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Political Psychology

False Flag or Not

Reading Time: 8 minutes

The contemporary term false flag describes covert operations that are designed to deceive in such a way that activities appear as though they are being carried out by entities, groups, or nations other than those who actually planned and executed them. [Wikipedia]

Think of a time when you acted on false information. You knew it might be false, but you acted as if it was true. Why did you do that?

As absurd as it seems, people do this all the time. People behave as if something were true even though it might not be true.

Think about runaway stocks. Remember the Iomega Zip Drive stock surge of the 1990s?

A lot of people thought Iomega would become bigger than Apple or Microsoft. I know of a man who sold all of his investments in 1995 to buy Iomega and only Iomega. He said at the time, “this will be the most valuable company of all time.”

Was he right?

From a technology standpoint, no. I was a techie back then, and I knew that Iomega Zip Drives would have a short life expectancy. Maybe two or three years tops. Rewritable CD-ROMs and massive online storage would soon make the Zip Drive a clunky burden. The Zip Drive would die fast.

But in 1995, everybody knew Iomega was the king. In fact, the Zip Drive remains to this day the number one selling computer peripheral of all time.

Because the mid-90s were the peak of nerd-worship, anyone in the tech business learned what everyone thought about technology. At family gatherings, everybody wanted to talk to me about computers. People wanted to know more, and they saw me as an expert. They also wanted to share with me their knowledge. So I learned what people were thinking.

That’s how I learned that a senior vice president at a very large corporation, a man with an MBA from a school you’ve heard of, took his life savings and bought Iomega.

Well, Motley Fool also bought a lot of IOM in 1995. And the value of their Iomega stock rose 1,500% in the next 13 months.

I ask again, did my acquaintance make the right move on IOM?

To answer the question, you need more information. You also need an understanding of the game theory concept of “common knowledge.” For that, I’ll let genius Ben Hunt of Salient Partners explain:

Your feelings about a stock, as opposed to your feelings about a company, should be completely determined by your beliefs about other investors and their feelings about the stock. In the lingo … your preference functions for stocks qua stocks are entirely exogenously derived and epiphenomenal. There is no rational internally-developed preference for one stock versus another stock, any more than I prefer a $5 chip from Harrah’s to a $5 chip from Caesar’s Palace. The only thing I care about is whether other investors, for whatever reason, will value the Harrah’s chip at $6 tomorrow.

Common knowledge is something everyone knows and everyone knows everyone knows. It’s information on which you can expect other people to act a certain way.

For example, imagine that on a Thursday NOAA and the local weather fearmongers bombard St. Louis with news of the “winter storm of the millennium” scheduled to begin the following Tuesday. You can bet store shelves will be devoid of bread, milk, eggs, and rock salt by midday next Monday. It doesn’t matter whether the prediction is right. What matters is that most people will behave as if it’s right. If you need bread or milk, you better get it on Sunday.

Except . . . other people will also think ahead, so you better beat them by shopping on Saturday. But what if a lot of people also think about shopping on Saturday? So you decide to shop on Friday.

Until . . . you think of all the other people who might be reasoning backward like you are. So, you stop at Schnuck’s on your way home from work Thursday and find bread, milk, and salt already running low. You buy three gallons of milk, three loaves of bread, and 100 pounds of rock salt. The perishables will go bad before you finish them, but that doesn’t matter. You beat both the storms and the common knowledge game. And if worse comes to worst, you can always sell your excess milk and bread to desperate, short-sighted neighbors at a high price.

That’s common knowledge. Again, it doesn’t matter whether the forecast is right. What matters is what everyone else will do in response to the forecast.

Now, back to Dr. Hunt and the old newspaper beauty queen contests:

[The 1930s was] the heyday of the Miss America contest and “bathing beauty” pageants everywhere), less so to us. Here’s how it works.

A newspaper would run a page of photographs of pretty girls, and readers were invited to mail in a ballot with their choice of the prettiest. If you picked the girl who got the most votes, you were entered into a drawing for some sort of prize. Voting for the girl you think is the prettiest is what Keynes would call the first degree of decision-making.

