Sunday, November 27, 2016

Trumpophobes in the media need to get over it

(First published in The Dominion Post, November 25).

It’s now more than two weeks since Donald Trump became US President-elect, and I’m wondering when the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth (to use a biblical metaphor) is going to stop.

Many commentators in the media, both here and in the US, just don’t seem to get it.

Yes, Trump is a thoroughly unappealing man, but the political narrative was rewritten on November 8. There was a sudden change of scriptwriter. The world has moved on and whether we like it or not, we’d better get used to it.

Unfortunately the US media seem determined to compound the mistake they made during the election campaign, when they were so blinded by their virtuous metropolitan liberalism that they failed to see what was going on around them.

Now, rather than admitting they gravely misread the public mood, they’re further undermining their credibility by attacking American voters for supporting the wrong candidate.

You’d think, when traditional media are struggling for survival in the face of disruptive digital technology, that they would do everything in their power to make themselves more relevant to the lives of ordinary people. Instead they seem intent on accentuating the perception that they are remote and disconnected.

Earlier this week I read a report in the Washington Post – one of the most brazenly biased of the major American papers – that purported to be an account of Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s attendance at the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, where he was pompously lectured from the stage at the end of the show.

The Post’s story was heavily coloured by the reporter’s own opinions and freighted with questionable assumptions. It opened with the sentence: “Mike Pence was elected vice-president by a coalition of mostly white voters nostalgic for what they thought of as the good old days in America and galvanised by promises to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.”

There you have it, right there – the same elitist disdain that was evident in Hillary Clinton’s ill-advised dismissal of Trump supporters as “deplorables”.

Well, even deplorables have a vote, as Clinton discovered. Trump, whatever his shortcomings, pitched his rhetoric directly at the large number of American voters who felt forgotten by the political establishment.

There seems little doubt that these voters felt as poorly served by the news media as they were by mainstream politicians. Trump capitalised on that too.

But rather than step back and critically assess their own performance, the US media elite insist it was the electorate that got it wrong.

There’s a fierce antagonism toward “uneducated” voters who apparently don’t know what’s good for them. This was also evident in the recent rant by the British celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins, who suggested that Britain and America are now uninhabitable following the Brexit vote and the presidential election, and that New Zealand suddenly looks a highly desirable bolthole.

Dawkins explicitly attacked “anti-intellectual” voters. He was just one step away from arguing that plebs shouldn’t be allowed to vote at all.

The irony is that Dawkins and his ilk smugly think of themselves as liberal. In fact their bitterness at the outcome of the election reveals them as deeply intolerant of dissenting opinions – the antithesis of liberalism.

Even now, the US media seem to have learned nothing from the election result. The playwright Arthur Miller’s famous observation that a good newspaper was a nation talking to itself no longer seems to apply. Like the politicians, American journalists have become remote from the people they purportedly serve.

The Washington Post article went on to say that Pence’s attendance at Hamilton – written by a Puerto Rican and starring a multiracial cast – brought him face-to-face with a symbol of “the new America”. It might have been truer to say that like it or not, right now Pence himself is a symbol of the new America, if only the myopic reporter could see it.

Admittedly, the world was dazed by the speed with which the political ground shifted under everyone’s feet with Trump’s election. If political events were measured on the Richter scale, it would have been at least an 8.

But Trumpophobes need to get over it. They need to move beyond anger and denial to acceptance.
A week after Trump’s election, I read a hand-wringing lament by a left-wing New Zealand commentator. What struck me was how pointless and irrelevant it suddenly seemed.

The world had moved on and left the writer stranded on an island of her own outrage. She was shouting "Help!", but the passing ship had already vanished over the horizon.

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