar to Trump’s disconcerting concern for economic fall-out or sacrifices of public liberties: praising Republican governors for reopening, the visits were tantamount to a campaign of public disinformation more than news, a wag the dog paradigm of undermining public health.

Immediately after July 4, more cabinet members fanned out across the nation to the pivotal battleground states of the coming election, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Florida, on the heels of thirty visits from cabinet members from the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, to defend local agricultural interests in a global economy, EPA Secretary promised clean-up projects of the Great Lakes in Michigan and Wisconsin to end Harmful Algal Blooms, even as the administration canceled public health priorities in earlier years. We could detect a concerted strategy for massaging local issues to undermine national health in the trips of Trump’s cabinet members on public dime: they reflect careful study of the electoral map to secure the stability of a “red state” terrain, strategically placing visits from administration members who served as advocates across the country.

Not only did cabinet members travel to appear on the base meagaphone of Fox News and Fox Radio–like DNI Director John Ratcliffe appeared on Fox News, as National Economic Counselor Larry Kudlow and Secrtary of Energy Dan Brouillette on Fox Radio. To be sure, the EPA Secretary, Interior Secrtary and Energy Secretary went to conservative talk radio in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida to shore up votes in swing states. But cabinet officials were treated as campaign proxies, as the Interior Secretary jetted to battleground states to tout Trump farm programs in Iowa, the Energy Secretary vouched for local investment in fracking and other projects of infrastructure Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina, or Education Secretary boosted there-opening of schools in Michigan to shore up crucial votes in an electoral map. A different demographic of swing states were addressed as Medicaid Services chief administrator Seema Verma addressed elders in Raleigh NC; Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue traveled to farms in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as Florida. Was this not tantamount to a campaign strategy?

If so, it seems to have not served the public good. Trump had long used the members of cabinet for gaming the Presidency, and his political future. As well as crossing ethical lines shamelessly, Trump adopted the imperatives of public messaging on an electoral map to dispense cabinet members emissaries of pro-Trump news in the service of Trump at taxpayers’ cost: provided an alternate storyline to one of a health crisis, and even to paint Trump as providing a needed national infrastructure, touting Trump’s investment in local infrastructure, as the national health infrastructure collapsed and Rome burned. Trump’s Energy Secretary flatteringly compared the President’s qualifications to discuss the infrastructure to Dwight Eisenhower, whose Highway System Trump used as the standard for a Border Wall; the visits of cabinet members to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida asserted an attention to infrastructure to the conceal lack of an infrastructure of testing or public health. As Public Health Secretary Alex Azar put it, “I’m traveling around the country to . . . get the message out that thanks to [Pres.] Donald Trump’s historic response to this crisis and work with our national governors, we need to reopen.” “We haven’t had a President better qualified to talk about infrastructure and the need for investment and problems people have encountered as they’ve tried to invest in communities . . . since Eisenhower created the highways.”

Yet the national highway system and bridges, much as the national readiness for the pandemic, lay in utter disrepair.

Districts with 46,100 Structurally Deficient Bridges, 2019
American Road and Transportation Builders’ Association, Bridge Report

The imperatives and logic of the electoral map created new imperatives of public messaging. The cabinet was increasingly complicit in Trump’s gaming of the electoral system. We might well map visits of Trump’s cabinet members who fanned out to swing states as a use of public funds, but tracing the many cabinet members who left Washington over several months would create a multi-colored set of arcs from Washington, DC across the country to conceal the lack of the chief executive to the nation, as his executive functions declined: the many trips to promote Trump were not only in blatant rejection of the Hatch Act, but gamed the electoral map in visits to swing states on which the campaign centered: sixty violations the Hatch Act in October alone show cabinet members benefitting Trump’s campaign at taxpayers’ expense, gaming a system for needed electoral votes

The logic of the electoral map dominated not only the visits of government officials, but the attack on distance voting, this post suggests, following an increasing atomization of the nation with a GIS laser-precision. For in plotting out itineraries of cabinet members over the summer and fall to address local interests with almost tactical military precision, the planning for the electoral victory took a precedence that terrifyingly replaced the true danger of COVID-19 that was facing the nation at the same time, and was downplayed as Trump’s Cabinet members took up the work of surrogates of defending the electoral map, that increasingly eclipsed the map of infections from COVID-19 that was undermining national safety. Although the military as a result carefully integrated best practices to mitigate the spread or contraction of COVID-19, from the initial isolation of all recruits to distancing and mask-wearing, no mandate for wearing masks or distancing was announced in the nation.

Projected Risks of to National Defense of COVID-19 Outbreaks at Military Bases
Govini Risk Assessment to Military Bases in United States, March 2020

Trump downplayed the coronavirus as a national threat: his attention to the electoral map, rather than coronavirus infection rates, is shocking. The Army had developed safer Personal Protective Practices, as the nation did not.

Arianna Drehsler

The disruption of the pathways of a socially distanced franchise by failing to secure needed funds to secure timely mail delivery provided a parallel specter of national disaster, provoked by Trump’s appointment of Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General on the eve of the Presidential election. When DeJoy was appointed to run what historian Winifred Gallagher called “the central nervous system of American democracy” and of the new nation-state, by securing the pathways across often contentious colonies that guaranteed each citizen access to the news. If the expansion of the postal system had proved particularly well-suited to th expansion of an information network across the western states after the U.S. Civil War–here the foundation of a post offices from 1865-1882–

Geography of the Post in the Nineteenth Century, Western States of the United States
Cameron Blevins and Jason Hepler, Stanford University

–the communicative network seemed in danger of being undermined by limiting the franchise in a spectacularly selective underhanded way.

While DeJoy was named the successor of Benjamin Franklin presided over the uniform dissemination of uncensored opinions as the basis to guarantee an informed electorate had atrophied with the migration of news online. DeJoy’s appointment in May 2020 was on the basis of expertise in shipping logistics that was argued to streamline the loss of money in what had been originally understood as subsidizing the informing of an electorate to allow the experiment of elections: the fears that the appointment betrayed a single-minded purpose of removing sorting machines that were the central nervous system of the pseudo-network of mail collection threatened to delay arrival of mail-in ballots in ways that would subvert democratic intent. For the delays of mail-in ballots that often were refused to be counted if they arrived after election day appeared unprecedented gaming of the electoral map by adjusting tallies of votes on election night: delaying arrival of Democratic votes disproportionately voted by mail in a socially distanced franchise raised the specter of a historical reversion of the mail system as a “commons” as much as a communication system able to unite regions of the country geographically distant, as the spatial system linking  whose 75,000 local offices across the continent allowed the nation to survive the Civil War as a communicative network, whose spread was greater in expanse than any other democratic nation. If the post defined relations of center and periphery in the post-Civil War period, the fault lines of red and blue states exposed in 2016 threatened to re-emerge in 2020 by a disrupted communications infrastructure to undermine consensus.

The threat of disrupting the very network that allowed the embodiment of the nation in the decennial census, income tax system, and banking system seemed able to disrupt the coherence of voting–and, with it, distort the electoral system that was an already troubled inheritance of democratic consensus. But the marginalization of the postal system as a foundation of a representational government seemed increasingly easy in a nation virtually interlinked, in which the post office seemed a white elephant. DeJoy gained attention in supporting Trump’s suspicious refusal of funds to accomodate the processing of mail-in voting by additional funding of the Postal Service. While included in the Coronavirus Relief Package, DeJoy gained attention by refusing additional funds to prepare for voting by mail–and then disabled sorting machines that may have served to delay mailed by an identical logic of electoral maps.

Might it be possible to engineer a delay in mail to shift the balance in high traces in battleground states? DeJoy’s role must be viewed in the concerted strategy of cabinet members to bolster attention to local issues in an electoral context. Paid trips focussed attention on local issues in local media as the number of swing states intensified: Trump’s strategy of catering to specific interests of red states as much as the body politic metastasized as issues of campaigning distracted from the national coronavirus crisis bay supplanting the absence of testing, protective gear, or hospital support across the nation with base issues: instead, fracking, school vouchers and charters, energy projects and agricultural subsidies replaced a national strategy with a slew of push-button local interests. At the same time as Trump pressured his Attorney General and FBI Director to game the news cycle by announcing investigations of Joe Biden and his son, did he also game the electoral votes by the map was gamed both by visits.