Now it doesn’t take a lot of thought before you realize that choosing the girl who you truly believe is the prettiest is probably not a winning strategy. To win, you need to choose the girl who gets the most votes as the prettiest, and your personal preferences aren’t nearly as useful in that task as figuring out who everyone else is going to vote for as the prettiest. Voting for the girl you anticipate more people will consider to be the prettiest is what Keynes would call the second degree of decision-making.

But there’s a big problem with the second degree. It assumes that everyone else is making a first degree decision, that everyone else is making a choice “on the merits” of the photographs and you’re the only one smart enough to think about the average preference of the group. As a result, you quickly realize that everyone will be thinking exactly like you are, so you need to make a third-degree decision – who will get the most votes when all the voters are basing their votes on who they think will get the most votes? This is the Sentiment game!

Note that this third-level decision probably has nothing to do with the relative or objective prettiness of the girls. If “everyone knows” that the brunette with the biggest smile tends to win, then that’s where you should place your vote regardless of your personal preference or your knowledge of everyone else’s personal preferences. It’s the “everyone knows” component of the contest – regardless of what the contest is fundamentally supposed to be about – that determines voting behavior and contest winners. To get beyond the third degree of decision-making requires a superior identification of whatever it is that “everyone knows”. As Keynes wrote, “We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practice the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.”

Just like shopping for staples before the snow storm, winning these beauty pageant contests required knowing what everyone else knows and anticipating their behavior.

My friend with all the Iomega stock was smart to buy when he did. If he sold near the peak, he was brilliant. If not, he might have lost a lot. Either way, though, he bought Iomega for the wrong reason. He bought Iomega because he loved the company, not because he expected everyone else to buy the stock. He wasn’t playing the common knowledge game. He was playing the corporate strategy game. My guess is he held onto the stock all the way to bottom. Unless he learned about game theory before the crash.

When you’re in a game like stocks, shopping for stables, or geopolitics (and geopolitics is a formal game), common knowledge must determine your moves. And common knowledge means you must behave as if everyone else will behave as if the key information were true even if it’s not.

Which brings us to Michael Savage and the Syrian sarin gas attack.

Dr. Savage has determined that the sarin gas attack was a false flag. Dr. Savage is not alone.

Now, let’s pretend Dr. Savage is right. Let’s just pretend that the sarin gas attack was a false flag. In other words, let’s pretend the Russians were right and there was no gas attack. Instead, anti-Assad forces staged the whole thing.

Remember, this is just make-believe, so don’t assume I’m a false-flagger. And don’t believe I’m not, either. Instead, ask yourself this: should the US response be different if Savage is right?

Your immediate answer will probably be, “Yes, of course.” You will probably tell yourself that, if the sarin attack was a false flag perpetrated by the rebels, then we should punish the rebels instead of Assad. That’s the logical and moral answer.

But is that the game theory answer?

Well, how many people besides Michael Savage and a few others believe the sarin attack was a false flag? Of those people who believe in the false-flag theory, what is their role in the game of geopolitics? Are they heads of state or of government? Do they have armies? Are they in the mass media, broadcasting into billions of brains 24/7?

Dr. Hunt reminds us what’s most important in the common knowledge game:

But the more precise answer is that the role of the Missionary is served by any signal that is propagated widely enough and publicly enough so that everyone thinks that everyone has heard the signal. The important thing is NOT that lots of people actually hear the signal. The important thing is that lots of people believe that lots of people heard the signal. The power source of Common Knowledge is not the crowd seeing an announcement or a press conference. The power source of Common Knowledge is the crowd seeing the crowd seeing an announcement or a press conference. This is why sitcom laugh tracks exist. This is why American Idol is filmed in front of an audience. This is why the Chinese government still bans any media mention of the Tiananmen Square protests more than 20 years after they occurred. The power of a crowd seeing a crowd is one of the most awesome forces in human society. It topples governments. It launches Crusades. It builds cathedrals. And it darn sure moves markets.

