Where Is The American Left’s Outreach To Trump Voters?

Donald Trump supporters

Too many leftist and liberal voices would rather bask in their own righteousness and moral virtue than engage in the only kind of outreach which stands a chance of defeating Trumpism at its source

As is often the case, a satirical news article in The Onion makes a political point better than 100 earnest Op-Eds on the same subject (including those of this blog).

In a piece entitled “Former conservative recalls belittling tirade from college student that brought him over to the Left”, The Onion reports:

Explaining how the string of personal insults and sharply worded accusations caused him to reevaluate every one of his political leanings, former conservative Vincent Welsh recalled for reporters Friday the belittling tirade from a college student that brought him over to the left. “It was last October and I’d just mentioned my support for a Republican congressional candidate on Twitter when this 19-year-old responded by telling me I was an ignorant asshole who hated the poor and that I was everything that was wrong with the world, and it just completely opened my eyes to how incorrect my whole worldview was,” said Welsh, fondly recounting how the sophomore sociology major converted him to liberalism on the spot by calling him a hateful bigot and saying he was too much of a “brainwashed puppet” of corporate interests to know what was best for him, instantaneously invalidating the 56 years of individual thought and life experience that had led him to his previous political beliefs.

This is what the Laura Pidcocks and Abi Wilkinsons of the world simply fail to understand; publicly declaring that those with differing political views are amoral or at best complicit in evil behaviour does not open hearts and minds, it closes them. Furthermore it only prompts those on the Right, tired of being falsely portrayed as callous oppressors, to hit back against leftist positions using the same divisive language of morality.

I’m sometimes guilty of this myself, having finally snapped after being called out and unfriended by a sanctimonious leftist former acquaintance, and subsequently resolving to fight fire with fire rather than patiently argue that left wing policies are well-intentioned but flawed. Is this the best approach I could take, in terms of helping to bridge political divides and promote understanding? Of course not. But it is incredibly cathartic and gets this blog much more traffic.

The Onion makes a point which may be (and often is) lost on ordinary grassroots left-wing activists, particularly those patrolling social media. And that is only to be expected; right-wing activists are often equally strident in their denunciation of leftists and liberals as communist antipatriots determined to undermine the country from within. Obstinate partisanship is not the preserve of any one political ideology.

But one would hope and expect the adults in the room to take a different approach. Those holding elected office or exercising influence over millions of people on television or in their written commentary ought to be able to tell the difference between playing to the gallery (which is easy) and engaging in genuine persuasion (which can be extraordinarily difficult). Yet too often they choose the former rather than the latter path.

Witness this recent feature by Stephanie McCrummen in the Washington Post. Entitled “The Homecoming”, the feature follows a young female university student returning from her liberal arts college back to visit her home in rural Missouri and help out at the county fair, finding it difficult to relate to her conservative, Trump-supporting family and friends.

In a piece which broke the needle on my overwrought sanctimony detector, McCrummen begins:

It was the first full day of the Clark County Fair, and over at the concession stand Emily Reyes was reading the novel “Ulysses,” raising her head every few paragraphs to look out through the window.

Meet our protagonist, Emily Reyes, child of rural Missouri but reborn as an urban sophisticate following a couple of semesters at college in Kansas City. Already the alarm bells should be sounding – few people read “Ulysses” for pleasure, and one wonders whether Reyes brought the book home with her in part to signal the intellectual leap she has made from her backward hometown. That I could certainly understand, having read numerous books merely to be seen reading them back in my more insufferable youth.

It goes on:

She put down the novel about a young Irish man searching for meaning on an ordinary day in Dublin and began making some jalapeño poppers. A white-haired farmer in denim overalls arrived at the window.

“Small cup of coffee,” he said.

“It’s Starbucks!” Emily began, realizing as soon as the words came out that “Starbucks” was of course a symbol of the urban elite liberal, which was exactly what she did not want to seem to be. She poured him a large cup of coffee and slid it across the counter.

Jesus. Rural Missourians are familiar with Starbucks, and most of them do not see it as a symbol of the urban elite – how can it be when even smaller towns often have a drive-thru Starbucks on their main strip? Newsflash, Washington Post: small town America also has electricity and running water.

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Emily had been going since she was a girl, and had always looked forward to the feeling of ease, the lull while the corn was rising, the unhurried conversations. But nothing felt easy to her since the election, especially conversations of the sort that she had learned could arise here.

She had tried talking to her parents during other visits home, telling them that a vote for Trump was a vote “to deport your future son-in-law.” She had tried with Cyrus, and their relationship had only suffered. She and her best friend Hannah had decided not to talk about Trump at all because of the strain the subject had put on their friendship. A sister-in-law had told Emily that she had become difficult to talk to lately, self-righteous and angry.

At this point you should be starting to question whether Emily Reyes might just be a little bit dim. And to be fair, at her age of 22 and early into my political awakening I was not unlike her in terms of my outlook. A more curious person, though, having noted her hometown’s strong proclivity for Donald Trump and then experiencing an entirely different culture at a left-leaning urban college campus, might start asking what faults and failings among the supposedly superior political and cultural elite prompted so many decent people to drift away from establishment candidates and end up wearing MAGA hats. But all Reyes can seeminly do is see the faults and failings of her own family and friends.

