TO THE RAMPARTS!

Based on a gross mischaracterization of statements he made in support of a single-state solution for Israel and Palestine, knives are coming out for Temple professor Marc Lamont Hill. After being fired from CNN, Hill seemed willing to accept responsibility for his role in the reaction; like most of us most of the time, in hindsight there are always better ways we can express ourselves. At the same time, Haaretz notes that Hill is being subsumed by the reality that in the U.S. there seem to be distinct rules for discussing Israel-Palestine that vary considerably from how any other international conflict is handled.

Now Temple is trying to fire him, with the chair of the university's board taking the highly unusual (and inappropriate) step of leading a kind of public charge against Hill.

My question is not how best to litigate whether his comments were Right or Wrong, Offensive or Not Offensive. Rather, where are all the valiant defenders of Campus Free Speech? Invite some hack like Charles Murray to campus to hawks rebranded eugenics – or some pandering shithead with no academic credentials like Ben Shapiro or Milo to yell inflammatory shock-jock nonsense in front of an audience – and we end up subjected to a week full of nothing but Hot Takes about campus liberal snowflakes. Bari Weiss and Jordan Peterson and Charlie Kirk are suddenly on every talk show bemoaning the "crisis" of free speech on campus.

Isn't this, like, an actual example of a free speech issue on campus? If what these people really care about is the core concept of free expression itself, in a content-neutral way, then they should all be foaming at the mouth to speak up in defense of Marc Lamont Hill. As they frame it in defense of others, he should get to say whatever he wants and he shouldn't be sanctioned just because he said something controversial.

Far from defending his previously very important Free Speech rights, right-wing mega-hacks like Seth Mandel are busy engaged in grossly misleading characterizations of what was said and falling back on a very old, extremely tired "You criticized Israel so you hate Jews" fallacy to inflame sentiment against Hill. Which is pretty weird given that as recently as a week ago all of the writers and media figures in that circle were entering their second year of whining about voices being silenced (overlooking the irony of delivering that message in highly visible media outlets and on shows that continually invite them on to share their views).

It's almost too easy to point out the hypocrisy among the "zomg free speech on campus" grifters. We know they don't actually give a shit about Free Speech; they simply want their own worldview given legitimacy that it does not deserve on its merits. They say "Campuses should consider all ideas" but they mean "Invite more right wing hacks to campus so it will seem like they have legitimate ideas worth discussing." It's plenty obvious. Regardless, it's still shocking to see them show their proverbial asses so blatantly with Hill. You'd think that people with even a shred of integrity could offer a feeble "I disagree but defend his right to say it" defense. The next one of these truth warriors to speak up will be the first.

THE LENA DUNHAM PROBLEM

I don't care about Lena Dunham. I certainly was not in the intended audience for her most popular show, "Girls", and her political opinions are as valuable to me as any other celebrity's. I do think, however, that the phenomenon of Lena Dunham says a lot about the fundamental problems with media in the 21st Century.

Dunking on Dunham is too easy at this point, which is why Allison Davis's new profile of Dunham is palatable reading. She makes an effort to avoid taking the easy route and just bashing the hell out of an easy target, yet she does not avoid giving criticism (listing in excruciating long-form detail all the "whoopsies" the famously clueless and tone-deaf Dunham has had to apologize for) where due. The short version of the piece: Lena Dunham's life seems incredibly sad and it's not entirely clear why anyone, even a New York Social Scene oriented publication, is still talking to or about her.

What is so interesting to me is that Dunham's rise via "Girls" was largely due to the similarity between her and many of the journalists who adored her show when it came out. As products of the same Prep-and-Boarding school East Coast elite club, it was a happy coincidence that the kind of bourgeois, privileged navel-gazing that "Girls" engaged in was highly relatable to the kind of people who were Culture Journalists in the aughts. As journalism stopped paying (except in "exposure") it became a hobby career for the financially independent twenty-somethings, fresh out of Columbia or Smith, who fancied themselves tastemakers.

Because more than enough rich young adults with trust funds were eager to write for Vogue and Rolling Stone and the like, culture journalism led the way in transitioning from professional, paid journalists to a mob of interns and $100-per freelance contributors. Why pay someone when hundreds of 22-26 year olds with good writing skills, fresh out of college, will do it just for the bragging rights?