Geopolitics is a different game than national or local politics. But it’s still a game like stock markets. Geopolitics influences local politics, and vice versa. But it’s not a direct influence. And it’s imbalanced. Geopolitics has an immediate and ubiquitous effect on local politics, while local politics has a very slow, very gradual, and muted effect on geopolitics. Until those local events reach a tipping point.

WWII was a geopolitical event that affected the local politics of just about every country in the world. But WWII resulted from local political developments over the previous 30 years. It took a long time for local events in Germany and Japan to hit the world stage. And those local events in two countries had little influence on local politics in the USA. Until December 7, 1941, of course. Then everything changed.

Just as we stipulated that Savage was right about the false flag, let’s stipulate that all of the players in the geopolitical game will behave as if Savage was wrong. They might all know he’s right, but they also know that all the other players will behave as if he’s wrong. Like the beauty contest players, picking the prettiest girl isn’t the game. Picking the girl who will get the most votes is the game.

In Syria, the crowd saw the crowd seeing Bashar al-Assad gas babies, little babies. And that’s all that matters.

The US response, then, must be appropriate to a game in which all the other players will behave as if Assad gassed his own people. Who actually did it, if it was done at all, matters morally but not strategically.

If this story leaves you feeling dissatisfied. I’ll give you a thought experiment. What would happen if Trump had acted as if the Savage was right? How might that game unfold?

You may have your say in the comments below.

P.S. Even if you’re not interested in stocks, markets, and investments, Ben Hunt’s Epsilon Theory is a must-read site for anyone who likes to learn and think.

 

What Do I Mean By “Narrative”

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“I don’t agree.”

Some folks disagreed with my instant assessment of the Syrian strike. My assessment: Trump’s surprise military attack will shift four narratives in Trump’s favor:

  • Trump is Hitler: dead
  • Trump is a Russian agent: dead
  • Trump is incompetent: dying
  • Trump is a lightweight among world leaders: dead

In other words, it took 59 cruise missiles to blow up the left’s anti-Trump narratives.

But my friends disagree. That’s okay. I don’t hang around with “yes” people.

Still, I figured I should at least explain what I mean by “narrative.”

Narrative, in this context, is the story we tell ourselves. It’s not the stories we are told. And the narratives develop from information that reaches the brain, often without awareness. (See the video below to learn just open you are to suggestion.)

Check this out first.

Right now, I am sitting in a cafe. One end of this cafe is huge atrium with glass on three sides and above your head. Looking out through the glass I see blooming trees. Those budding leaves are laboring to blot out the bright blue sky beyond. Those leaves want all that sunlight to themselves.

That’s the narrative in my head about what I see outside. Thirty or so other people can see the same world beyond that atrium. But I am pretty confident no one else sees the leaves conspiring to block my view of the sky (what color is the sky?). Each person has a slightly different narrative about those leaves.

If I were to stand up and announce my narrative, some people would adopt it as-is.

But most of those people would, instead, become aware of the view beyond the atrium. Their minds would conjure up a story about that they see. Their stories would be influenced by my bizarre outburst. They would not simply adopt my narrative. They would form their own narratives under my influence. And their narratives would influence everything they see through the atrium’s glass.

Until something else happens—some new influence—alters that narrative.

Now, back to the Syrian air strike.

Here you are reading my blog. You pay more attention to politics than most people do. You are more informed than many people, don’t you agree?

So think about the people who pay only slight attention to politics and world events. How do they fill their days? How do their brains craft narratives about the world?

Those people’s narratives form just like the people in the cafe looking out the atrium. Their brains pick up bits and pieces of someone else’s narrative to form their own.

CNN is on everywhere. In airports, restaurants, doctors offices, and even in this cafe where I’m writing. For months, those people have picked up narratives about “Hitler,” “Russia,” “clown,” and “isolationist.” Even without people knowing it, they’d formed a narrative in their own minds about President Trump. However they voted, if they voted at all, those narratives were influenced by CNN’s words. That’s simply how the brain works.