And why on earth was their vote for Trump a vote to deport her then-fiancé, how husband? Is her husband an illegal immigrant? There is no indication given in the piece that her Guatemalan partner is “undocumented”. One can reasonably object to Donald Trump’s stance on border security, amnesty for existing illegal immigrants and the foul, racially charged rhetoric he used during the campaign. But to imagine that Trump plans to begin deporting legally settled immigrants is leftist hysteria of the first order, a wild extrapolation from anything that Trump has ever said or that his administration has ever proposed. But again, the Washington Post is not interested in highlighting or deconstructing the flaws in Reyes’ own thinking – for the purposes of their feature, Reyes is unquestionably right about everything, and the residents of Clark County, Missouri are unquestionably wrong.

So far, the only line in the piece which rings true is the observation that Reyes “had become difficult to talk to lately, self-righteous and angry”. That much I can totally believe, based on numerous conversations with people exactly like her.

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She turned on some Bob Dylan at a low volume, opened “Ulysses” and settled into a folding chair, advancing 10 pages before Hannah arrived to help. Hannah Trump was her maiden name. Her uncle ran Trump Trucks. An aunt ran a bed-and-breakfast called Trump Haus. Her brother played football and was booed at an out-of-state game recently because of the name Trump on his jersey.

They began making biscuits and gravy, talking about an old high school classmate studying at the University of Missouri.

“She was asking me to help her work on a project about diversity in small towns — she wants to know about any racial targeting,” Emily began.

Again, did the fact that her friend’s brother was booed at an out-of-state football game for sharing a surname with the 45th president of the United States prompt Emily Reyes to dwell for a moment on leftist intolerance? Apparently not.

And of course their mutual friend at the University of Missouri was working on a project about diversity in small towns. American academia in general has become little more than the clergy of the social justice movement, and Mizzou in particular is notable for having capitulated totally to the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics. The only astonishing thing here is the speed at which Reyes discarded her old values and sense of empathy with her hometown friends and neighbours in order to side completely and unequivocally with the leftist politics pumped out by her college.

There then follows a particularly egregious segment where McCrummen and the Washington Post seem almost to take enjoyment from the fact that the hopes that the people of Clark County had invested in Donald Trump were not being met:

At a moment when Trump was making news almost every day, when the Trump campaign was under investigation for possible ties to Russia, when some Americans were still rooting for his agenda and others were convinced that his presidency amounted to a national crisis of historic dimensions — no one seemed to be talking about Trump at all.

In the very heart of Trump country, no Make America Great Again hats were in sight. No Trump T-shirts. No Trump bumper stickers or placards.

When asked, people said the standard things Trump voters have been saying, that the president should “stop tweeting so much,” or Congress should “give him a chance,” or that he was always “the lesser of two evils.” Then they went back to talking about how good the corn was looking, or the car crash yesterday, or which garden photo won the open art show.

Sitting in the shade of the grandstand, Marvis Trump, a member of the fair board and owner of Trump Haus, had her theory. She had supported Trump, she said, and for a while, she even had a Trump sign up at her house because it irritated her liberal daughter-in-law. It was a lot of fun, she said, but sometime around Easter, she said, that feeling faded.

“Probably the fun’s over now,” she said.

Perhaps I am being oversensitive, but I almost detect an air of mockery here – a perverse enjoyment by the writer and newspaper that the hopes of these people that Trump might actually “Make America Great Again” were being slowly dashed, that they were being made to look foolish for having previously supported his candidacy so sincerely.

And this gets to the heart of the problem with leftist and liberal resistance to Donald Trump. It’s not that leftists do not have many critiques of Trump which are entirely valid – of course they do. It’s that too many of them seem to enjoy being proved right more than they see the need to make meaningful outreach to those who were wrong.

Yes, the Emily Reyes’s of this world were absolutely right about all of Donald Trump’s character flaws, his inability to govern effectively and his disinterest in even trying to do so. They correctly identified his moral flaws, and picked apart the non sequiturs and logical fallacies in his various arguments with ease. But astonishingly, even now – 227 days into this presidency – they remain utterly unwilling to look at the flaws and failings of their own politics which drove so many people into the arms of Donald Trump in the first place. This does not bode well for the defeat of Trumpism.

I’m currently reading an excellent book, “The Once and Future Liberal” by Mark Lilla, which explores some of these failings in leftist dogma, particularly as they relate to the Left’s obsession with identity politics.

In the introduction, Lilla notes:

“The main result has been to turn young people back onto themselves, rather than turning them outward toward the wider world. It has left them unprepared to think about the common good and what must be done practically to secure it – especially the hard and unglamorous task of persuading people very different from themselves to join a common effort.”

This seems to perfectly capture the seemingly unbridgeable divide between college-educated child and rural-dwelling parent described in the Washington Post piece. In one sense, Reyes is extraordinarily open, having seen the wider world, worked with Syrian refugees in Greece and married someone of Guatemalan heritage. But in another way, her newfound political ideology is so insular that it has left her struggling to look past the different politics of her immediate family and friends to see their innate goodness, and also unable to discuss these issues without becoming angry.

None of this is particularly the fault of Emily Reyes, who seems to be a generous and upstanding individual, despite the fact that she is clearly being used as a tool by the Washington Post to advance their particular ideological agenda. Rather, it is the fault of a political dogma which equates moral virtue with the unquestioning acceptance of its strictures – hence the cognitive dissonance experienced by some identity politics leftists when beloved family members hold the “wrong” views, effectively making them “bad” people.

