The Yearly Sift 2016

The past is never where you think you left it.

Katherine Anne Porter

The opening quotes of the Weekly Sifts of 2016 are collected in “Sift Quotes of 2016

One of the things I like best about writing the Sift is that it keeps me focused in the present, with an eye to the future. But once a year I try to take a broader perspective on where we’ve been.

2016 was the most dismal year I’ve had to look back on since this blog started — leading, as it did, to the present moment, in which President-elect Trump is assembling his henchmen and deciding which aspects of the world order to screw up first. Not only was I very consistently wrong about what would happen next in 2016, but looking back at the plausible arguments and scenarios I laid out only emphasizes how many times and in how many ways events could have taken a turn for the better, but didn’t — right up to election night, when shifting a handful of votes from one state to another would have changed the outcome.

But prognostication has never been the primary purpose of the Weekly Sift. (In fact, one of my major criticisms of mainstream media is that it spends too much time on speculation, rather than telling us what is happening and why.) Primarily, I’m trying to cut through the hype and propaganda to focus my readers’ attention on what is real and give them tools to think about it effectively. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to know what will happen next, because I certainly don’t.

The themes

I’ve broken the primary theme out into its own article “The Year of This-can’t-be-happening“. It covers my repeated attempts — from the beginning of the year to the end — to understand how anyone could support Donald Trump and what could be done to persuade them not to.

A second theme of the year was also Trump-related: The decline of Truth as a political value, and a corresponding rise in propaganda. Those posts were: “No facts? What does that mean?“, “The Big Lie in Trump’s Speech“, “The Skittles Analogy“, and “Four False Things You Might Believe About Donald Trump“. (The most insightful article I linked to on this theme was David Roberts’ “The question of what Trump ‘really believes’ has no answer“.)

And finally, there were a number of posts about the Bernie/Hillary split in the Democratic Party. Early in the year, I had to decide who to vote for in the New Hampshire primary. Bernie better expressed my ideals, but I had more faith in Hillary as a candidate. (I still think Bernie’s supporters underestimate how vulnerable he would have been if Republicans had ever taken him seriously, a position I laid out in “Smearing Bernie: a preview” and “Do we still have to worry about the McGovern problem?“) My decision process — ultimately resulting in a Bernie vote — played out in “Undecided with 8 days to go” and “Imperfections“.

Late in the year, I tried to persuade Bernie supporters to unite around Hillary — a position in line with the one Bernie ultimately took himself (which I explained in “Why Bernie Backed Hillary“.)

And finally, one long-term theme of the Sift is the decline of democratic norms and institutions. In March, I updated that with “Tick, Tick, Tick … the Augustus Countdown Continues“. As Democrats have to decide just how obstructionist to be during the Trump years, I’m sure I’ll have many opportunities to update it further. Another perennial theme is race and privilege, which led to  “My Racial Blind Spots“, “Sexism and the Clinton Candidacy“, “The Asterisk in the Bill of Rights“, “What Should ‘Racism’ Mean? Part II“, and “A Teaching Moment on Sexual Assault“.

Themes for 2017

In general, I never saw the Bernie/Hillary argument as being about goals. Rather, it seemed to me to revolve around methods and tactics: Is it better to push for big, revolutionary changes or to head in the same direction in incremental steps? And I was skeptical that electing a progressive president could actually bring about that revolution without a more fundamental re-education of the electorate, as I spelled out in “Say — You Want a Revolution?

That’s an argument that continues into the future, even if neither Hillary nor Bernie runs again. I’m not sure why it has been so hard for candidates to straddle the difference: This is where we want to go ultimately, and this is the next step we want to take to get there. Preserving and patching up ObamaCare is not an end in itself, but we’re also not going to pass single-payer any time soon.

A theme I announced after the election, which I hope to continue into 2017, is that liberals have to begin re-arguing issues we used to think were long decided, but which the Trump victory proves are still open. The first of those posts was “Should I Have White Pride?“.

The numbers

The blog’s traffic statistics tell two contrasting stories. On the one hand, this year the Sift had no breakout viral posts, or posts from previous years that went on a viral second run. As a result, the overall page view numbers are down: from 782,000 in 2015 and even 415K in 2014 to somewhere around 350K this year (with a few days to go).

