Trump’s election discloses the disconnection between media and reality

Nov 15, 2016
United States
Trump vence eleição revelando desconexão entre mídia e realidade nos EUA.
The media was heavily discussed during the 518 days of the campaign, but it was not a self-assessment. It was boxing. Famous brands such as the New York Times and Washington Post bared their teeth to fight the Right-Wing Media which, in turn, had no shame in suggesting lies, ranging from Obama's affiliation with a communist party to a dementia that Hillary was hiding. No, the NYT, WaPo, and other respected publications did not lie, but they covered in a way whose bias was not far from Fox News. The genesis of the shock of Trump's election was massively forged in the media.
In a consolidated democracy, it is expected that society has its channels to discuss differences. The media has fulfilled this institutional role for over 200 years, to a greater or lesser extent. Historically, the media had to pay attention to what the citizen was saying, what their afflictions, aspirations, and fears were, so that it did not speak alone. In the electoral campaign that ended last Tuesday, Donald Trump was elected and most of the responsibility lies exactly in the media's myopia. Trump understood what the ordinary citizen thinks and wants. While the progressive media played for their own fans, even being more understanding with Hillary than with Trump, he talked to the ordinary citizen.
As they always have done, the intellectual sophistication and excellence of the newspapers produced extremely pleasant content, almost artistic in terms of quality, but with an error, generated by a conviction of their own reason. At no time did this "leftist" media (in quotes because anywhere in the world it would be "center"), as well as the Democratic party, try to understand a phenomenon that was happening in a huge portion of the electorate because this group was not "desirable", or as Hillary said, a "basket of deplorables". It was the "deplorables" criticized by Hillary and ignored by the mainstream media who denied her victory.
I'm right and you're not
The world has cyclical periods of democracy consolidation interspersed with resurgences of authoritarian vocations. The exercise of democracy necessarily involves the acceptance of radical positions on various subjects: immigration, militarism, civil liberties, etc. John Stuart Mill, one of the pillars of liberal philosophy (and here, liberal in itself and not the prejudiced interpretation of the neo-left critical of "neoliberalism"), argued that all opinions - without exception, even the seemingly absurd - should have room to be put up for discussion. Strictly applying this concept allows the emergence and consolidation of hydrophobic groups and publications, which initially defend their sharp positions and then move on to a venomous combat, with lies, conspiracy theories, and pure hatred. This is not healthy, but it is a secretion that must be understood as a "cost" of democracy.
In the last two decades, American democracy has begun to see these cracks in its floor. The elections did not stop happening nor was there an impeachment, but numerous reasons, ranging from terrorism to unemployment post-2008, created bubbles of resentment at the extremes. But it wasn't just that. Ordinary people, without radical ideologies, also shared this resentment. The malaise was not only in the ideologically afflicted. Even without concrete political positions, the average American has been seeing himself, for a long time, without prospects, in a society in which perspective was the basis of society.
This "non-radical" resentment is not partisan, it is horizontal. More common characteristics: working class, male, and over 35 years old, usually targets of the aggressive rhetoric of the "progressive" media and linked to negative stereotypes such as racism, ignorance, sexism, gun lovers, environment haters, and so on. But don't misunderstand: this is not the profile of the group, but just a picture of it. The prejudice and misunderstanding that this group suffered was the biggest electoral cable that Trump could have wished for.
This American "center" middle class does not all fit into the description of the "origin of evil" that progressive democrats from New York, Boston, and other cosmopolitan centers like to describe. In their vast majority, more than "deplorable", they are unassisted, people whose annual income has regressed almost to the same as at the end of the 80s (not counting inflation in the period), who saw jobs move to another country, national traditions profoundly changed and the appearance of immigrants to "steal" their jobs - all this while the profit of the "1%" and corporations exploded. It doesn't matter if the degradation of this group's situation is the fault of Republicans, Democrats, Obama, Bush, globalization, or Sesame Street, or whoever.
This extremely resentful and little (or not at all) literate group did not at any time see attempts at rapprochement with the sophisticated, modern, globalized, politically correct middle class, neither on the part of the Democratic Party nor the media that informs the "civilized urbanites" who are horrified by Trump. Just as in other countries, the "progressive" wing did not seek dialogue - it simply marginalized them. The retaliation did not leave it at that.
Astonished, both the media and the sophisticated elite of the USA saw the advantage of Trump's votes grow in the count last Wednesday to the point where the Republican was announced as the winner. In general, the press not only in the country but around the world, freaked out. Twitter, Facebook, Google, all recorded a frenzy of hysteria, rancor, and denial of reality. In fact, the most striking was the moment when denial met reality. This graph of Google trends is incredibly symbolic. After an almost non-existent search related to the president-elect, as soon as the count began and Hillary started to eat dust, the interest in Trump exploded and all his surreal comments about controversial issues, as well as expressions like "Donald Trump dead", which give a clue that the situation is not going to improve. Interest in Trump and his "deplorables" may have come too late.
(Partial or not?
