The principal blame for our current moment of jeopardy is not with Hillary Clinton, or the DNC. Nor is it with the lying, racist bullying of Donald Trump. This is a democracy with unprecedented ways to gather information. Let's look at the voters. As media critic Neal Gabler observes:
"[Trump voters] were not all reprehensible, any more than Clinton voters were all godly. Many of Trump’s folks just wanted to blow up the system, and then see what happens. But, yes, most of them were voting for racial and religious hegemony too. Let’s not pretend otherwise."And So it Begins: Normalizing the Election
by Neal Gabler
It didn’t take a clairvoyant to predict that President-elect Donald Trump would be almost instantly normalized by the press since he had already been normalized by them when he was a candidate. After a “60 Minutes” interview, Lesley Stahl declared him “more subdued and serious.” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported approvingly upon the transition as if proposed White House counselor Steve Bannon and proposed attorney general Jeff Sessions, two men with racism in their pasts, were ordinary appointments. Mitchell’s colleague at NBC, Chuck Todd, chastised Senator Harry Reid, after his eloquent and impassioned attack on Trump, for being “too harsh.” And so the media fell into line. To which we can only invoke John Oliver’s emphatic post-election pronouncement: “THIS IS NOT NORMAL.”
Under normal circumstances a candidate who incited his supporters to attack the press might raise First Amendment issues. But these are not normal circumstances…
That, however, is only one of the media’s derelictions. Far more serious is their normalization not of Trump but of his voters. The former is typical cowardice under threat of reactionary populism. The latter is an endorsement of reactionary populism that may have far-reaching consequences for whether the country can ever be reunited after having been torn asunder.
Under normal circumstances a candidate who incited his supporters to attack the press might raise First Amendment issues. But these are not normal circumstances, so Trump can target the press with impunity. Their only recourse is to make peace, which is what they seemed to be doing when they met with Trump this weekend, and peace means less rigorous coverage. The meeting, according to accounts, didn’t go well, but it didn’t have to. Trump bullied the press, and they stewed. We all know how this turns out. No matter how much the media may protest and show false bravado, he will thrash them into submission. Always remember: the news media are in the eyeball business, not the information business. And Trump gets eyeballs.
What Taibbi and others discovered is that the east coast and west coast media elites should have known what was brewing. They should have known about the festering resentments. They were so cocksure of themselves that they wound up missing the big story.
All too true. But in saying that, the media also let the Trump supporters off the hook. It wasn’t their fault that they bought Trump’s vicious bigotry. It was Clinton’s fault and the Democrats’ fault and the Republicans’ fault and the media’s fault and everybody else’s fault. Give the American people a break. That, in a nutshell, is the new conventional wisdom.
You hear that wisdom everywhere now. I revere Jon Stewart, but in his brief post-election reaction to Charlie Rose on CBS Morning News, he said two things that I think are demonstrably wrong. First: “I don’t believe we are fundamentally a different country today than we were two weeks ago or than we were a month ago,” and he cited anti-Semitic remarks by Nixon and LBJ to make the point that anti-Semitism was alive and well in the White House long before Trump. But the point – the fundamental difference – is that Nixon and LBJ made those remarks closeted in the White House. They didn’t make them publicly to rouse the latent hatred in their fellow Americans. Trump has. Second: “There is now this idea that anyone who voted for him [Trump] has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric.” And he went on to say how he “loved” some Trump supporters he knew, who weren’t really racists. They were just angry about their rising insurance premiums.
I doubt it. Unless you hold the terribly condescending view that Trump voters – “low-information” voters, as they were sneeringly called — had no idea what he actually said, they were not voting against insurance premiums or other economic difficulties. They were voting against a world, including one with rising insurance premiums, that they didn’t want, didn’t understand, and, above all, didn’t control. He is right in this: They were not all reprehensible, any more than Clinton voters were all godly. Many of Trump’s folks just wanted to blow up the system, and then see what happens. But, yes, most of them were voting for racial and religious hegemony too. Let’s not pretend otherwise.