On the other hand, all the signs of regular readership are up. The number of people following the blog (according to WordPress; I have no idea exactly what they’re counting, but I assume it’s comparable from year to year) rose from 3820 to 4269. Hits on the home page, weeklysift.com, held the gains of 2015: from 44K in 2014 to 100K in 2015 to 101K this year. (I interpret that as views from people who are not looking for any particular post, but have the site bookmarked and want to see what’s new.)

Two years ago, a 1000-view post seemed like a big deal; sometimes I’d go a whole month without one. This year, the featured post each week almost always topped 1000.

Most encouragingly, the number of comments continued its upward trend: from 879 in 2014 to 1432 in 2015 to 1751 so far in 2016.

So what happened to the total page views? In 2015, a post from 2014, “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“, had a second run bigger than its original run, getting 302K views. Another golden oldie, “The Distress of the Privileged” from 2012, added 52K. 2015 had its own viral post, “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to Be a Bigot” at 102K.

By contrast, “Not a Tea Party” and “Distress” put together garnered about 45K hits for 2016, and the most popular posts written in 2016 were “Why Bernie Backed Hillary” (17K), “Tick, Tick, Tick … the Augustus Countdown Continues” (11K), and last week’s “How Will They Change Their Minds?” (7K and counting).

Viral posts, as I point out every year, are unpredictable. Some years they happen, some years they don’t. Hall of Fame baseball player George Brett used to claim that most of his home runs were mistakes: He was trying to hit line drives, but sometimes he swung just slightly under a pitch and it went up and out of the park. If he tried to do that, he knew, he might hit a few more home runs, but he’d also wind up with a lot more pop-ups and strikeouts.

That’s how I feel about viral posts. Every week, I’m trying to serve the needs of my regular readers. If once in a while that intention produces something that gets the attention of a larger public, that’s great. But if I tried to swing for those home runs, I think the overall quality of the blog would decline.

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Comments

  • Roger Green  On December 26, 2016 at 9:09 am

    most of your posts are four-baggers!

  • Patricia Mitcham  On December 26, 2016 at 10:21 am

    Get your posts by email so I don’t miss any. Thanks. I appreciate your sharing thoughts.

  • Nancy Keiser  On December 26, 2016 at 10:42 am

    I am a relatively recent reader of your blog, so I can’t speak to years past. However I think a reason for your fewer viral blogs this year may be that there were just SO MANY blogs and opinion pieces being written! Everyone had something to say about this vile, flamboyant election. I would think that would spread the readers more thinly. Just a thought. I look forward to The Sift every Monday. Keep writing!!

  • David Carlick  On December 26, 2016 at 10:54 am

    While I appreciate getting the posts in the emails, that means I rarely, if ever, hit the blog itself. I forward the emails, not the links to the blog (although I did forward links to Not a Tea Party). Hope your list is growing; that should count, too. Thank you for what you do.

  • Anonymous  On December 26, 2016 at 10:56 am

    Thank you for writing so intelligently and so well. Superb!

  • Norman Baxter  On December 26, 2016 at 11:03 am

    I appreciate your fine writing, which is supported by copious references and links. Your fact based clarity is badly needed in the “post truth” world.

  • donodell  On December 26, 2016 at 11:06 am

    I have become a regular reader of your blog. I am not a good responder. I have this habit of wanting to think about what you write for awhile But, I have taken some of your posts
    and used them in discussion groups in and out of my local UU congregation. Thank you for that, and please keep on writing. You come before the NY Times and my local Albany, NY Times Union on Mondays.

  • Rick B  On December 26, 2016 at 11:11 am

    Thank you for your excellent writing, which I receive by email.

    I want to ask, though, what has happened to our society to cause fake news and lies to be more influential than real news and good analysis? Fake news and lies have always been with us, but for some reason they have become in many ways more attractive to citizens than real news and analysis.

    This is a social problem, not a problem of those presenting the material. What is the social problem and what is its’ source?

    • 1mime  On December 26, 2016 at 12:22 pm

      Don’t you think people have become lazy in their intellectual probing of what they hear? Whether out of conscious rejection of other points of view or through a conscious choice to live within the filter of one’s comfort zone (FOX News, Breitbart, etc), people are not thinking critically…and I am not necessarily referring to “low information” people. There is also the very real factor of disappearance of tolerance and respect for other points of view.

    • weeklysift  On December 27, 2016 at 7:38 am

      I talked a little about fake news a few weeks ago, but I’m sure I’ll be coming back to it.

      I think social media plays a key role. There has always been fake news — National Enquirer, and so on — but it didn’t use to come packaged so authoritatively and recommended by your friends.