Was it even more clearly gamed in an attempt to delay the arrival of electoral ballots of a distanced franchise? As much as DNI John Ratcliffe promoted fears of hacking by Russians or Chinese or Iranians as salient issues of national security, was the arrival of mail-in ballots of a socially distanced franchise exploited as a vulnerability of the electoral process? As the map was a sort of guarantee of Trump’s victory, the logic of battleground states reflected how visits were prioritized to battleground states in anticipation of the election to defend his victory in “red” states: if his travels on Air Force One spread him thin, the fuel ferrying him to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida, his cabinet secretaries followed identical itineraries to play defense on an electoral map at public expense.

President Trump’s Trips to Battleground States, 2020

As the threat of coronavirus grew, and bills for providing economic relief to those affected by work stoppages or protective relief for the infected were stalled in government, the logic of the electoral map, rather than the map of infections, set priorities. If the trips privileged local issues in place of national interests, the national franchise seems to have been undermined by how dedication to strategic dominance of an electoral map seems to have informed an astounding overturning of a universal franchise. While Trump dismissed the role of mail-in voting, and wanted courts to address, was delay of first class mail actually designed to delay–literally distance–the votes that would be tabulated for President in battleground states?

3. Trump hoped the electoral map would serve as something of a confirmation for Trump’s single-minded pursuit of his treasured projects, first and foremost the border wall. Trump avoided discussing the state’s spiking rates of COVID-19, assimilating the rise of the virus’ threat to the arrival of migrants. He conjured fears by charging his opponent for endorsing “open borders” while he boasted to have ended worker visas for the year, conjuring images of illegal voting as he called mail-in ballots “the most corrupt election in the history of our country,” and a “disaster” for democracy. Then democracy caught up–and, more accurately, the disruptions of coronavirus–from job-loss to economic decline to the disruption of daily life–created a pressing reality that the President was failing to address and could not spin.

This election, the narrative turns on the counting of individual ballots, and the preservation of slim margins of a Biden victory after the counting of absentee ballots in a distanced election. With an ever-increasing number of ballots arriving as a result of sweeps of mail facilities, not delivered to the Registrars of Voters before Election Day, the 12,000 votes in suspended animation in states where final votes have not been called for two to five days after Election Day–Nevada; Arizona; Georgia; North Carolina–have led thousands of ballots to be rejected out of hand in Georgia and Arizona, where late ballots were not accepted. And despite the timely arrival of 93.3% absentee ballots processed by USPS, some 7% were not processed in ways that would allow their inclusion, and some 8,000 ballots were not processed on time nationwide. Although some voters who requested ballots may have preferred to vote in person, an astounding–especially astounding given the small margins of victory in many states–existence of 300, 000 ballots for the 2020 Presidential election went missing, scanned as mailed but lacking exit scans, and not processed across much of the lower forty-eight, as they were removed for classified for expedited delivery?

The apparent interruption of the delivery of votes was sufficient to compel a judicial order to sweep sorting stations in twelve processing facilities for missing ballots that was never performed. The numbers are not high given the six million absentee voters in the election, but the suspicious “missing” ballots in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and the Atlanta area, as well as Arizona and central Florida, suggest a potential disruption of the counting of ballots and indeed of the ensuring of unimpeded access to participation in an election of considerable national consequence–and an absence of difficulties with missing ballots in many more less populated “red” states where the election may hang–Pennsylvania, Arizona, the Atlantic area, North Carolina, and Central Florida as well. The “missing ballots” in border areas in California, Arizona, and New Mexico are striking.

The delays that many feared in the arrival of ballots when combined with the close margins of late-tending Biden victories may well make the election have been an even far closer brush with a failure or planned breakdown of democracy in the face of COVID, and a terrifying sense of the fragility of voting practices independently from feared foreign disruptions caused by interrupted power infrastructure, corrupting voting machine tallies, or hacking: the sense of interference with a promise for resumed stability may have come from within, rather, with the subversion of mail-in voting as legitimate, even despite social distancing measure in the Era of COVID-19. So immediate was the worry that mail-in voting was a contingency of possibly determining effect that some that some worried mail in ballots were but a ploy into which Democrats entered into as a trap, destined to be loosened by future litigation–even though mail-in ballots greatly furthered democratic discourse and focus on voter turn out, and created legitimacy of generating a paper record of vote tabulation. Although mail in ballots offered time for reflection on civic duty and encouraged reflection and commitment to voting in a needed public schooling in voting rights, Trump’s sustained attack on mail-in votes terrifyingly dismisses the democratic process.

What were the odds of such tight voting differences in multiple states in the 2020 Presidential election? As ballots counts in North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada seemed far narrower than usual, mail system snags may be invalidating tens of thousands of ballots. While we all recall the assurances of Postmaster DeJoy in assuring the nation with unfounded confidence that the ballots would arrive–unwarranted as he had limited familiarity in mailing practices and USPS pragmatics that were thrown off kilter by the destruction or retirement of mail sorting machines–the rates of delivery in postal districts in ten swing states plunged almost six percentage points below the national average in delivery times, hinting at how much DeJoy seems, more than the courts, an accessory in delaying consensus about the victory of the forty sixth President.

Sharp declines below the respectable national average of 95% in a period when timely deliveries were of national consequence. Was this a political stratagem that was barely forestalled, and whose effects can be seen in the late arrival of ballot counts that transfixed the nation–and world–in what seems an Election Day that lasted over five days, and may be protracted in the courts, as the concession of the one-term President is deferred, even without launching a recognized appeal? President Trump, ever a master manipulator, stoked claims for voter fraud that raised eyebrows, but seems to have been done in concert with the delay of votes’ arrival for a nation he believed would demand immediate results on television: watch to see if I am robbed in the tallies of incoming votes, as new ballots are discovered, Trump alleged the engineering of the election.

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Filed under 2020 election, data visualization, Donald Trump, electoral maps, Presidential Elections

The Revenge of the Infographic?

Long before Barack Obama was a candidate for President of the United States, he took time to chastise the nation about the tyranny of the infographic that divided the nation.  Obama used the occasion of his endorsement of John Kerry’s nomination at the Democratic convention in Chicago to remind the nation of the danger of presuming the divide red states from blue states by the clear chromatic fashion that already increasingly increasingly filtered electoral maps of the United States, and has since come to haunt us in the Trump victory of 2016.  And if we were energized by the notion of “swing states” that might be shifted to the Democratic column back in 2012 and 2008 that increased the involvement and political participation of many in the electoral grid, the resurgent immobility of the electoral map divided between what seem to be continuous regions parsed into “red states” and “blue states”–

 

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–as if it were permanent divide as well as a fluid choropleth that refracted the spectrum of the American flag.  Indeed, the stability of the fractured electoral divide invest a sense of permanence as an electoral landscape, as the two-color infographic seems to have crept into our unconscious:  while it may be a proxy for an urban-rural distinction that has been championed both by the Trump campaign and as a dominant gloss of the infographic, has the divide invaded our consciousness in ways we are able to gain little distance?

America was, after all, once collectively energized at the prospect of tilting against the inevitability of a red-blue divide in the nation.  If Barack Obama sought to chasten readers of infographics in order to breath life into Kerry’s 2004 nomination as Democratic candidate for the United States presidency, his words were not only energizing, but prophetic of his own candidacy.  For they articulated the possibility of transcending electoral divides as a touchstone of his campaign strategy, foreshadowing Obama’s later electoral success.  And when we hear Donald Trump’s celebration of the “heartland” as the ‘Real America’ as if it might be searched for and found on the map, somewhere far away from “coastal elites” or intellectuals, it serves to conceal Trump’s truly narrow electoral victory by articulating a “real America” with which we on the coasts lost touch.  The spate of much-publicized post-election pilgrimages into the “heartland” by Mark Zuckerberg as self-defined coastal elites sought to find”normal america” needs to be rethought:  it seems to project a creation of the very infographics we’ve long consumed to understand democracy, or as a surrogate for democratic elections, more than a real place.  For where we find “the real America” alleged in so many maps in the contiguous sea of red–

 

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–we have recently found that the red is both far more fractured, and even often echoes the very sort of “news deserts” that are associated with the dominance of local news in media markets dominated by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose dissemination of a right-wing agenda to the televisions of 40% of Americans seems to have increased polarization in the last election.  The decline of local press–and the absence of paper newspapers–seem in another reminder of how the end of the local reporting poses deep dangers to our democracy–and invites unpredicted sorts of vulnerabilities.