And so the small, non-diverse, insular group of people that wrote about things like hip new HBO series became the exact demographic that "Girls" would really speak to. It was a show for people, largely but not exclusively women, who could really identify with characters whose biggest problem in life was not liking any of the people they dated. Yes, the show covered issues deeper than that but it is hard to ignore the extent to which it was written by, aimed at, and depicted very privileged twentysomethings with no financial concerns.

And who could appreciate such a show except people who came from the same world, the people who live horrendously expensive lifestyles in Brooklyn and the lower East Side despite having no discernible source of income? It was the perfect overlap. Dunham probably never intended to do so, but she created the perfect show for people like herself…just as those people were becoming the dominant and sometimes only voices in journalism about the media and entertainment.

That, to me, is vastly more interesting to talk about than the endless string of Own Goals and foot-shootings that seem to be Dunham's entire career these days. Nobody associates her name with any specific piece of work anymore; she has become simply a punchline for a certain kind of clueless ex-Prep School trust fund white girl. In Davis's piece, she describes herself as exactly that. I take it as a positive that whereas those qualities were seen as assets a decade ago, today the mass audience looks at it more critically and less favorably.

I KNOW WHY YOU'RE SAD.

On paper, Tuesday was a good day for Democrats. They took the House for the first time in eight years. Several important Governorships (in advance of post-Census 2020 redistricting battles) were won. Notably vile Republicans like Kris Kobach, Scott Walker, and Dana Rohrabacher lost. The high-visibility Senate races Democrats lost (Missouri, Tennessee) were pipe dreams anyway. You already knew that Florida sucks, hard. So you're not sad because "The Democrats did badly."

You're also not sad because Beto lost, or Andrew Gillum lost, or any other single candidate who got people excited this year fell short. They're gonna be fine. They will be back. You haven't seen the last of any of them. Winning a Senate race in Texas was never more than a long shot. Gillum had a realistic chance, but once again: It's Florida.

No, you're sad for the same reason you were so sad Wednesday morning after the 2016 Election. You're sad because the results confirm that half of the electorate – a group that includes family, neighbors, friends, random fellow citizens – looked at the last two years and declared this is pretty much what they want. You're sad because any Republican getting more than 1 vote in this election, let alone a majority of votes, forces us to recognize that a lot of this country is A-OK with undisguised white supremacy. You're sad because once again you have been slapped across the face with the reality that a lot of Americans are, at their core, a lost cause. Willfully ignorant. Unpersuadable. Terrible people. Assholes, even.

You were hoping that the whole country would somehow restore your faith in humanity and basic common decency by making a bold statement, trashing Republicans everywhere and across the board. You wanted some indication that if you campaigned hard enough, rednecks and white collar bloodless types alike could be made to see the light that perhaps the levers of power are not best entrusted to the absolute worst people that can be dredged up from Internet comment sections running on platforms of xenophobia, nihilism, and racism. In short, you wanted to see some evidence that corruption, venality, bigotry, and proud ignorance are deal-breakers for the vast majority of Americans.

And now you're sad because it's obvious that they aren't. Even where horrible Republicans like Walker or Kobach lost, they didn't lose by much.

So I get it. It's depressing. There's no amount of positives that can take away the nagging feeling that lots and lots of people in this country are just…garbage. They're garbage human beings just like the president they adore. These people are not one conversation, one fact-check, and one charismatic young Democratic candidate away from seeing the light. They're reactionary, mean, ignorant, uninteresting in becoming less ignorant, and vindictive. They hate you and they will vote for monsters to prove it.

Remember this feeling. Remember it every time someone tells you that the key to moving forward is to reach across the aisle, show the fine art of decorum in practice, and chat with right-wingers to find out what makes them tick. Remember the nagging sadness you feel looking at these almost entirely positive results; it will be your reminder that the only way to beat this thing is to outwork, outfight, and out-organize these people. They are not going to be won over and they will continue to prove that to you every chance they get.

GO TIME

One thing that has changed since Trump is that I'm a lot more vocal about criticizing the Democratic Party. I think this country is well and properly screwed in the long term if, as a two-party system, the options available to voters are Middling and Neo-Fascist. There needs to be a left, and a real left, one that doesn't try to impress right-wing suburbanites by embracing means testing and trying to combat a movement based entirely on negative emotions with technocracy.

Along the way a lot of people whose ability to think about politics reduces to "Blue Good, Trump Bad" have shouted at me before eventually going away, which has been a huge, surprising net positive. I like doing this again in a way that, by the end of the 2016 election, I really was not feeling anymore. It's fun again and while that's not important to anyone else, it's quite important to me.

