The media was consistently wrong about the 2016 US presidential election. Of that there can be no doubt. Blaming pollsters, or voters, or some other 3rd party for their errors is passing the buck but the buck stops with them. Either they did not understand what was taking place around the dining tables and in the bars of ordinary Americans, in which case they are incompetent. Or they understood and refused to report that understanding, in which case it is a dereliction of duty.
It could be that the likes of Anderson Cooper at CNN, Megyn Kelly at Fox, or David Speers at Sky News understood precisely what was taking place outside the political class and refused to report it for fear that reporting it would exacerbate a situation they found uncomfortable. It could also be that the political class has become so insulated by café culture and exclusive access that they are no longer able to take the pulse of the people.
The election of Donald Trump is not just a statement to Washington D.C, it is also a statement to the media empires headquartered in New York, and the Hollywood celebrities and dotcom moguls of California. They are permitted their special place in society on sufferance. It is their privilege, not their right, to get an hour of our time every day to tell us how they see the world. It is a bargain struck with the people from whom they draw their authority, the news consuming voters, and not one to be taken lightly.
It’s worth noting that those three states, along with Illinois, are all that remains of the Democrats’ “blue wall”. California overwhelming voted Clinton, 61% to 33% of nearly 9 million voters. New York was only slightly closer 59% to 37% of nearly seven million voters. Perhaps most alarmingly is that of the 300,000 voters in the District of Colombia, more than 260,000 of them, almost 93%, voted Democrat. Other states that Hillary managed to keep blue had much closer results, usually less than ten points.
This needs to be recognized as a problem. Right across America the lay conversation is one where republicans can be reasonably expected to at least show up. But in those few places where power is most concentrated, so too are Democrats. Republican and conservative voices are excluded and as a result the conversation is dominated by Democrats.
It cannot be an easy job being a talking head. It is a conversation where one half is spoken into an indifferent camera while the other half is screamed at an uncaring television. The talking head is heard far and wide but the response, no matter how universal, is heard by no one. But the job exists only on the proviso that that voice screaming at the television is heard in some way, no matter how indirect, and understood in all ways, no matter how complex.
The messenger, nay the champion, chosen by all those screaming voices is Donald Trump. The reaction from CNN was dismay but even the Republican friendly Fox News reacted with surprise. They could not conceive of an America where the conversation being had by ordinary people was not the same conversation being had by the political class of New York City.
We saw a similar phenomenon on social media. Twitter’s infamous banning of Milo Yiannopoulos did not serve to arrest Milo’s growing fame, nor suppress the ideas he represented. Facebook’s control of trending topics which diverted attention away from conservative messages towards the mundane and innocuous was no match for a withering fusillade of alt-right media, much of it garbage clickbait, which served as white noise drowning out whatever messages were selected by the elite.
Finally, the politicians themselves. Two republican senate candidates in particular, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Joe Heck of Nevada, replaced clear thinking with moralistic whining. They were punished for not having the conversation that Donald Trump was having with the American people.
The message is simple, if the political class will not have the conversation the American people want to have, then the American people will not have the conversation with the political class at all.
Donald Trump’s greatest tool is the ability to speak to the common man about matters of great importance without speaking down to the common man with great pomposity. In having the dry economic conversation about trade balances, where economists argue Milton Friedman versus John Maynard Keynes, Trump remarks “They’re ripping us off in trade.” The details are superfluous when the truth is obvious.
So addicted to the smell of their own bullshit has the political class become that experienced economists from both sides of the aisle didn’t realize they were having a conversation about trade deficits, they foolishly mistook frugality for xenophobia, and mistook simplification for stupidity.
Even at the end the political class did not realize how badly they had been played. They did not realize that it was the same message as Hillary Clinton’s “special trade prosecutor” and Mitt Romney’s “currency manipulation.” The media demanded detail, and the more the media demanded detail the more the voting public became sure that Trump was onto something.
I come from a factory town myself, and I can tell you that I feel a profound sense of pride bordering on patriotism when a product manufactured in my town is shown on television, or stocked on shelves on the other side of the world. Even though I personally had nothing to do with the making of the product I am emotionally invested in the economic success of my town.
Those in the media and in the digital economy would have trouble understanding this. It is their personal fame that concerns them, and their global reach is assumed. It is common knowledge that on the bottom of every tool in the hardware store, or toy in the toy store, the words are embossed “Made in China,” where once it said “Made in USA.” What the media must understand is that this is a festering wound to a person that believes themselves self-reliant but can no longer justify that belief.
The elites of New York, California and D.C must recognize right now that the power they think is theirs by right is also the noose around their necks. The election of Donald Trump in this respect is both blessing and curse. It’s a blessing in that the message has now been delivered, at least for now the pressure has been relieved. But it could also very easily be the final warning, “listen up or else”.