 

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Vox, using dSinclair Broadcasting Group data cross-checked with Nielsen; darker areas denote where Sinclair runs more than one station

 

The divide between red and blue masks the dominant place of far more determining sites of constituencies that are more up for grabs–and my determine the election as extra-urban areas that are demographically distinct, and difficult to cast as blue or red.  The refusal to divide the nation into red and blue states, an increasingly meaningless unit, opened the possibility for change that the dominance of infographics in mediating and reframing our democracy has militated against.

Back when Obama energized the convention by reassuring the nation as well as delegates who had assembled in Chicago that, despite the evidence of infographics, the fissures of a fractured body politic that many maps continued to project were not destined to divide the nation:  “We’re not red states and blue states; we’re all Americans,” Obama urged, “standing up together for the red, white and blue,” even if we were powerfully represented as contentious factions on electoral maps.  The reservations that Obama expressed was compelling as an alternative vision of national unity; it in a sense under-wrote the mantra of “Hope” for a new way of seeing the nation, although this division seemed to return with a vengeance in 2016, as if it haunts the nation.

 

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The divide was, perversely, as powerful back in 2004, back when Obama first chastised the nation so firmly for having adopted the divide as inevitable.  So rhetorically powerful was the visual image of national unity as a rebuke to the fracturing of the map to announce Obama’s oratorical eloquence to the nation.  It seemed a healing balm for a riven republic, even as the 2004 election, despite its clarity of divisions by state, trumpeted in a powerful infographic that suggested isolated bodies of blue set apart form an apparently alienated flyover country that blared bright red indignantly–

 

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USA Today/BeldarBlog

–in ways that were echoed if not accentuated in the county-by-county breakdown that USA Today issued the day after, and the way Bush dominated what have been called the “battle-ground” states–then Arkansas, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania–as he did nationwide, even if the distribution didn’t break down at all so smoothly along state “lines”–

 

Mark Newman Red:Blue ma2004countymap-final2.png

 

–to muster the bulk of electoral votes out of the hands of California, Illinois and New York and served to create a solid electoral alliance all the better able to isolate Texas.

The “real America” might well lie in the edges of the blue and red, or the “purple” counties where political debate needs to be foster and occur.  Indeed, the image of divisiveness haunted the political imaginary of the nation so much the nation may have yearned for imagining a new collectivity by 2008.  Despite the fragmenting of the electoral map that occurred in 2004, where states seemed to vote red in their entirety, it might be noted that the same map could be resolved, in a district-by-district image of magnitudes, in a far more complex picture of the deeper red areas perhaps aligning more clearly with states than the more selective distribution of the strongest Democratic voters concentrated in regions voting Democratic–the “blue”–

 

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–that is echoed in the far more complex county-by-county picture of 2016, whose shadings are much more telling of political truths:  despite the image of a “heartland” or a true America that is red, many of the areas that seem deep red on the electoral map are indeed light pink or shaded, and suggest that these areas–the less polarized–might be the “real” America much more than the deep red areas, which seem in fact the most remote.

 

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The fracturing of the electoral map by manipulating media was not new to such outlets as Sinclair Broadcasting Group:  Trump turned to the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, noted Media Matters, for interviews to reach a broader demographic, using a group notorious for revealing their boosterism for conservative causes, from ordering stations in 2004 to run anti-John Kerry segments over normal programming over the country–

 

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–using 173 television stations in 81 markets along “180 program streams” in 51 markets:

image.pngGray Television Group Station Map

–as Trump sought to eat into Hillary Clinton’s midsummer lead in national polls, by speaking to voting markets in newly “purple” regions as Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Colorado, and West Virginia, to circumnavigate traditional media outlets.  We would do well to remember that, in ways that raised raised eyebrows for some, that by November 8, 2016, areas like Iowa, Ohio, North Dakota and Arizona were suddenly shifting pink–as would Florida and North Carolina, suddenly an increasingly light blue.

 

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1. There was a time when the red state/blue state divide was not so powerful in our minds.  The power of such an image of electoral unity was already so ingrained in 2004 that its rejection provided more than a powerful rhetorical image for the man who would be elected President in 2008.  The image of a nation that departed from a fractured infographic became central, in many ways, to Obama’s campaign, and a powerful image of a new political future.  Obama recalled the problematic nature of the chromatic division in his own campaigns several times, most famously, perhaps, to rebuke the danger of returning to a chromatic divide in 2012.  In the heat of the Presidential campaign for his second term, President Obama redeployed the refrain in a tweet simply asserting that “There are no red states and blue states, just the United States,” as if to dispatch or denaturalize the splintered red state-blue geography that haunted our diet of infographics in Presidential campaigns.   When Obama penned the figure of speech in 2004, before addressing the Democratic Convention in Chicago, John Kerry so quickly recognized its rhetorical power that he asked to adopt the image in delivering his acceptance of the 2004 nomination, although we’ll always remember it as Obama’s.

State Senator Obama warned somewhat prophetically of the difficulties implicit in any national mapping that ran against national interests; the junior Senator from Illinois took pundits to task for presenting a picture of the nation that served only “to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states–red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats.”  Obama called out the two-color maps as perpetuating a harmful vision, apt to diminish voters’ sense of their ability to effect political change, and diminishing voters’ agency, by inscribing the voting patterns in a static map that fractured the nation into blocks of like-mindedness as if to portray electoral results as predetermined and not contingent.  (The notion of “swing-states” would only emerge as a way to challenge the authority of this two-color map, of course, during Obama’s own 2008 candidacy.)

But the divides that we have come to perpetuate again in the 2016 Presidential election may suggest that the divides were less starkly drawn between red and blue district than Daily Kos Elections calculations suggest, which shows the dissonance between the map of congressional districts were poor vehicles to mediate the popular vote:  for a map of districts distorts geography; the increased crowding of the population in districts that vote “blue.”  Yet can the divide in the nation in fact be best understood by continuing to contemplate this fracturing, and not attending to the sites of smaller electoral margins–where the decision occurs, or at least which create a sense of tipping points, where the truly consequential electoral decisions seem to be increasingly made?  Obama’s caution not to be seduced by slicing and dicing the country seems particularly perceptive, and suggests the danger of trusting a chromatic divide of the country.

 

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Xenocrypt

 

2.  Obama’s phrase has gained a quite surprising second life in the recent unpacking of how the electoral outcome of the election was sought to be strategically manipulated through the manufacture of a clearer red-blue divide through the voting patterns of purple states.  What were words of caution have gained a new concrete sense after the indictments released by Robert S. Mueller III have revealed outside interest in sharpening contrasts in the electoral map in the 2016 Presidential race, that suggests that the infographic has indeed gained an upper hand in the electoral process in even more dangerous ways than Obama had described.

It’s indeed pretty hard to see the United States divided into “red” and “blue” states, isolated from the world, in the same way again, as if each state shaded pink, light blue or strong red and dark blue in complete autonomy, showing their political temperatures in isolation of from the outside world.  Indeed, although the 2014 House of Representative race was striking for its salmon pinkness–and the deep red of the US-Mexico border, as well as Iowa, such colors are increasingly difficult to be seen as self-contained or removed from the larger world.

