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Biden or Trump?; US vs. Amazon; AI in the crosshairs: Newsletter 10 January 2024

Newsletter 26: Incumbent vs. incumbent, writing better than machines, Amazon under fire, three people to follow, three books to read, and the gathering of the ghosts.

The easiest election choice ever

We are about to enter the extended, loud, contentious, and tedious US presidential election season. In some election years this is a difficult choice. But this year, it’s not.

By all indications, the election will be a rematch between ex-President Donald Trump and incumbent President Joe Biden. News media are doing everything possible to create drama around the primary election season, but unless the polls are way off, it’s a pretty long shot for any other candidates to get the nomination.

The last time two incumbents faced off against each other was in 1892, when ex-President Grover Cleveland defeated incumbent President Benjamin Harrison in a rematch of the previous election cycle. This year’s election features a few things now that were missing from that election — like cars, the internet, and women voting — so the historical record has little to teach us.

But the 2024 election is perhaps the easiest choice voters will ever have, because we know these presidents pretty well.

There is going to be an awful lot of political talk in the next ten months. One thing we know is that Trump overcommunicates and Biden undercommunicates. News outlets need something to report about, so they’ll gnash their teeth over the candidates’ speeches, smartass remarks, missteps, and poll results.

Little of that matters. Candidates, once elected, always do different things from what they promise. Fortunately, with two incumbents, we have two solid records to compare.

Want to know how they will handle a domestic crisis? Both presidents dealt with COVID and economic headwinds. Who did better?

How will they treat social issues like abortion and gender? Observe what they did so far, and how the judges they appointed behaved.

How will they handle foreign policy challenges? Both presidents have had a fair number to deal with. There’s plenty of data to make a choice.

Are they corrupt? There’s lot of evidence there, too.

How will they and their party deal with election results? Both parties lost an election in the last 8 years, so there’s a record to review on that, too.

But perhaps the most compelling question is, will they run the country with a steady and skilled hand and a team of effective, trusted advisors, or in a constant state of turmoil? With the number of challenges facing America right now — climate change, gun violence, immigration, and worldwide conflict — the method of governing makes a big difference.

This is no time for single-issue voting. These two presidents are going to be your choices. The question of which one will be a better president in the next four years follows directly from the whole of what they did in their first terms.

Most of you have made up your mind already. My job is not to win you over to one side or another. It is to focus you in what matters. Don’t get sucked into the news cycle. We have a pretty good idea of who these presidents are, how they think, how they work, and how they govern. So ignore all the shouting and social media memes and ask yourself, who is better for the long-term future of the nation?

News for writers and others who think

AI writing is going to make everyone sound the same. So the quality of your human writing is how you stand out. So says Frank Bruni in the Times (gift link).

Amazon is cheap, convenient, and bad for America. Its behavior is the definition of anticompetitive. Now the FTC is suing it on antitrust grounds. This suit will take a long time, but it could well determine the future of all commerce, especially the publishing industry.

The New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement by AI (gift link). And nonfiction authors sued them, too. The results of suits like these could well determine the future of AI, but the technology moves far faster than the law.

Three people to follow

David Berkowitz, who is bringing marketers together in new ways. (No, he’s not the serial killer with the same name.)

Anne Janzer, nonfiction book coach and philosopher of writing.

Nathan W. Pyle, cartoonist who makes us look at ourselves by showing us as aliens.

Three books to read

What Works in Community News: Media Startups, News Deserts, and the Future of the Fourth Estate by Ellen Clegg and Dan Kennedy (Beacon, 2024). Just-released strategy book for local content from two Boston media experts.

The Disruption Mindset: Why Some Organizations Transform While Others Fail by Charlene Li (Ideapress, 2019). Still the best book ever written on disruption.

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons (Hachette, 2017). Hilarious takedown of startup culture.

For more book recommendations, see my curated bookshop.

Ghost plug

Ghostwriters: come see me and learn all about ghostwriting at the Gathering of the Ghosts, in New York City January 22. Registration is about to close, if you want to join us, sign up today.

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One Comment

  1. This is an appropriate topic, Josh, on the eve of the last GOP debate. I remain hopeful that primary voters in New Hampshire and South Carolina will encourage support for a non-Trump nominee. Why no serious contender has raised her hand from the Democratic party and challenged Joe Biden is beyond this voter.

    Separately, you wrote of, “….the number of challenges facing America right now — climate change, gun violence, immigration, and worldwide conflict”. You omit the one challenge that most threatens our national security – our annual deficits, aggregate indebtedness and unfunded future liabilities. Absent bipartisan action on these, our legacy will prove a dismal one.