Obviously the Left’s problems go far beyond this, and include a failure to grapple with the impact of globalisation and automation on the people of small-town America, who tend not to be the kind of ultra-mobile knowledge workers found in the city (and to whom so much of the Democratic Party policy platform is geared). But besides Mark Lilla, few other people on the American Left presently seem willing to engage in any kind of introspection.

Abraham Lincoln once noted that “with public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed”. Sullenly waiting for Donald Trump supporters to realise the error of their ways – and come crawling back to the same political parties and the same policies which so repulsed them in the first place – is not a recipe for success. On their current trajectory, the Left and assorted anti-Trump forces can at best hope to silence Trump voters, returning many of them to a state of sullen political disengagement and despair – hardly a recipe for improved social cohesion.

Far better to win them over with a new and improved vision for America, one which is better than Donald Trump’s bleak and superficial promises on the one hand, and the Left’s dystopian, censorious identity politics on the other.

 

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At The White House Correspondents’ Dinner, The Political Media Circle-Jerk Proceeded Minus Donald Trump

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At the annual Washington D.C. bash, the political media class were more concerned by the lack of Hollywood celebrities to ogle than the fact that half the country holds them in contempt, feels deliberately misunderstood and distrusts nearly everything that they have to say

The Washington Post reported today on the fact that brave members of the Washington D.C. political media class somehow managed to soldier on and enjoy themselves at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner and associated glitzy after-parties despite President Trump’s cruel boycott of the event (Trump decided to hold another one of his dubious rally-style events in Pennsylvania).

Without a single hint of self-awareness, the Post reports:

His voters sent him to Washington to break stuff, and this weekend Donald Trump tried to break the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents’ Association. As with some of his business ventures, he was not wholly successful.

“They’re trapped at the dinner,” the president boomed at a rally in Harrisburg, Pa., celebrating his first 100 days in office. “Which will be very, very boring.”

Instead, it was just fine. It happened. There’s an inertia to these Washington traditions, and a determination to soldier on in the face of — whatever it is we’re facing. Everyone survived this weekend without the president, or without the crush of Hollywood celebrities who for years had been decorating the dinner in ever-increasing density, until now.

It was a bit like an off-year high school reunion: diminished numbers and fewer crazy stories but still no shortage of hors d’oeuvres and dancing and gossip. Everyone settled for sightings of Michael Steele and Debbie Dingell instead of Jon Hamm or a Kardashian. In past years, virtually the entire cast of “Modern Family” would come to the dinner; this year, United Talent Agency only secured the kid who plays Luke.

Well, now we can all sleep easy in our beds. Despite the president of the United States refusing to perform the traditional routine of being self-deprecating and massaging the egos of the people supposed to hold him to account, the Washington press corps somehow managed to rescue the evening and enjoy themselves. Despite being deprived of the opportunity to rub shoulders with Hollywood royalty, the assembled journalists and media executives still managed to mingle, network and slap each other on the backs for a job well done serving the interests of American democracy.

Aren’t you relieved? I know that I am.

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Was it only a year ago that Barack Obama dropped the mic, literally, at his final correspondents’ dinner, as if to put an exclamation point on eight years of media savvy and pop-culture propaganda? He knew his role in this circus. It was Obama’s yearly chance to inspire a meme, rib a rival, come off as folksy royalty, remind the public that the media was not the enemy. His cool factor iced out the haters, smudged away red lines, papered over unkept promises. Afterward, the French ambassador’s mansion would swell with swells — both conservatives and liberals, all buddy-buddy in private, united by the daytime charade they pulled off together on TV.

As yes, good old Obama knew his place, knew his role in the “circus” – to dance like a performing seal in an attempt to make the self-satisfied hacks chuckle. Sure, Obama was more successful than most – thanks to a largely uninquisitive media he managed to maintain the “cool factor” right to the end of his presidency – but he stayed firmly within the tramlines of what was expected of him.

And what was that role? What has it traditionally been for administration after administration? Nothing more than making the media class look noble for one evening a year when they spend the other 364 making themselves look tawdry and partisan. Fudging important ideological questions and reducing them to laughing points. Papering over “unkept promises” as the trivialities that they are to the Washington political class – little frauds perpetrated on the American voters, some of whom are naive enough to expect political promises to be kept.

But the Washington Post is certainly in no mood to dwell on the accumulated failure of prestige American news outlets to hold leaders to account or properly represent the range of interests and opinion in the country. After all, the Post are enjoying a bumper season of increased subscriptions and web traffic thanks to the Trump presidency, drunk not on $25 cocktails but on their own sense of nobility (as evidenced by their hilariously overwrought “Democracy Dies In Darkness” motto).

Indeed, the Washington Post seems most anxious for us to know that this year’s event was a dud because Trump might have attended, not because he ultimately chose not to do so:

The guest list suffered not because Trump sent his regrets but, more likely, because of the chance he might attend; he remains dauntingly unpopular with the New York and Hollywood A-list that he had long aspired to join. The pre-dinner receptions, hosted by outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, were staid and perfunctory, absent the usual angling for a sighting of a “Game of Thrones” star.

Apparently at no point has it occurred to the Post or other such outlets whether the presence of Hollywood celebrities at a political media event might actually be a bad thing rather than something to be celebrated and missed in its absence. It is merely taken for granted that the presence of numerous multimillionaires from the entertainment industry is some kind of sign that the health of American political journalism and culture is in fine fettle.