Rather than rehash complaints and criticisms you've probably heard plenty of times here and elsewhere, let's say you're well aware of the shortcomings of the current crop of Democratic leaders at the national level. You get it. I get it. And we both also get the "But vote for them anyway" arguments that have dominated the past year.

This kind of last-minute rallying call is less relevant than ever given how popular early and mail-in voting have become, but here goes anyway: You have to show up and do this now. Just because I'm not standing on the side of the road screaming VOTE BLUE NO MATTER WHO! to guilt people into voting for Joe Manchin or some other turd does not mean that you should not, in fact, vote for Joe Manchin. Objective 1 is to get as many Republicans out as humanly possible in a system they have rigged, and are actively rigging, to their benefit. We just have to start somewhere.

I said over a year ago, and maintain, that your local races are more important than the higher-profile congressional and gubernatorial races. There is no Liberal Jesus who will fix this problem from the top down. In the 1980s the GOP enacted a brutally effective strategy of organizing to win elections in which hardly anyone votes – and that dominance of low visibility, local political institutions eventually formed a foundation they used to build a nationally successful movement. The Democrats are probably going to take the House, and between their timid leadership and neurotic obsession with performative bipartisanship (What Americans really want to see is that we can reach out to and work with this…white nationalist kleptocrat) the odds that they'll actually do anything to meaningfully restrain Trump beyond simply existing are very small.

What is more likely to produce noticeable improvement is a change in one or more of your relevant local governments. You really need to be focusing on Politics at a level more refined then "Trump sucks and if we get the House that will fix things." I guess if that's what it takes to motivate an individual to vote it's a net positive, but that type of thinking really misses the point. We have to do more. That's the point. It starts with voting, and I have confidence that if you're reading this you've already gotten at least that far. But voting is just the start. We have to Do politics beyond posting a bunch of stuff on Facebook. We have to show up. We have to do the work. We can't sit back and say "Well that takes care of that!" once some institutions are again safely in the hands of bland moderates. That's a welcome step in the right direction, but it's not the end. Because none of these people are going to do anything that will actually make your life better unless you keep them scared shitless indefinitely.

That's what the GOP has done for decades. It's a long game. Do your part now, but remember that voting is the easiest part. For now, anyway.

IT CAN HAPPEN HERE

So here we are. We've arrived at the "radicalizing delusional, gun-obsessed racists to go out and start killing people" stage of America's hi-larious experiment in seeing what would happen if literally the worst person on Earth became president.

In about a week, the Democratic Party is highly likely to take control of the House of Representatives for the first time in decades. As I've said many times in many different ways, this is not the most important institution to focus on at this point. Republican dominance of state legislatures and governors' mansions is a more proximate and direct threat to the kind of politics that affects us directly.

But the House race is going to be important in a very different way because, as everyone has recognized for the past two years, Trump's long term goal is to undermine any faith in electoral outcomes. And the endgame of that strategy is, of course, more violence.

I keep saying things will get worse before they begin to get better. I have the sense that events of the next 2-3 months are going to provide ample evidence to support that theory.

Knowing well that a quarter of the population will believe whatever The Leader tells them, declaring election outcomes illegitimate sets the stage for a crisis the likes of which Americans have not had to confront in living memory. If you think things are chaotic and ugly and violent now, wait until fifty-plus million people decide that Congress isn't really a legitimate governing institution because Republicans no longer control it.

Without going off the deep end, it makes sense to think about a few things most of us don't spend time thinking about. Do you have enough stuff at home to last a few days when it might seem inadvisable to go out and run chores? Is the car full of gas? Do you and your spouse, kids, etc. have a basic "emergency" plan in place? Maybe it's nothing, but it probably wouldn't hurt to have the conversation. We aren't about to confront tanks rolling down the streets, but there's every reason to suspect that "Lone" Wolf attacks are going to experience an uptick. If you work in particularly dangerous or targeted professions – journalism, education, etc. – maybe take a few minutes to review whatever plans your institution has in place for emergencies.

One very important but dismal lesson 2017-18 have taught us is that when white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or other far right types decide to get violent, you absolutely cannot rely on the police to protect you. The police will stand by and watch. If you haven't noticed this pattern, pay more attention to who ends up getting arrested when skinheads decide they want to attack someone.

Take care of yourselves, people you care about, and one another.