And those narratives got stronger and stronger every day. Until something caused people to re-evaluate their won private narratives. Something big enough, emotional enough, to make people pay attention for a moment.

Dying babies—babies!—gets their attention. Now, they’re listening.

And this is what they’re hearing:

“No child of God should ever suffer such horrors.”

“When you kill innocent children, innocent babies — babies! — little babies, … that crosses many, many lines. Beyond a red line, many, many lines.”

“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike . . . “

These are the words of President Trump. Trump’s biggest enemies—the people who have helped shape those scary narratives—repeat these words. They repeat Trump’s humanitarian, decisive words again and again. That’s high information density combined with high emotional intensity. The recipe for narrative change.

Imagine sitting in this atrium with your narrative about the trees. You’re not aware of that narrative. It’s deep inside your brain. You only recall it when you need it for some reason. As you sip your coffee, you don’t need your narrative. Then . . .

CRASH! A tree branch the length of a telephone pole crashes through the atrium.

The danger alerts your attention. Your brain pulls that old narrative out of cold storage. Then your brain updates that narrative. The shattering glass is new information. Whatever your old narrative might have been, it’s different now, guaranteed. It’s a different narrative now.

When President Trump crashed Assad’s slaughter party with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, he shattered a lot of atriums. Today, people are writing new narratives. And most of those new narratives involve a bold and decisive leader who can’t stand seeing babies slaughtered.

Everything has changed.

Now for that video I promised.

 

BACKFIRE: Psychological Tricks Used to Advance Russian Conspiracy Theory

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Newspapers lie. And by “newspapers,” I mean the whole mainstream media.

Yesterday I told you how Donald Trump punked the media by pulling a Crazy Ivan maneuver. A critic on Twitter thinks I’m lying. He thinks I’m lying because he read a news article. He read it in the New York Times.

This Twitter critic thinks it’s okay for the New York Times to lie (“Wiretapped Data Used In Inquiry of Trump Aides”), as long as they only lie in their headlines. If the body of the story contradicts the lie, then my Twitter critic says all’s well. A lot of people probably agree with him. People know that headlines are written to pull people in. To pull people in, sometimes you have to stretch the truth. Sometimes you have to stretch the truth until it snaps like a snow pea.

My Twitter critic is unusual. An odd duck. He reads news stories. Sometimes he reads them twice. But 60 percent to 80 percent of people read only the headline.

People can easily remember snappy headlines because they’re repeatable. And people repeat what they remember. Especially if it’s sensational and snappy.

When the New York Times wrote its sensational, snappy “wiretapped data” headline, it hoped to plant a snappy thought in millions of minds. A thought that people would find themselves repeating to others throughout the day. Which day? Inauguration Day.

Psychologically, the New  York Times did a great job. People are still repeating that January 19th headline. Even Donald Trump.

So maybe the story under that snappy headline cast doubt on the headline’s assertion. I don’t know. I didn’t read it. I didn’t read the article because I don’t want to give the New York Times a click count. Screw them. Besides, that headline told me everything I needed to know: Obama wiretapped Trump’s people.

Like the vast majority of people, I read the headline and remembered it. There’s an 80 percent chance you read only that headline, too. Most of us are not like my Twitter critic.

Since most people read only the headline, most people believe that Trump’s aides were questioned based on information obtained through secret wiretaps. Which is exactly what Trump said in his Twitter storm last Saturday. He said that Obama wiretapped his people. His source was the New York Times.

Maybe that New York Times headline was a lie. Maybe not. If it was a lie, then the whole Russian conspiracy theory was a lie. Can you fault President Trump for believing the newspaper of record?

But if that headline was accurate, if Obama really did wiretap Trump’s people, then Obama re-enacted Watergate and should be in jail.

And it all happened because the media used psychological tricks to convince people that the government wiretapped Trump’s people.

There’s no third avenue here since no one is required to read the whole story. No one.

 

How ObamaCare Benefits from the Scarcity Heuristic

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Concorde was a supersonic passenger plane. It shuttled people between New York and Paris very quickly.