 

 

2014 House of Representatives Mid-Term Election 

 

Back when Senator Barack Obama so eloquently endorsed John Kerry as a presidential candidate, his admonition–or quite gentle–scolding struck such a chord not only as an effective image of patriotic identity, and not a reality check.  But the powerful phrasing became a theme of his campaign, and it was unsurprising when Obama returned to it in his 2008 victory speech in Grant Park, and welcomed the good news of what seemed a remapping of the United States, and he took the time to congratulate American voters for having “sent a message to the world that we have never been just . . .  a collection of red states and blue states” and which confirmed that, appearances to the contrary, we “are, and will always be, the United States of America.”  The words had reverberated in many ears with a sense of freshness, from when they were first uttered, as if seeking to disabuse television audiences of the image that had haunted the nation from before the 2000 election, but which had stuck uncomfortably in the background of the nation’s cerebral cortex, creating an image of sharp divisions,–even if those divisions were far less clear on the ground even in 2004, as Obama had suggested–but full of chromatic variations, even when they appeared entrenched, with some eighteen to twenty states mapped in varied shades of purple.  The blurred nature of this dive into voting habits as much as patterns suggests a point-value to political preferences that is misleading, but as a snapshot of the body politic, it suggests diagnostic tool that was valued in altering electoral outcomes as much as the image of individual agency that Bascom Guffin worked to create, using the concept that political scientist Robert Vanderbei had in fact developed for the 2004 Presidential race.  For the map suggested the actuality of the more complicated chromatic divides that Obama had then recently described.

 

purple_nationBascom Guffin, “Purple Nation”

 

Yet the dynamic of the purple regions seems to have been increasingly changed by the emergence in many places of “news deserts”–sites of no or only one local newspaper–in a phenomenon that is increasingly internet-driven, and reinforced by the growing number of news deserts across the nation.  As mapped in interactive form on Carto to reveal the spaces afflicted by the least local news sources–counties with no or one local newspaper, zero suggested by the lightest pink or one by salmon–

 

News Deserts--light pink = zero newpapers; salmon = 1.pngColumbia Journalism review/C. Chisolm

 

–the holes within the information network of much of the nation can be observed that intersect with once purple areas in striking ways, and the hollowing out of a news community in both rural and some urban areas.  The growth of “media deserts” up to 2014 mirror the end of Obama’s second term, and the growth of an alt right movement that has gained an increasingly dominant voice in the American political landscape, where the diminution of local news sources has altered the nature of public opinion have left increasing swaths of the nation dependent on online news sources, altering the information economy in decisive ways that helped allow red/blue cleavages to grow, and polarizing news agencies to reach a larger and more decisive constituency.

 

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Even more compellingly, it suggests the end of an economy of local news over much of the nation.  huge gaping holes have widened to leave the nation like a hunk of swiss cheese, in the southwest, modest, and northwest, as the outbreak of three wobbly but hovering blobs over the nation–including the southwestern border, whose hollowing has left them increasingly susceptible and open to both greater malleability and less reporting of the local consequences of issues of national debate.  In this setting, it is no surprise, perhaps, that internet-driven concerns about immigration, crime, and terrorist threats have been stoked and enflamed with greater ease–and populations most easily subject to outside interference because they lacked the resilience of local news.  In what almost seems a free speech violation, and a difficulty of generating public debate, the growing holes of such news deserts–which, much as it would deprive epidemiologists of needed tools to measure local rates of the growth of infectious disease or influenza–create barriers to assess the local impact of issues exclusively cast in national terms?  Is a decline of local reporting indicative of a qualitative change in the nature of communities, now more likely to adopt oppositional agendas rather than articulate their own?  Or is the rise of “news deserts” congruent with the increase in broadcast news that casts both global policy and national politics in increasingly oppositional terms?

 

Public-health-and-local-media-1024x576.pngDom Smith/Stat News

 

The expansion of such “news deserts” where no or only one source of news exists, according to the American Alliance for Audited Media.  AAUM measured the number of papers that reached at least 1% of each county, and haven’t converted to an exclusively digital form, as a proxy for the decline of news publications, and the increasing reliance on non-local media; while a focus on newspapers is questionable in an era of the dominance of television and on-line news, the hope to measure and map the reduction of local media within issues about issues of national consequence suggested the distinct shift in public debate.  Indeed, shuttering many smaller news publications, both urban and suburban, deprive communities of a local voice in events that seem to spin far beyond the local in increasingly challenging ways, and place global issues–undocumented immigrants; terrorist threats; refugees–in relation to local concerns in ways both challenging and difficult to grasp.

 

one to two souresColumbia Journalism Review–light pink without local news sources; salmon with one

 

Considered another ways, the near-absnence of non-profit news sources outside of metro areas, and few sources of information were available in small towns, and indeed outside the coasts–understanding the “news desert” as an absence of non-profit news, a dearth felt nationwide save in several cities as Denver, Austin, New Orleans, Madison, and Minneapolis–and to consider the different information markets that exist in much of the nation where Trump performed so stunningly.

 

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Each graphic invites us to examine the category and meaning of the ‘news desert,’ a term by no means clearly defined in an era of online news.  Is the fear that a common concern of news media that may itself loose analytic force?   Thomas Jefferson insisted that “The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate,” but the expansion of areas without local news venues or voices, or meaningful political endorsements, suggests not only a dangerous remove from national issues, but a vulnerability to external threats in an age where most get their news online and through Facebook feeds–and the expansion of online news threatens to make it impossible for all to feel themselves able to stay informed.

 

news deserts.pngDom Smith/Stat News

 

The gaping holes in the above GIF suggests a growing eating out of public opinion.  The hugely successful appeal of Trump’s candidacy in areas of relatively low news presence is not a surprise.  Trump was himself quite acutely aware “I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you,” as he told FOX Business Network as the election approached.  Trump’s avoidance of the mainstream media was notorious, although the success with which this became a strategy blindsided many.  But the sectarian–if not almost Manichean–divisions between red states and blue have been fostered and promoted by a decline in non-partisan or non-profit news sources.  And in a new range of articles on the increasingly partisan news offices at FOX or Sinclair Broadcasting, which reaches 39 percent of households in the country before its pending merger with Tribune Media.  Sinclair’s strategy of integrating national messages with local news suggests particularly dangerous ways of masquerading as local news–and driving fear in increasingly oppositional ways, accentuating the blue/red infographic in ways that were not even on Obama’s radar, although he perceptively sensed the divide emanated from screens more than it existed on the ground.

 

3.  The increasingly oppositional divisions are not evident in a stark division of political preference and allegiance within the current national map, and enabled a targeting of the parsing of populations and festering of divides.  Indeed, the success of the Trump team may lie in the address of the purplest populations of the nation, in which the success of the Trump vote can be mapped in what seems an inverse relation to printed news subscriptions:  ‘news deserts’ provided a crucial core constituency for Trump’s success, or at least correlate strongly, if one takes the shaky database of newspaper subscriptions that has been provided by the Alliance for Audited Media–an admittedly incomplete dataset whose questionable focus on subscriptions to local newspapers–not really adequate as a proxy for “news deserts” in an age of television and national news, but perhaps suggestive of the power of the local editorial endorsement–even if the description of “traditional news outlets” remains a questionable metric for access to news information.

 

Politico Deserts.pngLimited Subscriptions to Local Newspapers in America 

 

The growth of online news seems to have removed regions of the south and northwest from the figure of the local newspaper reporter.  Such a divide echoes the rural/urban divide, and may indicate the remove of much of the polity from public opinion, and a deep-set resistance to opinions broadcast from both coasts during the election seems rooted in the erosion of news communities in ways that demand to be mapped.  The growth of venues such as Sinclair Broadcasting provided ways of growing this divide–or fissure–through a virtual stranglehold on news sources in many sites.

 

4.  Obama successfully downplayed deep differences between red states and blue states by more than powerful and affecting rhetorical device.  His bridging of a chromatic divide was not only stirring not only to those in cities, but comforting in small towns.  By 2008, Obama’s audience were happy to accept as an invitation as his own coinage, and take it as an invitation to put aside animosity across electoral divides.  But the very notion of such a blue state-red state divide–and the prominence in such a divide of the purple–has recently gained new meaning and relevance in Robert S. Mueller III’s recent indictment charging thirteen Russians of waging information wars during the election.  For the Russians who were identified as arriving from 2014 aimed to splinter existing political divides by fostering increased dissensus and distrust in the political system in the “purple” states as those where the election of 2016 could be most effectively swung.  Indeed, the very vulnerability of the political imaginary that foregrounded a red state-blue state divide for the global image of American politics made something of an unforeseen return, when it was announced that the Russian operatives who had toured several states to conduct something of a political ethnography of the abilities to create greater political divisions and distrust in the political system focussed on the sensitivity of “purple states” as sites to increase and exploit existing political divides, and create increased political tensions in the United States through the results of its elections.