  • threeorfour  On December 26, 2016 at 11:29 am

    As a new subscriber this year, you have been a voice of sanity and I appreciate all of your work. Thanks and I look forward to seeing more of posts in the coming year.

  • Jeff Rosenberg  On December 26, 2016 at 11:30 am

    Thanks and I echo the comments above. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. I read your articles via email (and also forward them via email to others). Do your stats reflect your email readership? Many weeks I do not go to the website.

    • weeklysift  On December 26, 2016 at 11:45 am

      They don’t. But I assume the percentages stay relatively constant, I.e., posts with more on-site views are also forwarded more as emails. I hope you won’t bother trying to juke the stats for me. It’s not like I have advertisers who would care.

  • Dennis D Degenhardt  On December 26, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    Doug, thank you for being the logical, insightful writer that we can trust for factual writing. I too, read the email articles and go to the site primarily to post on Facebook. But I share them via email all of the time. I am with you with the resistance we will need over the next few years and scared to death.

  • Guest  On December 26, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    I’d like to add to the chorus of gratitude for the Sift, Doug. One of the fascinating and sometimes frustrating themes for the year from this reader’s perspective was the projection done by moderate and conservative democrats, usually onto Trump supporters. Addressing their moral and intellectual failings as much as is done for Trump voters should yield interesting results.

    Regarding the Bernie/Hillary argument, maybe the inability to see it as a difference in goals is closely related to how consistently (and in the end, how tragically) the situation was misread. Looking forward to the fruits of your 2017 call to action regarding the critical re-examination of issues among liberals. Clearly we need it! Keep up the good fight.

  • Mikel Aickin  On December 26, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    I came to your conclusion on 09 Nov, that the Stupids elected Trump. But there are a few more things:
    1. Stupidity promotes more stupidity. I don’t think you can break into this cycle by making smart arguments or citing facts.
    2. You think they will see through Trump. I thought that about Bush, but after
    two failed wars, a near-fatal assault on the economy, and much more, they are still stupid.
    3. when Trump bungles, they will invent new reasons why it is someone else’s fault. Stupid news rationalizes stupidity.
    4. The Stupids in Kansas do not see what is happening to them while it is happening. (I used to live in Kansas, and I’m amazed.) Look to KS for the future of US.
    ….but in the end, I have no better plan than you do.

  • Carolyn  On December 26, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    Thanks for writing the Sift, Doug. I don’t remember which post led me here–probably either “Privilege” or “Not a Tea Party”–but I immediately added your homepage to my browser bookmarks and I check it faithfully every Monday.

  • Brent Holman  On December 27, 2016 at 10:11 am

    Like Your Work! Keep It Up!

  • gc wilso  On December 28, 2016 at 4:04 am

    I enjoy your posts and the insights you bring help me understand the news a lot better.

  • Alfredo Louro  On December 29, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    “In general, I never saw the Bernie/Hillary argument as being about goals. Rather, it seemed to me to revolve around methods and tactics: Is it better to push for big, revolutionary changes or to head in the same direction in incremental steps?” And Hilary Clinton promised incremental steps towards what, exactly?

  • Barbara Robinson  On December 31, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    Thank you for The Weekly Sift: I find it thought provoking and am grateful to the friend who recommended it! I find it one of the sane voices in the midst of the cacophony of voices around politics and values. And it is a voice I trust to stimulate my own thinking! Keep it up, despite whether you have home runs or just line drives (this week’s metaphor!)

  • Linda  On January 1, 2017 at 8:47 am

    Just another lurker emerging from the shadows to say a very sincere thank you for your always-insightful blog. I come to the site every Sunday as part of my favourite weekly routine. In this bewildering, frustrating, and genuinely frightening year, I really enjoyed your deeper probing and attempts to understand wtf was actually happening in the minds of Trump himself as well as his supporters. I am Canadian, so I fully recognize that I simply don’t have all of the context necessary to understand socioeconomic issues in the USA. But here in Canada, our Conservative party is selecting a new leader, and my biggest fear is that a Trumplike candidate could gain the party’s leadership and win the next federal election (which is luckily a few years away – hopefully long enough for people to finally see that the emperor has no clothes).
    Anyway, thank you again for the time and energy that you put into your blog. I look forward to your take on what will certainly be another interesting year@

    • Alex  On January 1, 2017 at 5:48 pm

      And maybe having Trump himself to watch will give Canadians some insight into how to keep a Trump-like candidate from getting elected?

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