When commercial Concorde flights began in 1976, the novelty and excitement of flying at twice the speed of sound led people to line up to take the flights. But after 27 years and several safety mishaps, the Concorde’s popularity waned. Flights were often less than half full, so British Airways, the operator, was losing money. Bigly.

In 2002, the company that operated the service announced the Concorde’s last flight would be in 2003.

Every flight sold out immediately. The impending death of the Concorde made the flight more popular than ever. Why?

There’s no rational explanation for this surge in popularity. If you didn’t need to get to Paris in an hour before the announcement, you didn’t need to after the announcement.

So why did the failing jet service become popular?

It’s called the scarcity heuristic. People value things that are rare, hard to get, or about to expire. My persuasion hero, Robert Cialdini, names scarcity as one of just six principles of persuasion. According to Behavioral Economics:

When an object or resource is less readily available (e.g, due to limited quantity or time), we tend to perceive it as more valuable (Cialdini, 2008). Scarcity appeals are often used in marketing to induce purchases. An experiment (Lee & Seidle, 2012) that used wristwatch advertisements as stimuli exposed participants to one of two different product descriptions “Exclusive limited edition. Hurry, limited stocks” or “New edition. Many items in stock”. They then had to indicate how much they would be willing to pay for the product. The average consumer was willing to pay an additional 50% if the watch was advertised as scarce.

We’re seeing the scarcity heuristic benefit Obamacare’s popularity right now. Fox News reports that support for Obamacare is surging just as Republicans prepare to kill it:

According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll, there is an even split betweenregistered voters who support the law and those who oppose it. Currently, 45 percent approve of the legislation compared to a poll back in January—before President Trump took office—that showed 41 percent of voters approved of the bill.

This surge in popularity frightens a lot of our weak Republican members of Congress. It shouldn’t.

The only reason for the surge is scarcity. Were President Trump and Paul Ryan to announce that they’re leaving Obamacare alone, support for the program would wane because people don’t value what’s abundant.

Urge your lawmakers to ignore the scarcity-driven polls and kill Obamacare because it’s the right thing to do.

Trump’s Landslide Tipping Point Is Breathing Down Your Neck

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We’re getting close, folks. So close you can feel it. Close your eyes and feel the soft, warm breath on the back of your neck. (Now open your eyes and continue reading. You’re such a good reader.)

As you watch the polls shift rapidly toward Trump, you might wonder what’s happening. What’s happening is completely natural, but it’s not normal. Elections don’t usually go this way.  And two psychological phenomena are working to deliver the Trump landslide I predicted long ago.

Hillary’s Self-Doubt Phenomenon

The 2016 election is more like sports than any other election in my lifetime. In fact, it’s a lot like the 1964 National League pennant race. Think of Trump as the St. Louis Cardinals and Hillary as the Philadelphia Phillies. (Where was the DNC convention this year?)

In sports, losing and winning both produce psychological changes. I’m not talking about the hot hand fallacy. I’m talking about subconscious expectations, the same things that cause people to sabotage themselves. The voice in the back of your head that says, “you’re not good enough” and “here we go again.”

You can see this happening to Hillary every day. She wrote off 27 percent of Americans as “irredeemable” and “deplorable.” She hid her major health problems. She lied. She said “bombing” then said Trump shouldn’t say “bombing.”

Just as she lost the primary in 2008, she’s losing the election in 2016. Her mind is whispering “you can’t win” and “here you go again,” and she’s listening.

That’s the first step. The second though is more intriguing, and you’ll now begin to see it develop before your eyes like a post-hypnotic suggestion.

Trump’s Tipping Point of Support

In many circles, it’s been unpopular to admit support for Trump. In the spring, I literally watched a man go from bashing Trump to praising him the moment the two people he was talking to admitted “we’re both for Trump.” Let’s call him Mike.