The focus of the stripped-down event was on defending free speech and celebrating the importance of a free press guaranteed under the First Amendment, something which we can certainly all applaud but which rarely merited such prime-time coverage when the Obama industry was, say, prosecuting whistleblowers with uncommon zeal. Has Trump made numerous troubling statements with regard to freedom of the press, libel laws and freedom of speech and association in general? Absolutely.  But it is telling that much of the media is happy to trumpet the issue now, when it costs them little reputationally or financially, but maintained a pained silence under a more popular “liberal” president.

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The dinner itself featured a dutiful pep talk by Watergate legends Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

“Mr. President, the media is not fake news,” Woodward said from the dais, and the media elite applauded.

“CNN and MSNBC are fake news,” Trump said in Pennsylvania, and some of the 97 percent who say they’d still vote for him applauded.

Two worlds, talking past each other, from 100 miles apart. The latest prime-time iteration of POTUS vs. Beltway.

Only it isn’t just POTUS vs Beltway. It is half of America versus the Beltway news outlets and punditocracy. The cosseted Washington media class is so busy being angry at Donald Trump for his bombastic insults and threats that they remain largely unable to look beyond the president to see the many Americans who may not agree with Trump but who share his hatred of the people who filter and report the news.

As this blog has previously discussed, the mainstream American news media is indeed not “fake news” inasmuch as the likes of CNN or the New York Times do not routinely print sensationalist and patently false accounts of fabricated events designed to excite partisan zealots. But they have other far more insidious and effective methods of shaping the narrative through their editorial stances and very deliberate use of language.

As I wrote last year:

Fake news can incorporate false facts, but also correct facts which have been deliberately misinterpreted or spun. And far more insidious than any one fake news story, no matter how egregious, is the way in which language is often used to subtly change public perceptions over time – note how we now speak about “undocumented” rather than “illegal ” immigrants, a change adopted by nearly all of the mainstream media in America, and now in Britain too.

When the media is secretly complicit in ideologically-driven agendas, trust in the more reputable media is rightly weakened. But this leaves people more vulnerable to peddlers of deliberately fake news, as they search for alternatives. The obvious answer is for mainstream prestige outlets to rediscover their integrity and stop forcing readers away with ideologically skewed coverage, but they will not desist, and so they fuel the exodus of readers away to the fringes of the internet, a place where the more outrageous a story sounds, the more people will read it.

But there they all sat, facing a stage emblazoned with the words “Celebrating the First Amendment” and no doubt feeling inordinately pleased with themselves for the stellar work they believe they are doing in standing up to the Trumpian dystopia, unaware or more likely just unconcerned by just how hated and distrusted they are throughout vast swathes of their own country.

The New York Times had an interesting feature article today looking at the upcoming final round of the French presidential election between centrist empty-suit Emmanuel “status quo” Macron and depressing protectionism advocate Marine Le Pen. The piece focuses on the struggling northern town of Calais, a place I know quite well through many visits during my adolescence, and is actually quite fair in its examination of the erosion of the town’s biggest industry in the face of global competition and the lack of political answers

For a piece of New York Times journalism, it is pretty good – especially compared to their godawful “Will London Fall?” hitpiece on Britain and their generally hysterical and uncomprehending coverage of Brexit.

The only problem? The New York Times has to send reporters on expeditions into towns like Calais in order to talk to the locals and get to know their concerns, just as American reporters descended with newfound intensity on Trumpland after the US presidential election trying to figure out what went wrong, and just as shellshocked London political journalists stumbled shellshocked beyond the great metropolis in a bid to understand what Middle England was thinking.

The New York Times article’s author, Liz Alderman, is naturally based at the newspaper’s Paris bureau. Unless she makes a conscious effort, nearly every human interaction she makes will be likely with somebody who intends to vote for Macron in the second round. This is not to impugn Alderman’s work or journalistic ethics – the Calais piece proves that she does seek out contrary opinions in the unloved regions of France when required. But when the majority of your professional and social life is spent among people who hold one set of values, the occasional field trip to the other side of the tracks cannot make up for deep-rooted understanding of – and empathy with – the more pro-globalism, pro-EU, pro-market side.

And so it is in Washington D.C. The people who gather each year for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (and then grumble about how they no longer get to rub shoulders with Hollywood stars thanks to the big bully in the White House) may make the occasional foray into Trumpland if the needs of a story require it. But the vast, vast majority do not live the lives of Trump supporters, nor live among them, nor count such people among their friends or family. And you simply cannot report fairly, accurately or honestly about people whom you have to interview to get any kind of sense of who they are or what their hopes, dreams and fears may be.

The White House Correspondents’ Association clearly does not care. They have calculated that they can prosper just fine by continuing to swagger around like noble seekers of truth, bellowing about free speech and holding President Trump to “account” (while furiously ignoring just how much their lust for TV ratings and pageviews fuelled his rise in the first place). But should one of the tuxedoed dinner attendees ever stop to wonder how Donald Trump is able to effortlessly turn a crowd of people against the media at a campaign rally, this is the reason.

Trump’s non-attendance was the perfect excuse to cancel a sleazy and tawdry annual event which should have been axed many years ago, if only the bipartisan ruling class had any self-awareness or a care for how they appeared to the rest of the country.

But even now they party on, while America burns.

 

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The Reviled American Media, Part 1

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Donald Trump versus the media: bad cop, bad cop

A throwaway line in a Washington Post article goes some way to revealing exactly why the American media is so widely despised and mistrusted.

