Versailles Of Belief

Permit me to sit out the Great Media Apology Tour of 2016. Since election night, we have been fed a steady stream of mea culpas for the press’s failure to see it all coming, and especially for negligently ignoring the fear, anxiety and despair in the Rust Belt, the oil patch and rural America. Benighted Trump voters were singing the Red America Blues while we elites were tuned to Live from the Met or some such.

What a crock.

For one thing, the major media -- including the whole cabal of supposed Fourth Estate fifth-columnists alleged by the right to be in the pocket of the Democratic candidate -- were all but embedded in red counties for the duration. There were hundreds of dispatches from the front lines of economic and cultural anxiety, and innumerable profiles of Trump supporters and undecideds. Far more ink was spilled on those Americans than on actual economic analysis, immigration trends, explanatory journalism, energy policy issues or any of the nitty gritty that might have presented an accurate picture of where, in historical context, the society actually resides.



Secondly, as an illuminating summer Pew Research Center study and recent electoral results clearly demonstrate, Donald Trump’s support was in no way confined to -- or even concentrated in -- regions in extremis. His base rather was situated in places with relatively high standards of living, small immigrant populations and minimal dislocation due to technology and globalism. These residents of the Silent Less Than Majority are afraid, all right, but they aren’t necessarily themselves experiencing what they are afraid of.

So then, what exactly did we -- the mainstream media -- really miss? There’s an answer to that. The answer is: the Treaty of Versailles.

For those of us who have been nervously documenting parallels between 21st-century America and Weimar Germany, some of it is simple. While we face no hyperinflation or 50% unemployment, economic dislocation and wealth inequality are all too real. Technology and globalism -- and whatever governmental complacency -- have robbed millions of Americans of the stability, not to mention upward mobility, they had come to understand as a birthright.

Likewise the scapegoating. Anxiety always yields blame on a sinister Other. Mexicans and Muslims are filling the role the Nazis assigned to the Jews. (Until, inevitably, the Jewbaiting catches up. As Chris Rock says, “that train’s never late.”

But the most volatile element of the Weimar years, as fleshed out most recently by Volker Ullrich in Hitler: Ascent, was the sense of national humiliation at WW I defeat and the brutal, punitive and protracted peace terms of the victors. All of the resentment, all of the frustration, all of the national impotence arose from it. The world was grinding the defeated national under its heel.

And so it is in 2016 America: a huge, seething, resentful population still reeling at defeat ….in the Culture Wars.

It has been observed by Peter Beinart and others that even as our electoral politics have veered sharply right, the society itself has moved with breathtaking speed to the left. Marriage equality and LGBT anti-discrimination are only the latest shifts. Before that there came the abolition of school prayer, the Civil Rights Act, the Miranda warning, Roe v. Wade and affirmative action. What a majority of voters accept and embrace as the evolution of the society and the enshrinement of equal protection under the law, others see as an ongoing assault on their values -- one nowadays they dare not speak against, or joke about, lest the PC police or HR smack them down. OK -- so what they call political correctness I call progress toward social justice and basic human decency, but can we agree that bound-and-gagged is not a happy state to be in?

They lost that war and -- egged on for 40 years about “Femi-nazis” and Godless secular humanists and the liberal media -- they seethed about it. Trumplash is their revenge. There was no Manchurian candidate, only a Manchurian electorate programmed when circumstances dictated to act. That's the story the media missed: the convergence of entrenched resentment, decades of hateful propaganda and a socially mediated media environment that tailors itself, algorithmically, to our individual worldviews. The Mainstream Media could have written 10 times the stories about rural Ohio. Those stories would not have been read.

Liberal interpretation of the constitution was the Treaty of Versailles. Fox News Channel and Rush Limbaugh were Der Sturmer. Facebook was the Munich beer hall. And the putsch was successful.


18 comments about "Versailles Of Belief".
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  1. Nina Lentini from MediaPost Communications, November 28, 2016 at 8:02 a.m.

    Nailed it. Thanks.

  2. David Mountain from Marketing and Advertising Direction, November 28, 2016 at 8:19 a.m.

    Just remember, every hate crime is just a manifestation of Economic Anxiety. Also, that moving to better your situation, changing your station with education or a career change, is Coastal Elitism, and your taxes don't count the same.

    Welcome to the age of national gaslighting.

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, November 28, 2016 at 9:58 a.m.

    Ordinarily, we have to wait for the reader comments to encounter Godwin's Law.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 28, 2016 at 10:12 a.m.

    You understand, inside and out. That over 350,000,000 do not is the killer.

