The mainstream media failed to recognize the disposition of the American people.
The year 2016 will forever stain the mainstream media. It might also go down as the year in which the mainstream media was finally dethroned by the new media. It is social media, first and foremost, which has prompted the structural changes that have made the already-unviable old media even less tenable. Social media is also the reason why Donald Trump was elected the President of the United States. The ideological bias of the media has only exacerbated its dissolution.
The national populism, which erupted in 2016, revealed the media’s ideological distance from ordinary citizens. In unison, the media derided both Brexit and Donald Trump, rubbing their clear favouritism in people’s faces. Media bias used to be only somewhat palpable but now all doubt has been removed. Outlets in the US and in Europe alike rejected all pretence with pride1, dispatching partisanship everywhere: into the news, polls, forecast models, fact-checking etc.
The mainstream media in the US was exposed as, essentially, the PR department of the Democratic Party—this was confirmed, for example, by the leaked emails of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.2 Ninety-six per cent of journalists donated money specifically to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign3, which is one reason why 91% of Mr. Trump’s media coverage was negative.4 In addition, Mrs. Clinton received the overwhelming support of the major newspapers.5 Mr. Trump was pummelled nonstop by the media, but also by pop culture and the politicians6, who expressed their unabashed support for the other candidate. It seemed as if the entire media-culture-government apparatus was one giant entity bent on serving the interests of just one group. This sort of bias affirmed something which was obvious anyway: namely that a large swath of the country were not even being spoken to. Those people imagined Mr. Trump as their mouthpiece.
The elites have increasingly retreated into an ideological and geographic bubble.7 The people see the elites and their interests as somewhere far away, which is why they revolted against globalism. For example, there is a general perception that both Democrats and Republicans favour mass immigration at the expense of the people’s well-being, with the aim of importing votes for the former and labour for the latter8 — so no wonder that Mr. Trump’s odes to protectionism resonated so strongly. He promised to put Americans first and to make the US great again9, to revitalize industries and to bring back jobs. Mr. Trump addressed a sore spot, which the Democrats had discarded, and which the elites did not care about, and the potential of which neither realized.
Columnist Will Rahn, pondering why Mr. Trump stupefied the press, accused journalists and pollsters of “unbearable smugness”.10 Indeed, the result was surprising to those who had effectively shut half the population11 out of the political debate. Mr. Trump’s triumph is the work of Middle America, which issued almost a wholesale repudiation to the elitism, moralizing, and policies of the coasts. This election revealed the chasm between these two Americas and the extent to which they have drifted apart.
Amidst all else, one might overlook the key factor that explains the election results and the clash of cultures: during President Barack Obama’s time in office, the Democrats lost over a thousand seats at all levels of government and the party is the weakest its been for a hundred years.12 Obama is among the self-proclaimed progressives whose faction has flourished in the Democratic Party and to whom a considerable portion of Americans are opposed. After World War II, liberal institutions—academia, the media, and the entertainment industry — have transformed into “bastions of progressivism”.13
The spread of progressivism has induced a state of monolithic groupthink, which rendered both Mr. Trump’s victory and Brexit a surprise to the elites. Both events were not so much unforeseen as they were improbable. It was unexpected to those living in a “hermetic” bubble—which recalls what Pauline Kael, a film critic for the New Yorker, wrote when, to her astonishment, Richard Nixon won the 1972 presidential elections, “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are? I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”14 Nixon won 49 states and received 60% of the popular vote—while this election was not as ridiculously one-sided, it does illustrate that cultural estrangement has existed for a while now.
The clash of cultures in America is about the contention between prescriptive collectivism and liberal individualism. The former is represented by progressivism, which holds that everyone should be equal, and the latter by conservatism, which holds that everyone should have equal opportunity. Both worldviews are animated by an ideal of a better society, and therefore neither is specifically good or bad. But since progressivism also draws on the identity politics of cultural Marxism15, then this branch of thinking presumes that capitalist societies are built on the abuse of the poor and the minorities: in such a zero-sum system, wealth is acquired by stealing from others. Marxist deconstructions of power structures lead straight to moral and cultural relativism.