Musing about why many Trump supporters stubbornly insist on viewing his presidency as a success thus far (rather than the cataclysmic failure portrayed by mainstream narratives), the Post reports:

Several people said they would have liked to see more coverage of a measure that Trump signed Thursday that rolled back a last-minute Obama regulation that would have restricted coal mines from dumping debris in nearby streams. At the signing, Trump was joined by coal miners in hard hats.

“If he hadn’t gotten into office, 70,000 miners would have been put out of work,” Patricia Nana, a 42-year-old naturalized citizen from Cameroon. “I saw the ceremony where he signed that bill, giving them their jobs back, and he had miners with their hard hats and everything — you could see how happy they were.”

The regulation actually would have cost relatively few mining jobs and would have created nearly as many new jobs on the regulatory side, according to a government report — an example of the frequent distance between Trump’s rhetoric, which many of his supporters wholeheartedly believe, and verifiable facts.

My emphasis in bold.

Now, this is not about the merits and disadvantages of expanding coal mining. This is about the blasé arrogance of the Washington Post, suggesting to its readers that the creation of government regulatory jobs in any way makes up for the loss of manual jobs in coal mining.

How many ex-coal miners with high school-level educations will be eligible for these new regulatory jobs? Probably very few. But these jobs will enormously benefit the college-educated, Washington D.C.-dwelling professional class who are eligible for attractive jobs in the Department of Energy or the Environmental Protection Agency.

It is difficult to know whether the Post’s dismissal of concerns about coal mining job losses because they will be “offset” by new regulatory jobs is merely ignorant or deliberately callous towards the working classes. But either way, it reveals a huge gulf between the perspective of the Washington Post and its readership on the one hand, and Trump-supporting people from coal country on the other.

Maybe those coal mining jobs should be killed anyway. Ultimately, of course, they certainly should be phased out as part of a move away from fossil fuel dependence. But for the Post to speak haughtily about Trump supporters’ aversion to “verifiable facts” while misleading its own readership by pretending that the Obama-era environmental regulations (whatever their core merits) were anything other than a transfer of wealth and opportunity away from coal country manual workers towards the DC professional class is morally dubious and a dereliction of their professional duty as a supposedly objective national news outlet.

Essentially, the Post is suggesting that Trump supporters are somehow being irrational to cheer the overturning of anti-coal regulations that will restore some coal mining jobs, because they should instead be rejoicing at the creation of other, office-based jobs for which they are almost certainly ineligible. How terribly unenlightened of them to not cheer as their small-town jobs are sacrificed to create other jobs for city-dwelling public sector bureaucrats.

Assuming the best of intentions rather than the worst, this represents a vast gulf of understanding between the Washington media class and a large segment of the country on which they report. The frequent complaint of Trump supporters is that their interests have long been ignored by a political and economic elite who have time and compassion for everyone and everything save the rural and suburban squeezed white lower middle and working classes, with politicians and the media colluding to keep their struggles, concerns and aspirations off the political agenda. And now the media, which seems to be relishing its oppositional role to President Trump, seems determined to live up to that stereotype.

Accusations that the mainstream media is “fake news” go too far – the Washington Post or New York Times will never publish a breathless story about Michelle Obama being arrested for treason or Hillary Clinton participating in witchcraft rituals, the kind of ludicrous and obviously false clickbait which pollutes the internet and is sadly shared by too many a credulous conservative. The mainstream media’s form of bias is subtler and much more insidious. There are few outright falsehoods in the prestige media, but one can often achieve just as much through deliberately one-sided story selection and a deliberately skewed angle of coverage, made all the more effective because unlike fake news sites, respected outlets like the Washington Post and the New York Times actually influence the worldviews and opinions of key decision makers in Washington D.C. and beyond.

In other words, too many respectable, prestige mainstream media outlets have squandered any trust and goodwill they one held with the public by subtly but repeatedly pushing a political agenda (the largely bipartisan agenda of the DC political elite). This climate of distrust is a problem of the media’s own making. And it all begins with having newsrooms full of reporters and editors with so few (if any) roots in the kind of community which came out strongly for Donald Trump in the 2016 election that they are utterly incapable of reporting on them with any real understanding, subtlety or empathy.

If the goal is to avoid events like the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, surely our first step must be one of introspection – not furiously shouting insults at people who often voted for Trump through despair or resignation, not misrepresenting their political views to the point of slander, but rather understanding how the political mainstream managed to consistently fail these people so badly that they felt they were left with little alternative. The Washington Post, for all the good reporting they often do, is light years away from recognising this fact, let alone showing such introspection in their coverage.

Indeed, if anything, the American media is moving in the opposite direction. Spurred by President Trump’s reprehensible attacks on the media as a whole, the Washington press corps is doing what they love to do best – talking about themselves and wallowing in a sense of victimhood and persecution, laughably painting themselves as noble and selfless heroes and seekers of truth in this new authoritarian age.

I’m sorry, but that is nonsense. Many of these reporters are the same ones who in the 2000s used to leap smartly to their feet, offering obsequious respect and nary a searching question whenever president George W Bush strolled into the White House press briefing room to announce the erosion of core civil liberties, exaggerate the threat posed by Iraq and then downplay his administration’s calamitous handling of the war. This is the same press corps that often treated every utterance from President Obama as sacred, unquestionable unicorn song, hyping his candidacy and forgiving his administration’s missteps.

