“And so ends the great populist uprising of our time, fizzling out pathetically in the mud and the bigotry stirred up by a third-rate would-be caudillo named Donald J Trump.” Written by Thomas Frank at The Guardian, this sentence is just a snippet of the media bombast exploding four years ago. We thought it would be fun to do a quick check back to Aug. 13, 2016, and see how little things have changed in big-box media “political reporting” and commentary today.
A casual surf of the internet for the day found leading media publications pushing the notion that:
- A Hillary Clinton victory is inevitable.
- Trump is sullen, erratic, and confused in private.
- Trump supporters are racially isolated whites of lesser education who don’t personally interact with minorities — a claim made by the “principal economist” at polling goliath Gallup.
- The GOP is completely fed up with Trump and fears he will bring the entire party down in November.
- Trump is making America meaner and more hateful.
Frank, a historian, is the sort of populist man of the intellectual left who can’t stand when those pesky people don’t choose what he thinks best. He saw Trump as a crude phenomenon who would give the progressive reform movement personified by current two-time Democratic presidential primary loser Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) a bad name. “This is the real potential disaster of 2016: That legitimate economic discontent is going to be dismissed as bigotry and xenophobia for years to come,” he lamented in his Aug. 13 piece.
It’s Just Another Day
It’s safe to say that Frank woefully underestimated, as did a vast majority of establishment media types, Trump’s populist nationalist appeal. What makes The Economist’s Aug. 13 article titled “Hillary Clinton: Inevitable Once More” interesting in retrospect is that it fully acknowledged the deep flaws inherent in a Clinton candidacy. She was not popular, the publication asserted, her strong polling numbers revealing a marked lack of “enthusiasm” among those who said they supported her. “She is an amazingly poor orator, considering her long record and her easy charm in private, with a default shouting mode that would grate less if she would at least shout in the right places,” The Economist noted. But none of this mattered because “voters like Mr. Trump even less.” Surely that would put her over the top, “given the disaster a Trump victory would represent for America.” It’s the same limp argument given by those touting tottering presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden today. Yes, he’s truly terrible, but everyone knows Trump is so awful that the former vice president has to win. Doesn’t he?
The New York Times, a once-venerated newspaper that did more to damage whatever standing it had left in 2016 than any other media outlet in America, tossed another roiling pot of pop psychology at its readers on Aug. 13. Titled “Inside the Failing Mission to Tame Donald Trump’s Tongue,” the lengthy “news” article relied on the usual unnamed insider sources to portray Trump as falling apart behind the scenes.
“In private, Mr. Trump’s mood is often sullen and erratic, his associates say,” The Times reported. “He veers from barking at members of his staff to grumbling about how he was better off following his own instincts during the primaries and suggesting he should not have heeded their calls for change.” Words like “uncomfortable,” “disoriented,” “unmoored,” and “incendiary” litter the account. Guess who became disoriented and unmoored on Nov. 8?
Racist, Hateful, Can’t Win
Bashing the Americans who backed Trump was also in vogue on Aug. 13. Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, penned a rather spiteful piece headlined “What We Learned About Trump’s Supporters This Week.” A Trump supporter wearing a Make America Great Again hat with a Confederate flag sewn on the side was the main photo. It was not hard to see where this would be going.
Lizza cited “research” by Jonathan Rothwell, the principal economist at polling giant Gallup. Rothwell’s expert probing perfectly captured the ruling establishment’s utter disdain of Trump voters in that fateful summer of 2016.
“This analysis provides clear evidence that those who view Trump favorably are disproportionately living in racially and culturally isolated zip codes and commuting zones. Holding other factors constant, support for Trump is highly elevated in areas with few college graduates, far from the Mexican border, and in neighborhoods that stand out within the commuting zone for being white, segregated enclaves, with little exposure to blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.”
In other words, Trump’s base could best be summed up as dumb, secluded white folks who haven’t experienced the wonders of multicultural urbanism. “Rothwell, discussing what is known to social scientists as ‘contact theory,’ essentially argues that living in overwhelmingly white enclaves increases one’s chances of being a racist,” Lizza concluded. One shudders to think how Lizza’s smug cosmopolitan bearing held up less than three months later when more than 60 million Americans voted for a man whose supporters he had so callously disdained?
The Associated Press chose to take another opportunity on Aug. 13, 2016, to hammer home that summer’s constant narrative that Republicans had had enough of the man they had just nominated for the presidency. “The Republican Party could be nearing a breaking point with Donald Trump,” the lead sentence in an AP report read, again offering up subjectivity as “news reporting.”
“As he skips from one gaffe to the next, GOP leaders in Washington and in the most competitive states have begun openly contemplating turning their backs on their party’s presidential nominee to prevent what they fear will be wide-scale Republican losses on Election Day,” claimed the next paragraph. Tired relics of a GOP establishment that had been thoroughly whipped by the pugnacious political outsider in the Republican presidential primaries were quoted as proof of the AP’s loaded journalism.
“Based on his campaign record, there’s no chance he’s going to win,” Sara Fagen, political director for former President George W. Bush, told an all-too-willing-to-believe AP. “He’s losing groups of people he can’t get back.”
And finally again to The New York Times for one last chestnut from the Summer of Establishment Denial. Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof didn’t mince words on Aug. 13 when he began his essay: “All across America, in little towns like this one, Donald Trump is mainstreaming hate.” Kristof flat-out declared that Trump’s heated verbiage was openly encouraging racial and political violence. He quoted petrified Mexican teens and a staffer from the discredited “hate watch group” the Southern Poverty Law Center as he wove his tale of terror.
“We need not be apocalyptic about it,” interjected Kristof at one point, comically attempting to claim an air of restraint as he drowned in venomous prose. “This is not Kristallnacht. But Trump’s harsh rhetoric tears away the veneer of civility and betrays our national motto of ‘e pluribus unum.’ He has unleashed a beast and fed its hunger, and long after this campaign is over we will be struggling to corral it again.”
There was more, of course. Much, much more. Trump was the recipient of an avalanche of abuse from the big-box media nexus the likes of which no presidential candidate in modern American political history had ever endured. Not only did he come through unscathed, he benefitted from it. A candidate who claimed to be fighting embedded elites was able to reap substantial political gain from being savagely attacked by those same elites. Go figure.
Yet here we are four years later, and these same media outlets still fail to understand just how crucial a role they played in helping Donald Trump capture the White House in 2016.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.