The revolutionary impulse innate to Marxism has become a part of the progressives’ political agenda. How often did Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton declare that the rich must pay their “fair” share, even though the upper fifth of the population pays for over four-fifths of all taxes and half the population pays nothing whatsoever?16 Or that women earn less money, even though the pay gap in the US is not 21% but around 8%—unjustifiable still but not as large.17 Or that the disproportionately high rate of black incarceration is due to systemic racism, even though blacks also commit a disproportionately high amount of crimes.18 These are just a few examples of attempts to dismantle power structures. Cultural relativism does not account for values, which promote a culture’s success, independently of structures (e.g. in the case of Western civilization, personal liberties, property rights, the separation of church and state etc.).
Let us keep in mind, that the US was founded upon the ideals of the Enlightenment, which stress individual freedoms and a curtailed government. The conflict between progressives and conservatives is so sharp because progressive ideas and values, due to their collectivist element, contradict the libertarian ideals of conservatism. Hence, liberal institutions look like America but do not think like America.19 Multiculturalism and diversity have, in effect, devolved into substituting values for external characteristics. Academia, the media, and entertainment industry are filled with all kinds of people whose thinking tends to be of only one kind. Mr. Trump’s controversial behaviour helped highlight this: in addition to the media, he was heartily harangued by professors and celebrities alike. Americans have become fed up with a philosophy that does not value America’s values.
The media, obviously, contributes to the discord of the two cultural bubbles by constructing political reality through narratives. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement has tried to prove institutional racism by utilizing lies20 that the mainstream media has proliferated with reckless abandon. The result is that race relations have deteriorated considerably in recent years. And for want of an example of what half of America vehemently protested against, then let us examine the post-election situation. Supposedly, it was Mr. Trump who constituted a threat to democracy when he refused to categorically accept the election results.21 But after Election Day, the country has witnessed numerous vulgar and even violent protests against Mr. Trump.22 Although there is reason to suspect that the protests were launched from behind the scenes23, the young people that took to the streets must have thought that, with enough complaining, the result could be overturned. Since the media is opposed to Mr. Trump, then they are not interested in alleviating the tensions.
The demonstrations are explained by the situation in the universities, which look more and more like kindergarten.24 Young people are denied the faculty of critical thinking because the worldview presented to them is considered absolute—and if this wholly subjective perspective is bolstered by unsubstantiated political correctness and cultural relativism, then young people lose the capacity to stomach competition in the world outside academia. If factual truths are subjugated to feelings and if words are transformed into “micro-aggressions”25, then the result will be the culture of offense-taking, safe spaces, fascist suppression of speech, and violent demonstrations. These are the very same people that will go on to populate the media. There is no doubt that many cast their ballots for Mr. Trump to oppose such currents in particular—he himself reiterated that there is no time to be politically correct (although he crossed the line between correctness and nastiness multiple times). Maladjustment, like responding to election results with violence, is the property of addled minds, a product wrought by a sealed ideological environment.
The ideology of political correctness in academia is exemplified by the philosophy of Herbert Marcuse, a prominent member of the Marxist Frankfurt School: since Western civilization is unjust, “enlightened” leftist elites must repress right-leaning ideologies in the name of tolerance and freedom.26 Political correctness is the most destructive aspect of progressivism27 because it has, under the guise of politeness, become a totalitarian suppression of speech and thought. Dissenting views are rendered as thought crimes, which precludes contestation but encourages character assassination through labelling. In addition, treating differing viewpoints as micro-aggressions is a license to respond to words with violence.
The lust for power is inherent to human nature but because a left-leaning political orientation has unequivocally become the cultural dominant, then the currents described above are expressly associated with leftists. Recently-deceased conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart used to say that “politics is downstream from culture”—and the culture of political correctness is wholly a leftist culture.28 No wonder, then, that the pillorying coming from the coastal elites was unconvincing to Middle America, and instead the derision and insults levied in place of arguments29 only propelled people to vote for Mr. Trump.
Ideological groupthink has infected the entire media-culture-government apparatus. This is why the elites did not foresee Mr. Trump’s victory, even though they were so frightened of it. While journalists like Will Rahn were critical of their own mistakes and biases, the New York Times gave a hypocrisy-laden promise to “rededicate”30 itself to honesty for Mr. Trump’s time in office, signalling the mainstream media’s intent on staying the course, stained reputation or not. The Times is a good example of how an echo chamber and political ideology can turn good journalists into propagandists. The only standard the media has left is the double standard: criticism is directed only at the opposition, not at oneself.31 But what would the media do if the people rioting on the streets were anti-Clinton Trump supporters?