This is the same press corps which gathers every year for the White House Correspondents Dinner, in which journalists and politicians slap each other on the back and toady up to power in one of the most sickening modern day political rituals known to man. Oh yes, and they are the ratings whores who gave blanket, uncritical rolling news coverage of Donald Trump’s every garbled word back when he was still just a laughable Republican Party presidential primary candidate, acting as oxygen to the the flames of the Trump campaign in the first place.

A healthy democracy needs a free press. But it sure as hell doesn’t need the craven, self-satisfied press we are stuck with at the moment. You can probably count the number of Washington or New York-based political journalists with a record of consistently principled, inquisitive and objective work on two hands. None of them work in television news. The rest are every bit as much a part of the fetid, corrupt political class as the politicians on whom they report. And now they take the angry anti-media rantings of President Trump and use them as an excuse to prance around playing the noble, heroic victim. We should not fall for their tawdry act.

Increasingly, the presidency of Donald Trump will require us to hold two competing thoughts in our head simultaneously: that yes, the Trump administration is troubling in a whole host of ways, but also that many of the people opposing Trump (from the sanctimonious, rootless, unreformed Democrats to the lazy and morally compromised Washington media) are also grievously at fault. And the sins of Donald Trump do not excuse the failings of those forces ranged against him, just as the spineless, uncurious, self-aggrandising behaviour of the Washington media does not excuse the authoritarian, impulsive excesses of the new president.

It is sheer lunacy to believe that the forces which gave us President Trump will be placated and put back in their box by a coordinated campaign of opposition from a Democratic Party and Washington political media class who have spent precisely zero hours pondering their own role in this period of “American carnage”, and who have shown zero willingness to change their own behaviour and policy preferences. Indeed, as newspaper subscriptions and cable news show ratings rise in step with the turmoil emanating from the White House, many in the Washington media are probably deluding themselves into thinking that they are actually doing a good job.

This could not be further from the truth.

As things stand, both sides will continue to antagonise one another; an out-of-touch Washington media class will continue to report on the residents of Trumpland as though they are some kind of fascinating but dangerous medical specimen best kept behind the safety glass in a lab, and Trump supporters, feeling patronised and wilfully misunderstood, will continue to distrust everything that the mainstream media says (including the 90% which is reasonably accurate, if sometimes politically skewed).

One side will have to blink first. You would hope that it might be the DC chattering class – through some instinctive self-preservation reflex, if nothing else.

 

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America’s Armchair Psychiatrists: Go To Town On Donald Trump, But Lay Off His Supporters

Donald Trump supporters - idiots

Donald Trump opponents should spend less time psychoanalysing Trump supporters and more time reflecting on the reasons for their own deep unpopularity

Sometimes, one wonders whether the American left actually want to defeat Donald Trump at all, or if they are more interested in parading their superior moral virtue for others to see. Certainly, the way that they are behaving in the media at present suggests that defeating Trump has become less important than using him as a mirror to reflect their own supposed holiness.

What else could excuse the rash of execrable articles openly mocking Trump supporters and suggesting that they are morally and intellectually defective?

First, a sanctimonious piece in the Washington Post explaining to it’s oh-so-enlightened readers why “facts don’t matter to Trump’s Supporters“:

How did Donald Trump win the Republican nomination, despite clear evidence that he had misrepresented or falsified key issues throughout the campaign? Social scientists have some intriguing explanations for why people persist in misjudgments despite strong contrary evidence.

Trump is a vivid and, to his critics, a frightening present-day illustration of this perception problem. But it has been studied carefully by researchers for more than 30 years. Basically, the studies show that attempts to refute false information often backfire and lead people to hold on to their misperceptions even more strongly.

This literature about misperception was lucidly summarized by Christopher Graves, the global chairman of Ogilvy Public Relations, in a February 2015 article in the Harvard Business Review, months before Trump surfaced as a candidate. Graves is now writing a book about his research at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy.

Graves’s article examined the puzzle of why nearly one-third of U.S. parents believe that childhood vaccines cause autism, despite overwhelming medical evidence that there’s no such link. In such cases, he noted, “arguing the facts doesn’t help — in fact, it makes the situation worse.” The reason is that people tend to accept arguments that confirm their views and discount facts that challenge what they believe.

This “confirmation bias” was outlined in a 1979 article by psychologist Charles Lord, cited by Graves. Lord found that his test subjects, when asked questions about capital punishment, responded with answers shaped by their prior beliefs. “Instead of changing their minds, most will dig in their heels and cling even more firmly to their originally held views,” Graves explained in summarizing the study.

Entirely missing from this “analysis” is any acknowledgement that the phenomenon works both ways, and that Trump supporters are not the only ones prone to confirmation bias, that entirely human instinct to search out more corroborating evidence when attacked rather than accepting the potential validity of the criticism.

The same charge could just as easily be levelled at Hillary Clinton supporters who aggressively dismiss questions around the ethics and competence of the Democratic Party nominee. And while this blog believes that many of these concerns have more to do with a good old fashioned witch hunt than principled criticism (note how Hillary Clinton was previously dismissed by many as a far-left ideologue and is now criticised by the same people, correctly, as a triangulating centrist) the reaction of hardcore Hillary Clinton defenders to criticism of their candidate is no different than the way that Donald Trump’s supporters defend their man.

Unfortunately, this Washington Post article (especially its headline, which in fairness to author David Ignatius was probably not of his creation) makes it seem as though it is only Donald Trump supporters who are susceptible to the trait of confirmation bias, when this is absolutely not the case. It is, in effect, another part of the grubby effort to dismiss the concerns of Trump-supporting Americans, suggesting that their views and political preferences are the result of defective thinking rather than legitimate grievances and concerns.