INDEPENDENCE

The first thing I recall learning in grad school that was truly eye-opening was the extent to which individuals' evaluations of the economy, foreign policy, and just about anything else are a function of partisanship. Like most people I had always assumed that with all the proxies available – gas prices, bank rates, one's own paycheck, businesses opening and closing locally – an adult could easily develop a "sense" of how the economy is doing.

Granted, that kind of evaluation isn't a measurement. It's a feeling. And that's fine, because what survey questions ask is how the person *feels* the economy is doing. And there's nothing simpler than announcing your seat-of-pants guess at how things are.

Yet when you look at the research, one of the most consistent findings in public opinion is that even these rough feeling type evaluations are almost purely partisan. Few voters even use the easiest proxies ("Gas prices are going up! Economy bad!"). It really is as simple, for many voters, as my party is in power therefore the economy is great. The other party is in power so no matter how many raises I get the economy is bad and my taxes are going up.

Brian Schaffner posted this neat time series from the Cooperative Congressional Election Studies (CCES) – my favorite data to "play with" in all of social science – showing partisan evaluations of the economy from 2006 (regrettably, the first year of the CCES) to 2017. The results are unsurprising and demonstrate the basic point I made above.

Note that after a rare period of tri-partisan agreement that things were going to shit in 2007-08, Democrats' sense of the economy rebounded more sharply and rapidly once Obama took over. Now look at 2017.

Another thing political science has a large amount of evidence for is the contention that people who identify as independents often have highly partisan voting habits. They might not say they're Republicans, but they very well might vote exclusively for Republicans. A lot goes into Independent identification; it expresses dissatisfaction with both parties (Many Americans, reasonably, have concluded that they don't like either irrespective of policy positions) and boosts a sense of oneself as an open-minded, free thinking, doesn't take orders type of badass.

In practice, of course, most of these people vote a party line or close to it because that's what people do. They get their ballot, realize they don't know anything about 99% of the names on it, and vote using the easiest available cue.

The CCES data here demonstrate pretty clearly a point I'm often trying to make, which is: Don't "independents" in this data look an awful lot like Republicans? Like, suspiciously so? Almost like Independents are really Republicans who don't want to, for whatever reason, think of or announce themselves as Republicans?

The rise of Independent identification in survey data – and it has risen sharply in recent years – is the worst thing ever to happen to political consultants. They see the word "independent" and believe that it signifies a large mass of undecided voters just waiting to be hit with the right message to sway them. For some independents that may be so; various estimates in research suggest that maybe 1 in 10 voters falls into this category and genuinely does not make up their minds until late in an election. For the majority, though, there is no meaningful independence. It's just a label.

Chuck Schumer famously said in 2016, “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” That election helped demonstrate the flaws not only in targeting opposing partisans (hint: moderate Republican is still Republican. It says Republican right in the name) but in assuming that Independents are Independent. Generally they aren't. This is well understood.

So, any election strategy you hear that references independents, swing voters, or any synonym for a big group of persuade-able voters is not a strategy that makes sense. Any winning candidate who credits it fundamentally misunderstands what happened, and losing candidates who appeal to it are likely to repeat their mistakes.

IN BAD FAITH

"In good faith" became one of the mantras of the late George W. Bush years. It was the perfect exculpatory phrase for decisions that turned out to be terrible; as long as the original intentions were good, we can hardly blame these hard-working public servants for having erred.

Of course that rhetorical flourish overlooks the fact that those decisions, had any forethought whatsoever gone into them, should never have been made irrespective of the intentions. The intention to turn Iraq into Scott Walker's Wisconsin in the desert no doubt was sincere, but a child could have seen that it had no chance of happening. There's nothing admirable about diving into something that would cost dearly in blood and dollars with nothing but Good Faith in its favor.

The opposite, arguments made in explicit bad faith, is one of the keys to understanding Trump and his success at manipulating the media. They don't even feign sincerity. They lie blatantly and their supporters couldn't care less because it *feels* true and no matter how many times we go through this cycle the Democrats still haven't come up with an effective way to handle it or respond. To quote Washington Post reporter Ishaan Tharoor, "The Elizabeth Warren DNA gambit encapsulates in microcosm what the Dems have been prone to for so long: A credulous insistence that fact-checking can dispel talking points made in cynicism and bad faith."

The example he uses is ultimately irrelevant, although I suspect in the long term it will follow Warren around like "potatoe" did Dan Quayle. In the grand scheme, though, it doesn't mean anything. The question I have, and so often do when I see things like this, is: what was the goal here? What, in the best-case scenario, was taking a right-wing talking point at face value and trying to rebut it going to accomplish?