Taking the occasion of the 2016 Presidential election as an occasion to increase political distrust, and for slicing and dicing the nation For the targeting of what were described as “purple states,” in an unforessen appropriation of maps of a less polarized “Purple America” made after the divisive presidential election of 2000, by political scientist Robert J. Vanderbei .  The new visualization was widely adopted by the news media as a dynamic form of infographic, using colors exclusively to communicate the political temperature of Americans.  Yet the image gained a new second life as it provided a ground-plan for planting social media interventions, Special Counsel Mueller’s indictment reveals that the figure of speech, as well as a concrete metaphor, served to target disrupting political consensus from 2014.   Indeed, “purple America” provided not only a target for winning over the electorate for both political parties, but a target for disrupting consensus evident as much from outside of the United States as from within.

If purple can come to seem a sign of vulnerability, this is in large part because of the possibilities of warping through the electoral college produces clear divides, but which indeed offers a sense of stability–affirming a sense of continuities all too easily disrupted by the dogmatic prism of a red state/blue state electoral map, with a brightest red–actually pink–in the Texas panhandle and Dakotas, but the nation is decisively mottled; even in the divisive 2004 electoral map, “red” only dominated Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho, and redness was evident in blue states, as bluenesses in reds.  Drilling down so far is not, in many cases, an adequate picture of the political process, but offers a counter-map to the electoral map, that reflects a sense of cartographical insufficiency.

 

PurpleStates.jpgEmmie Mears, “These Purples States of America”

 

Emmie Mears’ deeper dive into the data is a striking photoshop map and suggests an even greater expanse of purple.  The contiguity of purple shades that run the vast extent of the nation pointedly challenged the polarities shared by pundits, and reveals, even in the 2016 Presidential race, a widespread admixture of voting tendencies.  Although Obama’s stirring image of overcoming political divides is often retrospectively cast as pandering to patriotism, it increasingly seems an accurate prognosis of a problem waiting to happen.  While Mears’ visualization was intended to affirm the plurality of political opinions, to undo the tension of oppositional confrontation that was generated already in the nightly news, the danger of adopting such a syntax of a census–familiar from the Dustin Cable’s Racial Dot map or the American Community Survey, which show both diversity and stark lines of ethnicity, education, and income, the danger of the vesting of political preference as a question of character–and not a selection in a given time and place–of course dilutes the representational institutions, and poses the problem of whether a two-party system can ever be able to refract our political diversity.

But it also suggests the broad openings for undermining that consensus, as the recent indictment of thirteen Russians who conducted preparatory ethnography as they planned a long-term project of disrupting American political consensus that would intersect in unforeseen ways with the candidacy of Donald Trump–a long-time fringe candidate, whose ascendancy to the oval office had been represented as an unsavory alternate future in Doonesbury, but whose own deep hunger for approval, recognition, and adulation seems to have created a tenacity to court  audiences without much attention to the public good.  Whether or not Trump shared the vision of the electoral map as ripe for exploitation, although his own deep attachment to the two-color outcome of the electoral map hints at how overjoyed he was with the results, the echo chamber of social media certainly helped dilute the deep purpleness of America that political scientists had mapped.

 

5.  If it’s the case that Trump proudly selected a framed map of the distorted division of electoral votes in the White House as one of the first images to be displayed to visitors, he certainly took deep satisfaction at the outcome  which was in part the result of targeting public opinion in divisive ways, even if many of the most powerful and divisive images that announced his campaign promises to the public seem to have derived from suspiciously identified social media sources.  The gap in population density between flatland of the regions of “red America” is thrown into a relief in a prism map that offers a county-results in a tiltable 3-D electoral map between counties voting Trump from those voting Clinton, a gap evident in economic integration, education, and lifestyle, that reminds us of the gap in media coverage increasingly centered in cities; but if it corrects the distorted flatland of an electoral map,  it surely exaggerates that yawning gap, as its blue/red dichotomy erased the purple nature of so many counties where social media news feeds helped worked to fill that gap, allowing Facebook feeds to play an increased role in forming a surrogate public opinion that could effectively intensify existing political divides, so that they appear even more extreme that in previous elections with the sort of “political intensity” that indicted Russians planned to foment.  Did the extension of first amendment Free Speech laws to cover data-driven bots and platforms designed to work by keeping viewers engaged help  expand the blue/red divisions that we’ve come to accept in the electoral map?

 

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County-level Margins of Victory legend.pngBlueshift

 

Indeed, the current rash of twitterbots that issued viral memes from #ReleasetheMemo to #Guncontrolnow and #Parklandshooting that hail from Russia–if not St. Petersburg–need to be held to different standards than First amendment rights, but under if seen as speech acts, protected First amendment, although originating in foreign lands, they are able to gain a pressing reality in our politics for their consumers and followers.  The shape of such activity seems especially prominent in creating an apparent groundswell of the alt Right in the last election.  When Mueller’s indictment forced social media giant Twitter was forced to purge thousands of newly suspected automated bots posting from overseas that Twitter’s legal division had seen as protected by Free Speech, deleting 50,000 accounts linked to Russian bots created such sudden drops in the numbers of the followers of figures like white nationalist Richard Spencer or long-time Trump promoter Bill Mitchell that they were suspected as victims of a purge of followers of the alt right.  If the move provoked cries of censorship, we were reminded how much twitter shaped the election in the valleys of areas colored red, where a third of pro-Trump tweets among over a million tweets issued by automated bots, and pro-Trump rallies belying his lower standings in most polls save on Facebook, as millions of bots nudged the geography of the map from behind the scenes through an unforseen barrage of propagandistic images and texts that directed the mental attention of a Durkheimian collective.

Many images displayed by accounts suspected of originating overseas, as of the platform ‘Secured Borders,’ create a quite viscerally striking image of the very geopolitical imaginary that the Trump campaign openly promoted.  But if they echo Trump’s rhetoric, the deeply offensive images identifying migrants as vermin, as if to deny them of legal rights, derive from a right-wing imaginary already current in central Europe, as other images used in Trump’s political commercials, showing hoards of immigrants racing across border, and  betray historical roots in Nazi visual propaganda.  These images created a geographical imaginary rooted in fear, indeed, and promote a geopolitical imaginary–a divide made visibly clear in cartoonish ways in the contrast between the barren lands to one side of the wall and the green lands across it, where the suited Father Figure Donald Trump stands wearing his red tie and flag pin, in a new and creepy image of the defender of the nation–as if to protect the greenness of its grass.  (The creepy smile and richly solid comb over look so little like our supposed President, it is quite oddly designed, if replete with visual triggers, and its hortatory text lacking a comma, its limited punctuation seeming poorly proofread.)

 

 

Secured Borders: immigrant as vermin?

 

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6.  Such a reality seems to heighten not only the “political intensity” but heighten divides along what we map in red/blue terms, despite the limited explanatory power of an electoral flatland’s gaps between blue peaks of populated centers and the far redder expanses. Even after refining the flat electoral map, by adopting opacities to render margins of victory, retaining a contrast designed to foreground sharp differences fails to register the range of purple regions that turned red, driven toward an intensity of political involvement or disaffection by memes of social media still protected as “free” speech.

The issue is not only, moreover, the troll accounts that were tied to a Russian “troll factory” outside of St. Petersburg, Russia.  For the so-called ‘factories’ that mined images designed to provoke visceral responses that would trump reflection released a steady feed of fake news, based on innuendo and insinuation as well as outright slander and attack, that polluted the global media, as they were actively retweeted by the Washington Post, Jack Dorsey, CNN’s Jake Tapper, to fed an information ecosystem that was waiting to be poisoned, as some 3,000 global news outlets inadvertently included tweets originating from confirmed Kremlin-linked troll accounts in upwards of 11,000 “news” articles as the 2016 Presidential election approached, based on an analysis of over 2,700 Twitter handles confirmed to be linked by Twitter to the Internet Research Agency, a group tied to Russian intelligence–including David Duke (@DrDavidDuke), Sen. John Coryn (@JohnCornyn), Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls), FOX News host Sean Hannity (@seanhannity), Brad Parscale (@parscale), Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci), former White House press secretary Sean Spicer (@seanspicer), and Sen. Ted Cruz (@tedcruz)–in ways that transformed Twitter into a tool of information war.  By targeting audiences by zip-code, education, and wealth, raising the specter of those who “come to our country to change our traditions,” and increasing the fear and specter of unwanted refugees.