Even worse than the Washington Post piece, though, is this article from Raw Story, in which neuroscientist Bobby Azarian attempts to remotely diagnose supposed abnormalities found in the brains of Donald Trump supporters.

The piece (the cover picture of which shows a Trump supporter’s face frozen mid-gesture, all the more to make her look stupid) alleges:

The only thing that might be more perplexing than the psychology of Donald Trump is the psychology of his supporters. In their eyes, The Donald can do no wrong. Even Trump himself seems to be astonished by this phenomenon. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.”

[..] So how exactly are Trump loyalists psychologically or neurologically different from everyone else? What is going on in their brains that makes them so blindly devoted?

Again, here we see the same arrogance which wrongly presumes that other partisans would behave differently when confronted with evidence that “their” candidate is in some way unacceptable. Yet anybody with eyes and a functioning brain knows that “Hillary Bots” and “Bernie Bros” were likewise called out for blindly supporting their chosen candidate regardless of new information presented.

The article then goes on to list various potential theories which may explain the supposedly uniquely abnormal thinking of Trump supporters:

Some believe that many of those who support Donald Trump do so because of ignorance — basically they are under-informed or misinformed about the issues at hand. When Trump tells them that crime is skyrocketing in the United States, or that the economy is the worst it’s ever been, they simply take his word for it.

[..] The Dunning-Kruger effect explains that the problem isn’t just that they are misinformed; it’s that they are completely unaware that they are misinformed. This creates a double burden.

Studies have shown that people who lack expertise in some area of knowledge often have a cognitive bias that prevents them from realizing that they lack expertise. As psychologist David Dunning puts it in an op-ed for Politico, “The knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at the task. This includes political judgment.” Essentially, they’re not smart enough to realize they’re dumb.

And if one is under the illusion that they have sufficient or even superior knowledge, then they have no reason to defer to anyone else’s judgment. This helps explain why even nonpartisan experts — like military generals and Independent former Mayor of New York/billionaire CEO Michael Bloomberg — as well as some respected Republican politicians, don’t seem to be able to say anything that can change the minds of loyal Trump followers.

There is a kernel of truth here, inasmuch as that the Dunning-Kruger effect is certainly real, and does in some way explain the behaviour of Trump supporters (others have used it to similarly belittle Fox News viewers). But Azarian seems to be suggesting that Donald Trump supporters are particularly liable to this erroneous thinking, while providing absolutely no evidence to back this up.

Azarian would have us believe that Hillary Clinton supporters are wise oracles, high-minded arbiters of truth and wisdom, who dispassionately compare various politicians against their entirely rational criteria before coming to support their candidate. One can be quickly and easily disabused of this notion by actually speaking to a particularly committed Clinton supporter.

Donald Trump - Mental Health

We also see creeping into Azarian’s analysis the same bias in favour of a “tyranny of the experts” which we saw in Britain’s EU referendum, where a whole parade of economists and members of the economic and political elite lined up to bully Britons into voting to remain in the European Union. When Britain rejected the threats of the Remain campaign and voted for Brexit, many commentators have had a complete meltdown, unable to understand how their compatriots could be so “stupid” as to reject the advice of so many self-described experts.

But what they failed to realise is that Brexiteers were not judging the question of Britain’s membership of the EU in the same terms as the experts. The experts, nearly all sinecured members of the establishment, had a post-patriotic mindset in which democracy and self-determination were irrelevant while economic stability and minimising disruption for current economic winners was all that mattered. Brexiteers, by contrast, actually cared about democracy and freedom, and having control over the decisions which affect their lives (as backed up by opinion polling in the immediate aftermath of the referendum). Seeing yet another EU-funded university professor wail that Brexiteers were “racist” and that leaving the EU might cause short term economic uncertainty left us entirely unmoved – to Brexiteers, such uncertainty is a price well worth paying to be free of an organisation as offensively antidemocratic as the European Union.

We see this same arrogance at work in Azarian’s lament that Trump supporters continually disregard the advice of military experts and their economic betters. One does not need to be a Trump supporter – this blog certainly is not – to understand that in the eyes of many Americans, the experts feted by the anti-Trump crowd are the very same people who presided over two very questionable wars and the greatest recession since the Great Depression. In other words, their advice simply doesn’t count for much in the eyes of Trump supporters – and often, the “experts” have only themselves to blame.

Azarian concludes:

So what can we do to potentially change the minds of Trump loyalists before voting day in November? As a cognitive neuroscientist, it grieves me to say that there may be nothing we can do. The overwhelming majority of these people may be beyond reach, at least in the short term. The best we can do is to motivate everyone else to get out to the booths and check the box that doesn’t belong to a narcissistic nationalist who has the potential to damage the nation beyond repair.

Well, congratulations – this article has contributed to a toxic atmosphere of derision against Trump supporters which will have only hardened his support (as even Azarian recognises at one point during the piece). By penning yet another unbearably sanctimonious piece absolving the political establishment of any responsibility for the rise of Donald Trump and suggesting that his supporters are uniquely prone to confirmation bias and other cognitive flaws, the anti-Trump forces are given more license to think of themselves as uniquely rational and virtuous, and to look down on the significant minority of their fellow Americans who prefer Trump to the rotten establishment.