The hard facts are that when the right makes these idiotic accusations, 1) nobody on the left takes them seriously, at all (see: "Her emails." Try to find a single person who isn't a Republican who gave a flying shit about Her Emails.) and 2) nobody on the right is going to stand corrected, ever. They will – if they bother updating at all – simply move the goalposts. Here the pivot from "lol Pocahantas" to "lol 1/1024th" was so fast it was almost imperceptible.

I think, as usual, the root of the problem is the delusion that there is a big group of Undecided Voters out there who can be persuaded if only they have it pointed out to them that the right makes up 95% of its talking points. Democrats are forever trying to persuade and reach a hypothetical voter that probably doesn't exist – at least not in great numbers. I understand that someone has to maintain the daily list of things the White House says that are blatant lies, if for no reason other than to establish that the pattern isn't changing. But let the interns and faceless DNC staffers take care of that.

The candidates themselves should talk about nothing but 1) a policy agenda that doesn't require white papers to understand and 2) a vision of where the country needs to go that doesn't refer to policy. Do that and focus on getting more people who are predisposed to vote for you to turn out. Attempting to rebut Trumpian accusations is pointless because nothing will dislodge them from the minds of people inclined to believe them and anyone inclined to believe things Donald Trump says absolutely is not going to be reached with some fact checking.

ASK NOT FOR WHOM THE BOT TOILS

At this point it is well understood that "bots" – a term I will use generically here for the sake of simplicity to refer both to non-human social media accounts AND human-run accounts paid to fill up comment sections with certain scripts / talking points / etc – are a major component of the social media landscape. What doesn't appear to be as well understood is the fact that literally everyone is doing this.

It is a favorite insult of anti-leftist types to accuse commenters on social media of being "Russian bots" for advocating anything to the left of, say, Zell Miller. There is no doubt that bots, Russian or otherwise, are part of a pot-stirring agenda to create or sow dissension. There is ample documentation of the large amount of money and effort that has been committed to what is essentially a global-scale Operation Chaos. However, the "Russian bot" accusation betrays a telling lack of understanding about the role "bots" play in social media.

I am always tempted to ask people who raise the Russian Bots point: Do you honestly believe that there isn't a massive social media Bot Farm operation run by the mainstream Democratic Party? And the Republican Party? And far-right interests like white nationalist groups? If so, you are being incredibly, willfully naive and falling for the "Bad things are clearly happening, but bad things are what the other side does" line of thinking that undermines an understanding of the problem as it really is.

You could reasonably counter that with "Well of course the Democratic Party does it, they need to fight back against what others are doing" and that would be reasonable. The merits of that point could be debated. But a lot of comments I see seem ignorant – intentionally or otherwise – of the fact that it is being done. And that's just silly.

The major parties can throw vastly more money and manpower at this than fringey groups. There is a positively *massive* Blue Wave / mainstream Democrats bot farm operation. I know people who work in it. I don't object to its existence on either moral or practical grounds. I'm only stunned that there are people – well-intentioned people fundamentally aligned with its ideology and goals – who seem not to understand that it's out there.

There is a large number of people (to say nothing of true "bot" automated activity) out there being paid hourly to fill Facebook comment sections with talking points, retweet / boost favorable media, share links, spread information about campaign resources (how to volunteer, how to donate money, etc), and all the stuff that is a normal part of online discussions and comments about political topics.

All of this is fine. Everyone is doing it. I see no reason whatsoever that any single group should unilaterally disarm in the delusion that playing by certain rules will be rewarded. That would be counterproductive. What I find confusing is the framing of this as something "everyone else" is doing, but not "we / us." Hint: everyone is doing it, and everyone means everyone. That super enthusiastic person on Facebook with the pink hat and blue waves in her profile has every bit as good a chance of being a bot or a paid promoter as the long-haired DSA Marxist dude harping at her for supporting Andrew Cuomo over Cynthia Nixon has of being a Russian Bot.

There is, of course, also not only the possibility but the likelihood that both are real human beings talking in sincerity about their disagreements. But if your worldview is one that includes extreme suspicion that one of them is a bot or a paid shill, you really need to recognize that it isn't one of them but both of them that deserve your suspicion.

I'll close with Pew research demonstrating that the most bot-supported political material on social media is generic / mainstream / centrist content – CBS News type stuff. Because not only are bots out there trying to promote a political viewpoint, but a vastly larger number are out there with no goal more noble than jacking up ad revenue.