It would be presumptuous to claim that traditional media will become extinct entirely. The old media is now being contested by the new media, which has found sustenance on social media. The rise of the new media probably began in 1998, when Matt Drudge revealed on his news aggregator website, in defiance of the mainstream media, the affair between President Bill Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky.32 Thereafter, the internet has essentially transformed the traditional power structure, turning the competition within the mainstream media into a competition with the new media, which functions like a drill sergeant in disciplining the mainstream. Therefore, the media’s distortion of events33 and even facts34 are put on full display, which has caused the media’s trustworthiness ratings to plummet to record lows.35
In any case, the dissolution of the old media has begun. Journalism is not profitable anymore: people do not purchase newspapers and advertising revenues have tumbled. It is much more profitable to garner a following on social media, which provides access to a much wider audience. While outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post are bankrolled by their billionaire owners, the new media depends on the donations of its readers, which mirrors the principle of competition in a market economy. Based on current evidence, it is safe to say that the media landscape will be quite different by the time the next presidential election rolls around. There are obstacles on the way, however, as Facebook36, Twitter37, Google, and YouTube38 have all been eager to impose censorship of their own accord, although this craving is curbed by the incentive to offer users content relevant to their specific interests. Social media is not immune to cultural bubbles.
Donald Trump became the first social media president, just like John F. Kennedy became the first television president. Debate, narrative-creation, and the freedom of speech are no longer the domain of the old media. If Mr. Trump proves a serious let-down to his supporters, then the new media might elect a candidate even more radical. It is high time that the old media burst out of its echo chamber as their swansong is almost at hand.
Translated by the author.
1 Patrick Maines, Defending the indefensible: Bias at the New York Times – The Hill, 15 August 2016, thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/media/291436-defend….
2 Lee Fang and Glenn Greenwald, EXCLUSIVE: New Email Leak Reveals Clinton Campaign’s Cozy Press Relationship – The Intercept, 9 October 2016, theintercept.com/2016/10/09/exclusive-new-email-le….
3 Michael Beckel and Dave Levinthal, Journalists shower Hillary Clinton with campaign cash – The Center for Public Integrity, 18 October 2016, www.publicintegrity.org/2016/10/17/20330/journalis….
4 Rich Noyes, MRC Study: Documenting TV’s Twelve Weeks of Trump Bashing – Media Research Center, 25 October 2016, www.newsbusters.org/blogs/nb/rich-noyes/2016/10/25….
5 Mrs. Clinton received the endorsement of 57 newspapers, Mr. Trump of only two. See Max Kutner, In the Age of Donald Trump, Newspaper Endorsements No Longer Matter – Newsweek, 9 November 2016, europe.newsweek.com/donald-trump-newspaper-endorse….
6 Even though the Democrats and the Republicans still remain foes, both party establishments were opposed to Mr. Trump.
7 The electoral college map shows blue coasts with an almost-contiguous blotch of red in the interior.
8 Ann Coulter on Immigration – LIFA, 29 August 2016, www.golifa.com/ann-coulter-immigration.
9 The official slogan of Mr. Trump’s campaign: “Make America Great Again!”
10 Will Rahn, Commentary: The unbearable smugness of the press – CBS News, 10 November 2016, www.cbsnews.com/news/commentary-the-unbearable-smu….
11 Mrs. Clinton received about a million more votes than Mr. Trump. If the US did not employ an Electoral College, then politically-homogenous metropolises like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco would be solely responsible for election results.
12 Kimberley Strassell, Trump’s Secret Weapon: Obama – The Wall Street Journal, 10 November 2016, www.wsj.com/articles/trumps-secret-weapon-obama-14….
13 One study indicated that 85% of the professors in American academia lean left politically. Since academia is considered a liberal environment, it also attracts people of a similar persuasion. See Neil Gross, Professors are overwhelmingly liberal. Do universities need to change hiring practices? – Los Angeles Times, 20 May 2016, www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-gross-academia….
14 John Podhoretz, The Actual Pauline Kael Quote—Not As Bad, and Worse – Commentary, 27 February 2011, www.commentarymagazine.com/culture-civilization/th….
