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.