One of the maxims of journalism is the search for impartiality, a fight impossible to win, but which, despite generating friction and wear, produces the best possible journalism. The best American newspapers are among the best in this. However, one of the many differences of this campaign compared to others is that the media, in the name of what they considered "right", assumed the Machiavellian role of justice. Trump was demonized by the more liberal media and Hillary, even more, by the ultraconservative media. The emergence of tapes, videos, photos, and leaks during the year and a half towards the White House was a festival of obscenities, with each side choosing the most convenient ones.
The big loser of the election is the more sophisticated mainstream media, capable of giving opinions on everything with the glorified aura of truth. Its disconnection with what was happening in the lives of tens of millions of Americans was the guiding thread for the Democratic Party itself to create its particular reality, one that would be destroyed in a matter of hours during the count. In its anti-Trump crusade, the media supported Hillary without any ceremony - for every publication that declared support for Trump, 28 endorsed the Democratic candidacy for president. Worse: the publications in general bought their own discourse and thought they had left the voter outside the democracy party.
Only Trump understood the voter and deceived him mercilessly
One of the leaders of the Republican Party said, shortly after Mitt Romney's defeat in 2012, that the party was doomed to fail until it understood the country's new demographic configuration. He was partially right because the party itself would not understand it, but Donald Trump did. It doesn't matter that practically everything Trump promised in the campaign is false; it doesn't matter that he is racist, misogynistic, sexist, xenophobic, or whatever, as filmmaker Michael Moore warned five months ago. Trump was free to say whatever he wanted to convince the electorate - according to him, "stupid". This is because the press, an institution that only works when it has society's trust to do this kind of control, had lost its authority because of the certainty of its presumptions. If Hillary were a Republican, her campaign would have been destroyed in the first month. Trump, on the other hand, had carte blanche to lie because he didn't need the truth. He was vaccinated against it, thanks to the disconnection of his detractors from reality.
This text is by no means a celebration of Trump's victory. He will assume the presidency with a majority in both houses and the Supreme Court, but the government will not be simple. To come to power, Trump dynamited the Republican party and this creates an unexpected situation, with the GOP full of internal strife. Everything indicates that he will leave some campaign promises along the way, like every populist does, but if he does 10% of them, it will already be a disastrous term in the economy, foreign policy, social welfare policies, and whatever else. Trump comes out of the election as a media genius, capable of surviving dozens of accusations that would have ended any candidacy and challenged everything - including his own party, campaign strategists, press advisers.
Trump and Silicon
Technology companies also come out of the election scratched and worried. Amazon, Facebook, and Google stocks had sensible drops in the days following the election, probably projecting a much less friendly government to regulate the sector compared to darling Barack Obama. And the stock market drop is the least of the problems. The venomous environment in which the campaign happened is deeply linked to the nature of digital products. The algorithmic customizations that generate rivers of money for Silicon Valley had, albeit inadvertently, a nefarious role both in the creation of the "bubbles" of information that detached society from reality and in the inability to prevent the dissemination of untruths, rumors, and hoaxes in general.
The election of Donald Trump was not a reflection of a racist, prejudiced, frightened country with anti-American globalism, hater, homophobic, and xenophobic. Besides the traditional fluctuation of power between Democrats and Republicans every 8 years, it was also a mismatch between the illustrated portion of the population that, arrogantly, thinks it holds the monopoly of reason and that democracy only happens when its favorites are in power. Yes, the campaign of the billionaire and reality show star was a horror show, but his victory was more a triumph of an electorate sick of being on the sidelines of mainstream politics.
Still in the process of the "it's-not-my-fault" of the media and the American intelligentsia, the Facebook was accused of being responsible for Trump's victory, which is, naturally, nonsense. But the feeling of technological guilt is undeniable. Facebook and Google have already changed their policies for selling ads to sites that knowingly sow lies and the Twitter has added features to block hate speech. According to an American technology site, the problem with hoaxes had been debated on Facebook, but the company would have been afraid to further alienate the more conservative parts of its audience in the US. Yes, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and all fundamental information service providers had a part in Trump's victory, but they were not the cause. The denial of guilt is just another step in the process of shock of reality.
In this election, the established media lost a large portion of its influence over the electorate. This influence had already been eroded by the space taken by social networks and by the fragmentation of the media itself. It's possible that even without the media's mismatch with reality, Trump would have been elected, especially if the press that declared itself pro-Hillary had been severe in investigating scandals about her name in the last two years (from Benghazi to the proposal to kill Julian Assange - that she denies having occurred). However, there would be a basic difference: if elected in this scenario where the press did its job, Trump would have to deal with the scrutiny of a press connected to a society that would trust it. As it stands, the situation is the worst of all worlds: Trump is in power, with Congress, Senate, and the Supreme Court in the hands of Republicans and the press against him only has applause from its own audience. Even the most atrocious critics who wanted the press to take a reality check could not imagine a more severe punishment. Unfortunately, there are no signs that American journalism will self-criticize. And besides, the consequences of the media's stumble will have a global reach.

© Cassiano Gobbet 2023 - 2024