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Technology is changing politics

Oct. 21, 2017

Technology is changing the political landscape. President Trump told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo, “I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you,” as reported in Politico. The effect extends beyond the presidency, putting both United States major political parties in crisis, according to David Von Drehle in The Washington Post. He asks, “What makes today’s conflicts inside the major parties different from intramural elbow-throwing in the past?” His response: “The rapid rise of unmediated democracy, enabled by the digital revolution.”

Von Drehle likens the two parties to “rival department stores anchoring opposite ends of America’s political shopping mall.” The anchor stores decided what products to offer, just as party establishments decided which candidates to put forward. The stores and party establishments commanded advertising budgets sufficient to drown out the messages of small boutiques and third parties, respectively.

But just as smartphones and the Internet are killing big retail, Von Drehle writes, they are killing the major parties. “Voters no longer need—nor, in many cases, want—a political party to screen their candidates and vet their ideas,” he writes. “They prefer to build their own movements, often with stunning speed.”

The effect extends beyond the United States. “Britain’s major parties didn’t want Brexit, but it’s happening,” he writes. “Major parties in France didn’t want Emmanuel Macron; now he’s president.” And Emily Schultheis in The Atlantic writes that alternative-news websites are giving a boost to anti-establishment parties.

Von Drehle concludes that the establishment parties could be arrogant, unresponsive, and borderline-corrupt, but he warns, “We may miss them when they are gone.”

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