 

Meltwater

 

Tweets on new issues of 2016, from illegal immigration to voter fraud, circulated from Russian plants–in cringe-inducing claims such as “If Hillary wins, she will amnesty 30+ million illegal aliens and Republicans will never win an election again”, or “#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands ineligible mail-ins for Hillary votes being reported in Broward County FL”–mirrored the fears of a “rigged” system and election that Trump had repeatedly conjured, and created a new meme in American political discourse that increased skepticism about the political process.

The overlap between many purple regions and regions with distinct patterns of consuming news in print or online media would have only magnified the divides where social media platforms spread disinformation–that infamous “fake news”–to gain a purchase as real in our political system.  Even if the possibility of infection by viral posts can’t yet be traced or measured with certainty as a map, the disinformation moved by bots or “troll factories” created a pitched battle of electoral intensity, that was staged around electoral votes or at least along fomenting clearly defined geographic/regional divides that Russians charged with visiting states in the United States to gain a sense of their ability to exploit a divided political landscape didn’t even need to travel to America to apprehend, as infographics clearly served as a readily available primer on how best to foment increased divisions.  Indeed, even by creating a distracting static whose constant beat eroded dialogue or trust, from internet accusations of the murder of Justice Antonin Scalia, deep distrust of naming a successor, and a year-long vacancy of his seat, as Mitch McConnell forced the sort of divisive deadlock only able to intensify political opposition.  (While the diffusion of the demand among Republicans began from McConnell’s quick tweet incited a sort of collective resistance, issued hours after Scalia expired in Texas, and lent broad currency to the numerous questions about conspiracies of the nature of his death that circulated online.  The  false populism in many ways echoed Trumpism, issued an hour after Scalia was confirmed as dead, and generated disruptive memes on social media–“OMG They killed Scalia” “I hope an autopsy is done to make sure Obama didn’t have him killed”– which supported an unprecedented, as Glenn Thrush and Burgess Everett reminded us, “rebuke of President Obama’s authority” and “categorical rejection of anyone Obama chose to nominate,” irrespective of their merits, to disrupted trust in political consensus during the Republican and Democratic primaries.  (Was it a surprise that McConnell, the senior senator from deep red Kentucky, playing the part of a disruptor, in late August single-handedly blocked bipartisan decisions to alert the American public to FBI reports of Russia’s unwanted involvement in the presidential election, from staging cyberattacks to ties to the campaign of Donald J. Trump?)

The entrance of this gambit within the context of the political election indeed led all Republican nominees to adopt the issue that drove a wedge between red and blue states and their respective media outlets, in what was cast as a rebuke to President Obama’s lack of respect for the institution of Congress to pursue “his personal agenda.”  A yawning gap between red and blue counties reveals the disconnect in our social fabric but of the consumption of news, and sources of opinion, about which the “troll factory” charged with launching disruptive messages into America’s Presidential election from St. Petersburg were able to play a disproportionately outsized role.  The divide was plain in this 2013 map of print news consumption, where yellow shows the swath of land getting news principally from USA Today, a year later by online outlets Huffington Post and TMZ, where the investment in social media may have had particularly pronounced leverage.  And in a period of increased attachment to divisive news sources that intensified an absence of dialogue between political parties, the expansion of divisive posts on social media platforms helped to undermine civic discourse.

 

7.  When Jared Kushner openly boasted that his father-in-law Donald was able to secure a deal with one of the largest media broadcasters in the United States–the Sinclair Broadcasting Group to ensure superior media coverage, and presumably promote attack ads, he suggested that the Trump team was on board in broadcasting their message to purple states within the political map–targeting a similar audience than that reflected in the yellow expanse below of states that were the most apt to share news stories in 2013–areas that already ran pretty red.

 

print-news-consumption-2013Media Map Showing Most Shared News in Each State (2013)

 

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The metaphorical trolling of the country that foreground the imminent threat terrorists pose to the nation, raise suspicions about Barack Obama’s or Hilary Clinton’s motivations for being President and ties to suspicious organizations, by the same Sinclair Broadcasting Group.  In ways that recall the media attack ads manufactured abroad, news segments ran on the dangers that immigration poses across the nation’s southern border from anchors of chains of local news stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, a media conglomerate which regularly issues “must-run” segments of news to its 173 affiliates, whose involvement in local news markets is now posed to enter urban areas–and making the news corporation the largest in the nation, with 233 stations.  Did the news group offer a disinformation of its own, now seemingly only poised to grow into an urban market with its acquisition of Tribune media?

Would this expand the map’s red?

 

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The splitting of news constituencies reached by the Sinclair Group along an urban/rural divide that reflects the Trump’s “heartland” has been noted, and since 2013 offered a basis for “managing” a constellation of stations that worked around FCC regulations on media consolidation that are intended to promote local news diversity.  The lack of diversity in the 38% of households that they reached–now posed to reach 72%–already offered a powerful megaphone for addressing residents in “purple” states–in the Midwest, West, and Southwest–and mirror the “gaping holes” of news deserts, where local news sources are increasingly absent.

 

sinclair1Technical.ly

 

It is not surprising to see Trump’s FCC to take steps that actively aided the expansion of Sinclair media into American households by merging with Tribune Media, by adopting a loophole that once pertains to UHF broadcasting–and is long technologically obsolete–to allow low-budget stations to grow, thereby allowing it to grow beyond the ceiling of 39% of a national audience to diffuse a fairly reactionary message if one maps its media footprint in ways that would allow it to address more than 39% of its existing market.

 

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Politico mapped existing Sinclair stations against their media footprint

 

8.  Although it was habitual to take what seems Obama’s fondness for the phrase as a sense of its particular rhetorical effectiveness, a more charitable interpretation of his attachment to the phrase might be intimations of the deeply corrosive nature of the metaphorical divide of the nation.  The image of an electoral divide perpetuated by pollsters and pundits was shown to haunt the nation not only in the 2016 Presidential election but, as we have heard in the recent expansive indictment that Mueller issued accusing Russian operatives who travelled the United States seeking strategies to sew discord “in the U.S. political system” from 2014.  Traveling in Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan, Illinois, Texas, they defined their mission as  oriented along that very divide.  Defendants Mssrs. Krylova, Bogacheva, and Bovda were charged with conspiracy for not disclosing the motivations of their travels in the United States posing as tourists, developed the idea of targeting “purple states” as sites to foment the greatest divisions–seeking to “create ‘political intensity through supporting radical groups” and transform fictitious personas into “leaders of ‘public opinion’ in the United States” by hundreds of social media account.  While traveling in America a “real U.S. person” advised that they

 

should focus their
activities on "purple states" like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.

 

–and the principle of “targeting ‘purple states'” returned in later months as a ground-plan to disrupt the election, and sew a deeper sense of distrust within our democracy.  Even if the term “purple states” that emerged as sites of targeting may not have been seen as sites where social media platforms could have substantially increased authority, the success of increasing divisiveness readily responded to stark divisions on the map.

The parlance learned in the United States was shaped in the media sphere to enlarge factional divides, if the notion of “Purple America” had been born to give complexity to a blue state versus red state divide.  Avatars on fictitious social media accounts used the categories of political scientists to amplify existing prejudices from troll factories in St. Petersburg, often pedaling prejudices that gained greater reality in what seemed public opinion as the election approached.  The “information warfare” waged on social media that was an odd spin on globalization, that kicked into gear with racial prejudice channeled by Russian hipsters working round the clock in twelve-hour shifts from a designated “Facebook department” in Taylorist fashion within a “troll factory”:  the surprising success of targeting voters in the United States was based on extensive mapping of political divisions, and a design to exploit them through social media.  Were the addictive apparatus of a medium that seeks to command the attention of observers part of the plan?

