Monday, August 1, 2016

Explaining Trump in Four Words

We are currently suffering through an endless stream of bloated think pieces about the Trump campaign, all trying to unravel whatever deep malady in the American soul has doomed our democracy. Maybe it's not that complicated. What if we can explain the whole thing in four simple words?

Republicans believe Fox News.

Of course, we would have to throw in the occasional caveat about no group being monolithic and no major phenomenon having a single explanation, but if we limit ourselves to the core voters and proximal causes, I think this may be all we need.

Try a thought experiment.

Chances are if you are reading this blog, you find publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the LA Times fundamentally reliable. I'm not saying that you always consider them accurate or honest or unbiased, but that you believe they are generally making a reasonable effort to get things right. Obviously this varies somewhat from writer to writer and story to story, but on the whole, your default setting is to give a high credence to what you read there.

I suspect that, by the same token, you do not extend that same assumption of trust to most conservative media, probably not Fox News and almost certainly not to the more extreme ideological outlets.

Now imagine things were reversed. You have a high degree of trust for things you see on Fox and a low degree for things you read in the New York Times and similar publications.

Think about what your world looks like.

Global warming is a hoax

The government and the media are hostile to Christians

Food-stamp recipients live on steak and lobster

While America is the most taxed nation in the world

The financial crisis was caused by government policies that required loans to be made to poor minority members

The 2008 election was probably stolen

President  Obama's birth records are possibly fraudulent, the product of a massive cover-up

President Obama is certainly anti-American 

As are most Democrats

Voter fraud is rampant

Islamic terrorist are on the verge of major attacks on Americans

America is in decline

If you believe all of these things then Trump becomes not only a rational choice, but perhaps the only rational choice.

I realize I am being somewhat flippant with my tone but I'm completely serious about the thesis. I'm arguing that all of the deep think pieces, the long reflections on the American character ("Democracy: Dying or Doomed?"), and probably everything David Brooks is going to write between now and November are destined to reach the wrong conclusions because they are asking the wrong question.

We don't need public intellectuals trying to figure out why a substantial portion of the electorate is gripped with a strange, unreasoning hatred and anger and fear. We already know the answer – – they watch Fox News. We also know that for the past 40+ years, Roger Ailes and Company have been looking at ways to cultivate these emotions for political gain. The basic assumption was the more intense the better as long most of the negative emotions were directed at the other side. For a while the system worked very well.

The conservative movement also declared all-out war on sources of trustworthy data like the census or meteorological research. While all this was happening, the mainstream press largely ignored and occasionally even encouraged this behavior, perhaps in part because their own walls at this point had an awfully high glass-to-brick ratio. A culture of inaccuracy, meme-whoring, groupthink, laziness, and cowardice had left the profession incapable of standing up to the assault on journalistic standards. Other than a few satirists, almost no one was willing and able to point out the obvious until it was too late.

We should not be asking how did Trump supporters get the way they are, but rather how was the process that made them what they are tolerated for so long?

1 comment:

  1. You have a point, but you are ignoring your own cognitive dissonance. Why should NYT, WP etc be unbiased when many times they have been demonstrated to be biased in one way or another?

    How about the recent expose of the Washington Post colluding with the Democratic Party?

    Clinton is also flawed, but getting a much easier ride from the press

    Now with Ailes gone, and Murdoch clearly favouring Clinton, Fox News may change tone somewhat