15 Traditional Marxism focuses on the economy, cultural Marxism on socio-cultural factors.
16 Laura Sanders, Top 20% of Earners Pay 84% of Income Tax – The Wall Street Journal, 10 April 2015, www.wsj.com/articles/top-20-of-earners-pay-84-of-i….
17 Robert Samuelson, What’s the real gender pay gap? – The Washington Post, 24 April 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/whats-the-real-gen….
18 Such criminality is usually given two explanations: first, ghetto culture, and second, the tremendous amount of children (over two-thirds) who are raised in a single-parent household. See, also, Aaron Bandler, 7 Statistics You Need To Know About Black-on-Black Crime – The Daily Wire, 13.07.2016, www.dailywire.com/news/7441/7-statistics-you-need-….
19 Nicholas Kristof, A Confession of Liberal Intolerance – The New York Times, 7 May 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/opinion/sunday/a-confes….
20 Of course individual racists exist. Still, BLM was inspired by the cases of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, both of which were based on lies. These black youths were thugs and were killed because they assaulted armed persons: a private citizen and a police officer, respectively. See, for example, Jonathan Capehart, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ was built on a lie – The Washington Post, 16 March 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2015….
21 Max Fisher, Donald Trump’s Threat to Reject Election Results Alarms Scholars – The New York Times, 23 October 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/10/23/world/americas/donald-t….
22 Some of Mr. Trump’s supporters have also regrettably harassed people, but not through a collective effort like the demonstrators.
23 Conservative activist James O’Keefe captured on video a Democratic Party operative, who described how they have incited violence at Mr. Trump’s rallies. See Tyler Durden, Undercover Footage Shows Clinton Operatives Admit to Inciting “Anarchy” at Trump Rallies – Zero Hedge, 18 October 2016, www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-10-17/caught-tape-clin….
24 Glenn Reynolds, ‘Tolerant’ educators exile Trump voters from campus – USA Today, 14 November 2016, www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2016/11/14/trump-li….
25 Micro-aggression – Merriam-Webster, 2016, www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/microaggress….
26 , first paragraph.
27 However, the history of progressivism also includes the reprehensible promotion of eugenics. See Amity Shlaes, The Progressive History of Eugenics – The Wall Street Journal, 26 February 2016, www.wsj.com/articles/the-progressive-history-of-eu….
28 James Poniewozik, Andrew Breitbart, 1969–2012 – Time, 1 March 2012, entertainment.time.com/2012/03/01/andrew-breitbart….
29 Jonathan Chait, Here’s the Real Reason Everybody Thought Trump Would Lose – New York, 11 May 2016, nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/05/heres-the-re….
30 The Times is oblivious to its own role in inflaming tensions. They failed to see Mr. Trump’s potential but they are not planning to diversify their staff either. See Dean Baquet and Arthur Sulzberger, To Our Readers, from the Publisher and Executive Editor – The New York Times, 13 November 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/11/13/us/elections/to-our-rea….
31 Heather Mac Donald, Trumped-Up Outrage – City Journal, 9 October 2016, www.city-journal.org/html/trumped-outrage-14777.ht….
32 Andrew Glass, Drudge says Newsweek sitting on Lewinsky story, Jan. 17, 1998 – Politico, 17 January 2013, www.politico.com/story/2013/01/this-day-in-politic….
33 Karl-Gerhard Lille, Moonutamise kunst ehk Donald Trumpist ja hambutust pabertiigrist – Diplomaatia, May 2016, www.diplomaatia.ee/artikkel/moonutamise-kunst-ehk-….
34 Brent Bozell, The Liberal Tilt at PolitiFact – Townhall, 29 June 2016, townhall.com/columnists/brentbozell/2016/06/29/the….
35 Art Swift, Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low – Gallup, 14 September 2016, www.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-me….
36 Michael Nunez, Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News – Gizmodo, 9 May 2016, gizmodo.com/former-facebook-workers-we-routinely-s….
37 Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, Twitter’s new Trust and Safety Council is an Orwellian nightmare – The Week, 23 February 2016, theweek.com/articles/607490/twitters-new-trust-saf….
38 Bre Payton, Why Is YouTube Censoring 21 Educational Videos From PragerU? – The Federalist, 12 October 2016, thefederalist.com/2016/10/12/youtube-censoring-edu….
This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.