Such images, texts, comments, and posts designed to stoke divisions were based on ventriloquizing Americans, but pushing the envelope on the standards of address:   in a scene straight of Adam Smith’s pin-making factories, the web of disinformation that was spun from Americans’ social media fabric extended not only what seemed to the Russian who created them incredibly “believed [to be] written by their own people,” and even worked directly with the Trump campaign to coordinate rallies in purple states like Florida.  If Trump didn’t detect that the divisiveness Russian trolls devised on Facebook feeds incriminated his campaign, because Mueller did not reveal direct ties between the desire of the Internet Research Agency to sew disinformation and division was distant from his own campaign–“Obama was President up do, and beyond, the 2016 election.  So why didn’t he do something about Russian meddling?”–what Trump confidently imagined to be a wellspring of popular support for his candidacy may well only have intersect with the more successful than anticipated adoption of the Russian trolls’ stories in Facebook platforms that created the intense emotional involvement which drove an under-the-radar aspect to the campaign, from images linking Hillary Clinton to Satanism to targeted voter suppression to diffusing enthusiasm by openly promoting third-party candidates as effective protest votes.

Indeed, Facebook and Twitter did the heavy lifting of ensuring that trolling from St. Petersburg were sent out across America, and to effectively mask the diffusion of messages along various social networking platforms to create something like an inadequate surrogate for public opinion–even as Facebook was foreign to Russian social networking when the Internet Research Agency was begun in 2014.

 

world-map-social-networks-dec-2014

 

The Internet Research Agency, perhaps an acronymic pun on the Irish Republican Army, worked to foment what seemed a similar faith-based war by manipulating styled prejudices to “spread distrust” to online communities they had infiltrated, warning of misleading “hype and hatred . . . forcing Blacks to vote for Killary” to “Woke Blacks” Instagram accounts in October 2016–weeks before the election–and adding “we would surely be better off without voting AT ALL” than cast a vote for the Democratic candidate.  As well as  unleashing an unprecedented epidemic of trolling, the St. Petersburg “troll factory” staffed by 900 employees posted over thousand times each week at the height of the election from over one hundred Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, in ways that magnified the rifts in the isolated filter bubbles had previously existed in order to turn them against one another.  When Eli Pariser in 2011 coined the phrase to describe the dangers of isolating information ecosystems in selective news feeds forming virtual echo chambers of false comfort in an insulated information bubble,

 

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the tools of social media sites enabled the splintering to actual communities in an almost mechanical fashion of cause and effect, as if sending ripples able to create the sort of electoral disruption in strategic ways.  In doing so, they mirror the very danger of which President Obama in his final public speech cautioned against “retreat into our own social media feeds” as rendering Americans uncritical information consumers [who] start accepting information, whether its true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on evidence that is out there.”  The warning delivered after the election of Donald Trump and delivered in Chicago saw Obama trying to move out of the bubble, and was delivered near to where his 2008 victory speech celebrating an America able to transcend its image as a nation divided between red states and blue states.  But the bubbles in which selective calls to not go to the polls or demonize the Democratic candidate were launched as narratives may have made them difficult to detect or counteract.

The sort of fragmentation that troll factories Mueller has charged were orchestrated from abroad are described as being planned after reconnaissance in the United States.  The same divides, it is important to remember, could have been as easily gleaned online.  And even if trips to the United States are described as developed by operatives traveling to the United States to discover, much the same sort of prejudice pedaled in postings crafted in St. Petersburg to disrupt the Presidential election based on a fractured public politics could have been gleaned form an infographic.  The disruptiveness of disinformation created feedback loops that only mimicked oppositional racism as much as it mimicked back prejudices observed in ethnographic study of American social media Facebook groups.

Indeed, the stories of Russian hipsters working twelve-hour days on posting divisive comments on Facebook from 2014-16 in St Petersburg, posing as Americans, and required to write an essay in English on Hillary Clinton to determine whether they were suitable for the job, suggests just how invested the foreign government was in addressing social media to purple states to influence the election’s outcome, and doing their best to dissuade blacks and other minorities from supporting Hilary Clinton, despite an overall eligible voting population that was more racially and ethnically diverse than ever, according to Pew Research, but for the first time blacks declined as a share of voters since 2004.   Black voters were not only among the “three major voter suppression operations” Trump advisors worked to lower turn-out, with white liberals and young women, but one of the most successful efforts seemingly tied to Trump’s director of data digital operation in his San Antonio headquarters, Brad Parscale, whose nightly electoral simulations seemed aimed at providing a basis for to partly its data into a new news organization, mirrors techniques of turnout suppression adopted by destabilizing social media divides.  Facebook accounts such as the “Blacktivist” page that urged that voting for Jill Stein–a candidate with close ties to Russia–was “not a wasted vote,” clearly recycled historical images of African-American nationalism and solidarity, in hopes to decrease voter turn-out in Maryland.  The use of the emblem may seek to re-engineer the energy of black voters for past Democratic Presidential victories, and to scare others who might see it.  With other accounts openly urging Muslim voters to boycott the election, the goal was to dilute and splinter the very coalitions that the Clinton campaign assembled by sowing distrust–and indeed, to exploit social media by triggering a clear emotional response, more than making an argument.

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The studies of social media patterns that began from at least 2014, which were, as if by coincidence, marked by huge Republican gains in Senate and House under a banner of the most angry national midterm elections to be directed against a sitting President, was effectively amplified with the encouragement and traction that the bitterness of 2014 elections had set across the southern states and deep south, southwestern Texas along the US-Mexico border, and in formerly ‘blue’ or ‘purple’ states–creating a particularly obstructionist House of Representatives that succeeded to obstruct so any of the policies President Obama sought to pursue in his final two years.

 

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National results of the 2014 House races, showing Republican gains in bright red

 

9.  The proliferation of robo-posts seeking to foster divisiveness upped the ante far more than Sinclair Broadcasting, but the two seem to have mutually reinforced one another–if not using strikingly similar tactics.  The divisiveness continued by injecting increasingly radicalized terms of political debate, and even fundamentalist notions of apocalypticism, that seemed foreign to American political debate, depicting Hillary Clinton as increasingly satanic and promoting open borders, promoting division and distrust around bizarre social media memes.  The offensive cartoonish images promoted by the IRA-sponsored “Secured Borders” borders account, designed to appeal to Trump’s supporters and introducing an icon of his campaign, resembled the icon of the United States Border Patrol to create an image that not only recalled its official insignia–

 

 

 

–but did so to link a specific presidential candidate to patriotism in extreme ways, celebrating the at of rejecting refugees and asylum-seekers and increasing border protection as a need for national protection, creating a false equivalence if there ever was one, and straining any logical linkages.  (The conceit of “liking” advocating political isolationism is a bizarre mashup of Facebook’s prescriptive language of immediate unconsidered emotional reaction and a political position with all too dangerous political consequences.  Was the irony of using social media to raise questions of border protection not ever perceived?  or was the idea to root the image of a tough border so deeply in one’s mind, that one didn’t think that clearly about its politics, consequences or implications?)

 

 

 

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Indeed, an ethnographic study of Facebook groups might target alone groups living on the southern border, Christian fundamentalists, white supremacists and Black Lives Matter as potential groups to manipulate to stoke divisiveness on partisan lines, and sow disorder on the performance of a two-party system by gaming electoral geography.  There is hope in puncturing the filter-bubbles of Facebook groups, however, by the increased calling out of the need for resolve on a true issue–gun control–too regularly and dismissively side-lined by the staged political debates that were shared in posts, and which seems, if only because of the strength of its blunt actuality, to puncture social media with an urgency that can’t be denied.

 

10.  The decision to direct a social media focus on purple states as sites where divides would stand the greatest chance to disrupt or even to tweak the electoral results reveals a bizarre recycling of what was designed as a classificatory map to increase divisions, and gave a distinctly new ideological flavor and torque to the left-wing concepts of swing states that were so successfully promoted within the 2008 Obama campaign.  By recycling attention-getting image of chromatic divides developed for television audiences, purple states emerged as targets for online spooking, and Facebook aggregation gained traction around affective ideas like casting the color red was a form of patriotism.

But the notion of pressing advantages on social media in states purple, but maybe able to be nudged Republican, provided the deepest rationale for division.  Defendants, posing as members of the group “Being Patriotic,” under the guise of that patriotism offered the idea of pressing their advantage by the notion of a wedge in purple states.  The defendants offered in emails, “we’ve got an idea.  Florida is still a purple state and we need to paint it red.  If we lose Florida, we lose America.  We can’t let it happen, right?  What about organizing a YUGE pro-Trump flash mob in every Florida town?” on August 2, 2106, and offered, “We clearly understand that the elections winner will be predestined [sic] by purple states.”  While not brilliant as strategy, as a selective basis to sew distrust and disorder in one of the most over-polled elections ever, where we watched the results of multiple daily polls as if to deliver the odds on horse races, tweaking the electoral map toward a new color combination was enough.