Mike’s eyes popped open and he said, “Oh, so we’re safe here.” It was as if a runaway slave realized he’d wandered into a meeting of local underground railroad conductors. While the polls were showing Trump down, guys like Mike kept their true opinions about Trump to themselves. They felt alone and “different.”

Now that the Mikes of the world know that many, many people just like them support Trump, they’re free to say “I support Trump.” It’s happening everywhere.

And the more people who hear someone say “I support Trump,” the more people support Trump. It’s called a “preference cascade,” and it’s picking up steam.

Deeper Than Preference Falsification

The formal name of the Bradley Effect is preference falsification. Named for the black former mayor of Los Angeles, the Bradly Effect means people tell pollsters they plan to vote for the politically correct candidate, but they actually vote for the other guy. Falsification skews polls.

While that’s happening in the presidential race, it’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about actual human behavior. I’m talking about people who’ve secretly supported Trump and are now flooding out of the closet and the effect they have on undecided voters or soft supporters.

It’s Social Proof

This flood of people admitting they support Trump influences the people around them. It’s called social proof. It means that, when in doubt, most people do what they see people around them doing.

Say you softly support Hillary because your family and friends might beat you up if you supported Trump. You don’t really like Hillary, but you feel safer saying you do. And you plan to vote for Hillary because . . . you don’t want to be a liar.

Then one day, a woman you work pulls into the parking lot with a Trump sticker on her car. “If Madelaine can say she supports Trump, maybe I should take another look,” you think.

Pretty soon, you put a Trump sticker on your car. And you work up the courage to come out to your family and friends. When you’re all sitting around talking about the election, you might find yourself saying, “I’m for Trump.” Chances are you won’t be alone. Someone else in your conversation circle will admit “I’m for Trump, too.”

That’s how preference cascades work. They are influenced by polls and they influence polls. But they’re really about the way we influence each other.

It’ll take some time for this work out, but expect to see a tipping point in the polls very soon. The tipping will come when the RCP average of states shows Trump is expected to win 270 electoral votes—enough to capture the election. At that point, people will move so fast to the Trump column it will make your head spin.

The RCP magic could happen in a week or two after the first debate on September 26. It takes time for the RCP average to work out the old polling data from weeks or months ago. But it’s going to happen, and when it does something amazing will happen.

The question is how the media will portray it. Will they talk about Trump’s magnificent rally or about Hillary’s historical collapse?

An Election Unlike Any Other

Reading Time: 7 minutes

France’s population had changed considerably since 1614. The non-aristocratic members of the Third Estate now represented 98 percent of the people but could still be outvoted by the other two bodies. In the lead-up to the May 5 meeting, the Third Estate began to mobilize support for equal representation and the abolishment of the noble veto–in other words, they wanted voting by head and not by status. While all of the orders shared a common desire for fiscal and judicial reform as well as a more representative form of government, the nobles in particular were loath to give up the privileges they enjoyed under the traditional system.  —History.com

This is about special years where the old rules don’t matter.

Most of the time, the Republican establishment’s views line up well with grassroots conservatives. Both teams oppose federal regulation and meddling in business. Both teams favor lower taxes. Both teams hold favorable views of business, especially of entrepreneurs. On social issues, the sides sometimes clash, but those are minor squabbles. And the establishment always win. Except when everything bursts like a piñata at a birthday party.

Behind the scenes, the establishment thwarts innovation and uses regulation and enforcement to destroy disruptive competitors. But people don’t see this happening, so they don’t worry about it. And if the people believe today is pretty good and tomorrow will be even better, what’s a little shadiness hurt? Until things rupture like a birthday piñata.

Once in a while, though, the stars align crooked. When things seem to be going badly, the people demand change. When the people see their interests—jobs, income, savings, safety, education, kids—at risk, they become risk seekers. When today seems bad and tomorrow looks worse, we become far more willing to gamble and to take matters into our own hands. Trust in institutions plummets like candy from a piñata on your birthday.

It’s all part of prospect theory, and I’ve written about it before. But here’s a quick review:

When facing a certain loss, people become risk-seeking. Try it yourself. Say you take your car in for routine maintenance, and your trusty mechanic tells you your transmission has a problem. He says, “I can fix it now for $1,000. If it fails completely, you’ll need a new transmission at about $4,000.”