ONE AND THE SAME

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp – who also happens to be running for governor against the first statewide contender Georgia Democrats have produced for that race since the late 1990s – is using one of the most common tricks in voter suppression to hold up 53,000 voter registration applications. Over 70% of the applications are from African-Americans.

It's called "Exact Matching" and it's one of the least-subtly racist things in election administration. Simply, it is a requirement (found nowhere in law or the relevant constitutions) that a voter registrant's name must match existing state records with a degree of precision that is rarely possible. For example, if the voter registers as Jose Quiñones but he is found in other state records as Jose Quinones, the application is rejected. Similarly, Warren Jones-Jackson and Warren Jones Jackson are, despite sharing a date of birth, address, and all other relevant personal information, treated as two different people.

This is little more than a net used to catch people whose surnames have punctuation marks. It also catches people who have changed their name at some point and failed to update it across all records, but in intent and practice (look at that 70% number again) such voters are considered mere collateral damage in the quest to kick black and Hispanic voters off the rolls.

Many states have tried this or successfully used such exacting "rules" over the years. It isn't new. It's just rarely so brazen, and it happened in a world in which a lot of people will realize in real time that it is happening.

People ask, what can we do about this? The short answers are that if you live in Georgia (or even if you don't), scream about it from now until Election Day and consider donating money to a group with the means and wherewithal to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction against this kind of blatantly racist nonsense.

Oh, and don't worry, Georgia is also using even simpler tricks like closing polling stations in black neighborhoods. It sounds like someone isn't terribly confident of winning his gubernatorial race.

RESPAWN

If you've been reading for a long time you may recall my standard disclaimer from the Early Days: "Be patient, I'm going somewhere with this."

For six-plus years at my current institution I've been taking advantage of a free group fitness class offered twice weekly. It is sort of a hybrid of Jazzercise and Crossfit. I love it because 1) I respond well to the structure of someone telling me what to do and 2) it's hard. The older I get, the harder it is to self-direct in a gym without quickly succumbing to "I'm tired and this is too hard." For me, a class works.

Over time the attendance in this specific class has tailed off. There used to be a core group of undergraduates and older faculty-staff like me, and as people have left the university through attrition many of them have drifted away. Every time new undergraduates come to the class, they come exactly once. I have been watching this dynamic play out for years. It's not some enormous class with 100 people and I never miss a session, so I notice who's a regular and who isn't.

Undergraduates come exactly once for two reasons. One I already mentioned: it's hard. The other is that the class involves a certain "routine" or sequence of actions – choreography? – that is totally baffling the first time you try it. After so many years, I can do the whole thing with my eyes closed from memory. But when it was new to me, it definitely took me a good 3-5 classes to get used to moving from X to Y to Z and so on. You trip over yourself a lot at first.

And if teaching has taught me anything it is that 1) young people will not do anything they absolutely do not have to / want to do, and 2) they quit immediately if something is hard. This has been a subject of interest in the video game industry, which is aimed mostly at the teenage demographic. Old school (80s/90s) video games were hard. They did things like make players go all the way back to the beginning if they "died." Over time video games had to evolve to allow players to respawn wherever they finished their previous try and to make everything easy enough that you can get past it quickly without too much effort. Long challenges or points in the game that are difficult to beat have disappeared in favor of larger "worlds" filled with player-directed tasks that generally aren't real difficult.

This isn't an ideological choice but a practical one. Game companies started to notice that if players couldn't advance past an obstacle immediately or nearly so, they would just stop playing.

I think about that example all the time in my class. It is nothing that a person of any fitness level would be unable to do if they would just try it more than once. Everything can be modified to easier and less demanding movements. The sequence / steps sink in after a few tries. But as sure as the sun sets, these kids show up once and look frustrated and never come back again. They're on the verge of canceling the class because so few of us are attending now. People leave and are never replaced with new regulars.

On occasion I also go to a different fitness class, same university. This class is essentially an hour of lunges and crunches. It requires no learning of any kind. It's always packed, and most people are only loosely following along with what the instructor is doing. They just kind of do whatever, and don't push themselves to do anything beyond what they can do easily. The students *love* this class, if attendance is evidence of anything.

It's anecdotal to be certain, but I feel like this says a lot about my job. I'm not teaching group workouts but it's abundantly clear that some, if not most, students gravitate toward things that they can do easily on the first try and avoid things that require, you know, learning something.

I'll leave it to others to draw broad conclusions from this, but it's hard not to notice. It's a real thing.