The “purple” region gained the most striking new sense as sites of information warfare in the United States over a period of years–in ways that might be detached from the actual campaign.  The figure of speech born of data visualizations gained a newfound torque as a form of divisiveness, and the chromatic metaphor operative force, as “focusing on purple states such as Florida” became, for the fictional identity “Josh Hamilton,” a strategy proposed by a false grassroots efforts that was communicated to Trump campaign officials.  White most tracks were concealed, a few were not.  And although the Trump campaign didn’t need to be advised, necessarily, “to focus on ‘purple’ states like Colorado, Virginia, and Florida,” the targeting of areas where there didn’t seem a clear polarity promised to create a far starker one.   But Russian use of a language of infographics served to materialize, in a starkly divided map, existing fault-lines that one needed only to exploit, push apart, and throw into relief to engineer a surprising electoral result, using images that recovered more subtly shaded areas where blue met red as tools that were able to be exploited to show the world a far more bitterly divided United States, as if even raising the specter of a deep red region could sow considerable distrust in a Democratic system, or just vacate whatever appeal its constitutional rights held in Russia and Central Europe.

 

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New York Times:  2016 United States presidential election results by county 

 

The organizing of false grassroots efforts according to the Mueller indictment not only to organize rallies that would “focus on purple states,” but to create a divide in doing so that best exploited divisions in our electoral maps.  Indeed, the notion of such a divide that had been picked up by Nate Silver and across the art of political forecasting was not something that would have had to come from any sort of special informant, being in the air of 2016 and widely broadcast on the airwaves, as the “Purple America” coined right after the divisive presidential election of 2000, by Vanderbei, as a way to come to terms with starkness of the opposition between Bush v. Gore; Vanderbei recast what seemed a polarity in the context of a variety of political opinion, leading to articles after 2004 to insist that America is not divided into sub-nations, or on the brink of a second Civil War, and continued to map the mutation of purple America in future elections.

 

11.  The conceit of Purple America rescued to some extent the simplified opposition implied by a chromatic divide between red v. blue.  Articles ran entitled “Most Americans live in Purple America, not Red or Blue America” rather than in a blue or red state, created a sense of consensus and diversity, befitting a democracy, but the yawning gaps in areas of intense redness meant that purpleness provided a language of opportunity for those seeking to grow division and craft heightened political dissensus.  Vanderbei offered the original “Purple America” to help refine a clearer statistical image of the dynamics hidden between the political polarization of a body politic, and to give greater agency to a varied range of political opinions in most states.  By embodying a red flyover zone, or a blueing of the coasts, the intention was to encourage a deeper dive into the national vote, as well as to retire the tired glossing of the electoral map:  the bridging of a division that Obama would make in his speech in support of John Kerry’s Presidential candidacy fenced the hegemony of a similar symbolic divide, and cast it as at its root dangerous to democracy.

 

 

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Purple America (2000)

 

But it didn’t remain there.  The migration of a language designed for a broad market of TV news infographics to a language of political operatives interested in subverting the democratic process is perhaps instructive.  The map was perhaps replayed in the media as it contained sufficient dramatic tension to foreground problems of crafting political consensus, as if social policies and political opinions were identified with an area in the country, and as if every issue in the political platform was fundamentally designed to capture a divisive issue of political debate–around abortion, social security, gun control, climate change or global warming, environmental regulation, and monetary policy or fiscal restraint–whereas the options on the table were not, in fact, that divergent.

The maps however naturalized the divisions, and, paradoxically, left them open to be exploited, perhaps not so much since we were fractured into filter bubbles as because pundits wanted to create the necessary degree of dramatic tension, and to craft and foreground the dramatic arc of an election season, as if the notion of a ground-plan and an electoral strategy could be portrayed and represented as a military as much as a political one.  The guiding metaphor of divisiveness and division that was foregrounded in this map–as if blocks of population existed with one preference, despite the subtler variations in voting, despite the blue/red divide imposed by majority victory–

Mark Newman Red:Blue ma.png

–even if such a decision, a sort of hold-over from a pre-parliamentary languages of democracy, that privileged the notion of a ruling party in a quasi-monarchical way, obscured the variations once one drilled down into voting patterns–

 

votes- red v blue, by county and interest level

 

–but obscured the huge number of “ghost votes” across the less inhabited areas, where isolated communities, suspended outside of the metropoles, were magnified in an electoral college that robustly enhanced their political voice in ways bluntly reflected by the flatness of the two-color map in stubborn wasy.  But as Chris Howard, inspired by the blended voting maps created by Robert J. Vanderbei of the 2012 election that showed purple America, and the cartograms of Mark Newman, transparencies could capture the magnification of political voices of low-density in the electoral map, in ways that might have suggested the potential for electoral disruption to those seeking to do so–even if such a perverse reading of the language of infographics was hard to imagine.

 

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The graphic language, migrating from electoral processes to the nightly news, may have provided a basis for newscasters to naturalize a drama of political  contestation, more than conversation.  Whereas we are increasingly talking not of “states” that suggest the fragmentation of the union, we live in an increasing economic divide largely oriented not along pitched lines of battle, but by urban/rural divisions, if the divide is belied in the flat pasteurization of space of electoral maps.  The growth of megacities across America have raised multiple divisions electoral maps fail to capture, with its fundamental insistence on the county as a unit of voting, despite the increasing evacuation of its meaning as a unit of political representation.  But as a metaphor, or master-trope, the fracturing of states was something of an invitation to a foreign nation to seize up and try to pry apart, however, as French cartographer Luc Guillmot showed in an alternative cartogram, sized by votes in red states in the so-called heartland of the midwest, in the manner of Ben Hennig’s cartograms.

 

 

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But President Obama’s own words come back to haunt us.  In the electoral maps for the 2016, indeed, the masking of gradations of division produced the sense of a democratic result we were bound to accept–

 

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–even if it brought an intensified red that was really clinched at the margins, or in Texas, Florida, Michigan and Virginia, but whose deep red “heartland” created the sense for the victor that he was indeed recognized by the “real Americans” he so desired to court.  Trump was so taken with the electoral map to have it framed, and has been so personally obsessed with imagining the scale of his supposed victory to be present in the intensity of the square mileage of red hued states to take a truly personal offense at the idea that voters swayed by Facebook pages and Instagram groups are seen as diminishing the status of his victory, and an election he imagines a total victory he pulled off by bravado, and dismiss concern of dangerous effects of foreign disturbances of the voting process.

 

12.  Widespread exploitation of such divisions, and indeed the language of opposition, subverted the democratic process by a vision of polarization that maps reinforced.   And by exploiting that narrow margin of purple states of the nation, local consensus was ready to be flipped, and precedents of civility overturned.  By stoking an an enthusiasm that few saw as even in reach on the eve of electoral night, America seemed to fall into two camps, but with the electoral collect staying clearly in Clinton’s camp.  (The hold on the lighter blue states like Florida and North Carolina were tenuous, however, and the loss in Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania tipped the scales.)

If the blue states seem able to hug the red core to prevent it overflowing to both coasts, the glare of the divisions between blue and red states was so starkly naturalized to masquerade the extent to which flipping purple states would in fact flip much more of the nation red, and alter the outcome of the electoral count in ways that renders the flat dichotomy of a two-color prediction irrelevant.  The flipping of purple and pink states upset the predictive power of a map, but did so in ways that seem only to have reinstated the logic of the divided nation we have created in our infographics which may, in the end run, do far less to inform.

 

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The fact stubbornly remains that it wouldn’t involve that much demographic science or pinpoint precision polling to know that enough pressure in the purple states could create a crisis in consensus enough to blur the outcome of the vote.  But we clearly can’t go back again to seeing the national shores as creating a red/blue divide that is taking the current temperature of public opinion in each state, in isolation from the rest of the world.

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Filed under 2016 US Presidential Election, Donald Trump, electoral maps, News Maps, Presidential Elections