You ask, “what are the chances it will fail completely if I don’t get it fixed now?”

“About 85 percent over the next four years according to the diagnostics report.”

So here’s your situation: Would you prefer to lose $1,000 for sure, or take an 85 percent chance of losing $4,000 and 15 percent chance of losing $0?

[socialpoll id=”2379153″]

Most people will take their chances. It’s an irrational decision, but it’s what most people do. When facing a certain loss, people seek risk.

When people think their state and their country are on the right track, they become risk averse. We can test this the same way.

You find an old coin in a drawer and take it to a coin dealer. He tells you he’ll pay $1,000 today for the coin, but there’s an 85 percent chance that the coin will be worth $4,000 in four years. Of course, there’s a 15 percent chance that the coin could be worth nothing four years from now.

[socialpoll id=”2379157″]

If enough people take this poll, most people will gamble when facing loss and will take the sure thing when facing a certain gain.

Now, let’s look at Right Track/Wrong Polling. You probably know that about 71 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. You can probably guess that Missourians feel our state is also on the wrong track. People feel we’re on the wrong track because they face diminishing wages, fewer job prospects, zero raises, diminishing savings, increasing crime, and constant terrorism threats.

In other words, the vast majority of Americans are facing a certain loss if things keep going the way they are. In the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president, things were going well and people expected things to get better. Then, we were facing a certain gain.

via Gallup: http://www.gallup.com/poll/1669/general-mood-country.aspx
via Gallup: http://www.gallup.com/poll/1669/general-mood-country.aspx

In 1997 we learned the President had sex with an intern in the Oval Office, his wife blamed a vast right-wing conspiracy, and Bill Clinton lied repeatedly under oath about the affair. Yet the American people opposed his impeachment. Sure, they told pollsters they opposed impeachment because sex is a private matter, not a national concern. But any psychologist will tell you the real reason was risk aversion. If tomorrow’s likely to be better today, why would you take the chance of making it worse?

In the 1990s, people were risk averse. We avoided disruptions that could derail our right-track future. Now, though, we’re risk-seeking. We’re willing to take a chance with massive changes because doing nothing will make our lives worse day by day. We all know that.

Great Expectations = Great Disappointments

My favorite historians and my favorite psychologists agree on this: people believe the future will be a linear progression of the recent past. When we feel better off today than we did six months ago, we believe we’ll feel even better six months from now. But if we feel worse off today than six months ago, we assume we’ll be in worse shape six months later.

Most of the time this strategy works. The problem is that eventually that trend line breaks. And we have no idea when that will happen or why. A financial collapse, a terrorist attack, a criminal indictment of the Democratic candidate for president. Anything can snap a winning streak. Anything at all.

Look at that Gallup chart above. When Drudge first introduced us to Monica Lewinsky, satisfaction with America’s direction was in the high 40s. It had been rising steadily since 1992. From that perspective, the risk of deposing a president seemed ridiculous–like turning down a sure $1,000 for the chance of turning it into $4,000 in four years.

Beginning with 9/11/2001, though, the regression line turns south. And stays there. And this time is different.

As you can see, the line usually goes up gradually, drops sharply, then begins its upward ascent quickly after a shock. But that didn’t happen after 9/11. The trend line jumped a bit after Obama’s election, but the overall regression curve has been negative for 15 years.

Everybody now expects tomorrow to be worse than today. Projecting out, we all know that if nothing changes, America will lie in ruins in 20 years. People now in their 50s will be homeless or dead. People in their 20s will be living in government squalor or holding down four jobs just to survive. The American Dream will look like a nightmare scene from an Upton Sinclair novel.

We also know we can’t trust institutions or associations. They’re rigged for the people with power and control.

When the institutions are rigged and the future looks bleak, who you gonna call? Generation X.