  5. Deborah Cowles from VCU, November 28, 2016 at 12:09 p.m.

    The "Culture Wars" were not lost by the right.  There was a truce, but the media continued to fight the war by denigrating and belittling people who might not agree with some aspects of what you call the "breathtaking" speed with which society has moved to the left.  It's not the media's role to pass judgment on a person's faith-based beliefs, so long as those beliefs do not break the law.

  6. Tom Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, November 28, 2016 at 12:46 p.m.

    So if I read this right: Trump voters are Nazis? Just so we're clear here. 

  7. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, November 28, 2016 at 12:55 p.m.

    So we're clear here, many Trump voters responded to exactly the same stimulI as Weimar voters who brought Hitler to power.
    Among them, a minority of avowed Nazis, racists, misogynists.

  8. Gary Dennis from Navigate Media, November 28, 2016 at 2:17 p.m.

    Another story that takes an extreme political position and slanders an entire group in the process is exactly what the country does not need. It would be better to try to understand the opposing sides position than to smugly claim a parrellel with one of the most despicable moments and movements in the history of the world. Does Garfield truly believe we are going to see death camps in our country - or is he using a literary device because he is just too lazy and tired to write a well thought out story?

  9. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, November 28, 2016 at 2:25 p.m.

    Gary Dennis,
    Who said anything about death camps? This is about the conditions, and template, for fascism. That is not a prediction of a holocaust. But  shall we just wait to see what happens?
    Not me. 

  10. Gary Dennis from Navigate Media, November 28, 2016 at 2:42 p.m.

    To use the rise of Nazi Germany as a comparison to the election of Trump, the implication is within your own story. You have a right to your views but using a worst case scenario is simply sowing fear and as bad as those on the far right who are doing the same. Good day to you.

  11. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC replied, November 28, 2016 at 2:58 p.m.

    Tom -
    Just check out the video ranting of the Delta Airlines dude proclaiming victory against "Hillary bitches". If that guy's not the deluded product some kind of programmed hatred, I don't know what is.

  12. Harry Hutt from Hutt Sports Marketing, November 28, 2016 at 3:37 p.m.

    Great comments Gary, you are spot on. Plus you have to remember that Mr Garfgield had predicted all sorts of "doom and gloom" if the unthinkable and impossible election of Donald Trump actually occurred. Well, wake up and smell the roses of the world of Trump, Mr Garfield--its here and now, and no matter how much you try and besmirch it and pretend it doesnt exist and really pretend that you didnt think it would ever happen, it did, and you and all the rest of the elitist journalists were dead wrong !   Sayonara baby.

  13. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, November 28, 2016 at 3:41 p.m.

    Harry Hutt,
    Thank you for your thoughtful, eloquent renarks.
    You are Exhibit A.

  14. Craig Campbell from Campbell and Associates, November 28, 2016 at 4:05 p.m.

    Tom Siebert nailed it.  Your response/attempt to confuse how the dots indeed connect, didn't connect.  Thanks Tom.

  15. Gary Dennis from Navigate Media, November 28, 2016 at 4:10 p.m.

    Please note, I am not one who is crowing about a victory as that has yet to be determined.  Rather, the ask is that everyone from the common person to the media elite on both sides, stop with the hysterics, the name calling and the easy slights and slanders against those with an opposing view and discuss issues and concerns in a civilized and thoughtful manner. 

  16. Chuck Lantz from, network, November 28, 2016 at 6:47 p.m.

    Yet again, Mr. Garfield offers a clear view of what just happened.  As I see it, he is not directly comparing Trump to Hitler, or Trump supporters to Nazis.  Instead, he has illustrated just how a wrong choice can be orchestrated and accomplished.

    In short; two plus two is not five, and never will be, no matter how many people claim that it is.

    And, once again, as has already been quoted here; Alexander Hamilton's warnings about those who employ "low intrique and the little arts of popularity" in place of actual merit to attain the highest office in the land, should be remembered and heeded, sooner rather than "too-later." 

  17. Klaus Schneegans from Buzz360, LLC, November 29, 2016 at 8:51 a.m.

    The extend of intellectual gymnastics you are willing to go through to link the National SOCIALIST Worker Party of Germany to any non-progressive movements in the USA is remarkable. So what are you implying?  The Democrats have been non-native occupants to the country and have been extracting strangling levels of payments from the people? Really?? If that is the case, woudl you not support the oppressed - stupid as you may think them to be - free themselves from the yoke? 

  18. Brian Durocher from GTB replied, November 30, 2016 at 9:14 a.m.

    Dean Fox--I love when people use arguments and examples like this, and they think it proves their point. You do realize that taking the idiot Trump airplane guy as an exmple of a larger "truth" about Trump voters is literally no different than saying that because several cops got killed by black men in ambushes last week that "many" black people want to kill cops? Literally no difference. But of course this hypocrisy is always ignored when people are arguing for their side. 

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