Here’s the best description of Gen X written when we were young in 1993. From 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail:

As a group, they aren’t what older people wish they were, but rather what they themselves know they need to be: street-smart survivalists clued into the game of life the way it really gets played, searching for simple things that work in a cumbersome society that offers little to them.

As a generation, we had our fun young and became hardened realists during that steep decline in expectations. We knew the world was looking for a chance to fuck us, and it did.

Unlike all other generational archetypes, though, the Nomads of Generation X won’t fold up and cry. We don’t need no stinking safe spaces. While Millennials think of themselves as snowflakes, we think of ourselves as cinders. Both fall from the sky in winter, but a little sunlight melts the snow. Us carbon cinders will be here forever. Heat only makes us harder. Generation X is a base element. If we get in your eye or shoe, we hurt. If we get in your head, you’re dead.

As I said before, 2016 is the Gen X election. Gen X was the first generation in American history that expected to be worse off than its parents. And we are, so don’t say we never get anything right. For all our playful fatalism, we see through the bullshit of the establishment. We know why the Farm Bureau broke tradition to support a Democrat for governor: the Republican establishment told them to. We know a bottom when we see one.

When you mix a bleak forecast with Gen X attitude, you get a wild combustive. You get 2016.

Greitens and Trump

There are a lot of similarities between the messages of Eric Greitens and Donald Trump. Be careful with this. While I support both men, Eric Greitens is a remarkably polite man by Midwestern standards while Donald Trump skates on the edge of politeness by Brooklyn standards. (And those two standards are very different. Believe me.) Their styles have nothing in common.

But their messages are remarkably similar. And their message is: it’s time for someone outside the political class.

Face it: the political class made the mess we’re in. While the political class thinks it can fix it, it can’t. We all know that. And two of Greitens’s opponents recognize the people’s distrust of establishment politicians. From STLToday.com:

“Sometimes, you just are on the wrong end of a phenomenon,” said Catherine Hanaway. She made history more than a decade ago as Missouri’s first female House speaker and was attempting to repeat the feat at the gubernatorial level. “We got hit with the tidal wave of the ‘outsider.’”

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder concurred. “[Greitens’] entire campaign was based on being an outsider, at a time when that appears to be compelling nationally and in Missouri,” said Kinder, who had hoped to cap his unbroken 25 years in state government by seizing its top prize.

One thing I’ve noticed since getting deeply involved in politics is that many of the politicians don’t know how they’re manipulated. Neither do their supporters. Neither do the voters.

Rest assured that we’re all manipulated a lot. For example, if I asked you to think of a children’s birthday tradition right now, what would pop into your head?

[socialpoll id=”2379997″]

If you’re from the Midwest and you read my blog, there’s about a 5% chance that piñatas are part of su familia birthday tradition. But I’ll bet way more than 5% of you clicked on piñata. Because I anchored piñata way up top. I wasn’t even subtle about it.

You probably knew that when you saw the options. But you clicked piñata anyway. And you’re probably justifying your choice now, telling yourself you’re into diversity or you really like piñatas. But if you clicked the piñata on this post, it was because I anchored you at the top.

We’re all victims of our brains.

So are politicians. It’s not their fault that they become tools of the lobbyists. It’s human nature.

And the voters let it happen for many years. Until, finally, the results we’re getting aren’t worth the comfort of sitting back and letting someone else handle things.

At these moments, we take control. We leave the comfort of our living rooms, fire the political class, and usher in a new political class.

2016 is a great year to be alive. The political order that took power after WWII is dead. The people who earned their power in 1945 were dead long ago. Usurpers took their place and tried to play the same game. But these usurpers failed. They didn’t have the mettle. They never earned their chops.

So we’re shaking the Etch-a-Sketch. We’re taking things back to zero and turning the knobs ourselves for a while. We’re taking a chance on Trump and Greitens because, at this point in time, it’s actually riskier to not gamble on something very different.

In 2016, we’re all Gen Xers. We’re all “street-smart survivalists clued into the game of life the way it really gets played.” In 2016, the outsiders have the inside track.

It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.