If Donald Trump is to be halted (or the poison taken out of a narrow Trump defeat), the only words this blog wants to see running through the minds of moderate Republicans and Democrats are “how have I enabled the rise of Donald Trump?” and “what can I do differently to stop enraging so many

The easy option for the #NeverTrump crowd is to sit back, bask in their own moral virtue and clutch their pearls while looking at horror at the ill-educated, uncouth white trash who give Trump the time of day. That way risks the world waking up to President-Elect Trump on 9 November.

The harder, more virtuous task is to engage in some real introspection, and think hard and uncompromisingly about how years of Democratic and Republican government and opposition have generated such disillusionment and outright hatred of the political class that ordinary, decent people are willing to vest their hopes in Donald Trump.

If the political class are to succeed in preventing a Donald Trump victory, they must demonstrate a willingness to change. Cheerleading for the status quo while angrily demonising those people who refuse to accept it is simply not good enough. Not this time.

Now is the time for the American political class to show that they are capable of humility and change, not simply to engage in anti-Trump moral grandstanding. Donald Trump did not become the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in a vacuum. The flame of Trumpism only burns bright because it is sustained by the hot air of establishment Democrats and Republicans who fight their furious pitched battles in Washington D.C. while too many Americans have seen zero change in their own personal circumstances.

So by all means, America’s smug armchair psychiatrists among the #NeverTrump political establishment should go on diagnosing Donald Trump all they want. This blog certainly believes that anyone who gets into Twitter spats with Gold Star parents and D-list celebrities while running for president is dangerously emotionally unstable at best.

But there is nothing to be gained from going to war with Donald Trump’s supporters, many of whom have been repeatedly let down by the moderate, establishment politicians we tend to respect, and whose anger deserves to be acknowledged.

 

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Trump Supporters - Mad as hell

Donald Trump Hosts Nevada Caucus Night Watch Party In Las Vegas

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Paul Ryan Must Disassociate Himself From Donald Trump And Allow Other Republicans To Do The Same

Donald Trump - Paul Ryan - GOP - Republican Party - 2

The Republican Party created Donald Trump. Then they were conquered by Donald Trump. Then they embraced Donald Trump. Now they own Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, and every wretched thing that goes with it

Apparently Paul Ryan, feeling understandably spurned by Donald Trump’s haughty refusal to endorse his primary re-election campaign and pushed to despair by the GOP nominee’s decision to get into an unwinnable mud fight with grieving gold star parents, is now trying to create some distance between himself and his party’s emotionally unstable nominee.

From The Hill:

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday warned that his endorsement of Donald Trump shouldn’t be seen as a blank check.

“If I hear things that I think are wrong, I’m not going to sit by and say nothing, because I think I have a duty as a Republican leader to defend Republican principles and our party’s brand if I think they’re being distorted,” Ryan told Green Bay’s WTAQ radio.

Asked whether there are situations that could cause him to withdraw his support of Trump for president, Ryan responded, “of course there are.”

“I’m not going to get into the speculation or hypotheticals. None of these things are ever blank checks. That goes with any situation in any kind of race. But right now, he won the thing fair and square,” Ryan said.

One can understand the impulse within Paul Ryan to engage in these dignity-saving manoeuvrings. But he should not be allowed to get away with them. Any Republican who threw their arms around Donald Trump or who spoke in his favour at the at the Republican National Convention has inextricably yoked their political souls to that most profoundly unconservative of candidates. And having made their bed with Trump they must now be lashed to it, even as that bed careens down a hill and over the edge of a cliff.

I like Paul Ryan. His blend of ideological zeal (he used to make his interns read Atlas Shrugged) and governing pragmatism appeals to this blog. He isn’t perfect, but he makes the statist, Coke Zero Conservatives in charge of Britain look like Vladimir Lenin.

But you don’t mess around with a systemic threat like Donald Trump. This blog is not against populists in general – heck, I even voted UKIP in the 2015 general election in despair at the socialist Conservatives and in grudging admiration of Nigel Farage’s political courage (if not his more offensive statements). But Donald Trump is no Nigel Farage. Trump has no history (or interest) in public service. Trump is supremely indifferent about policy matters. And if you thought that UKIP’s stubborn belief that leaving the EU would make everything wonderful was simplistic, it becomes the very picture of nuance compared to Donald Trump’s one-dimensional plan to Make America Great Again.

Unfortunately, Paul Ryan decided to hitch his wagon to the Trump train. True, he did not create Donald Trump, Presidential Candidate Edition – that dubious honour lies with Republicans like Mitch McConnell who helped set the Republicans’ implacable tone of opposition to President Obama, and to the crazier/birther element of the Tea Party who legitimised the hysterical conspiracy theorising in which Donald Trump specialises. But faced with a victorious Trump in the GOP primaries, Paul Ryan bestowed the Republican Party’s official seal of honour on Trump, bestowing on him the imprimatur which allows Trump to claim with a straight face to speak for American conservatives.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin is having none of Paul Ryan’s evasions either:

1. If he has to constantly step forward protect the GOP “brand,” Trump is therefore a threat to it. Ryan acknowledges Trump has been distorting the party’s principles. Ryan’s ongoing support thus contradicts his stated intent to protect the GOP.

2. If attacking a Gold Star family, inviting Russia to meddle in our election and launching a racist attack on a federal judge are not grounds for pulling support, it is fair to ask if Ryan has any “red line.” It’s not a hypothetical; it’s a statement of his current principles.

3. Winning “fair and square” has nothing to do with Ryan’s continued support. As he said, things can change, and Trump surely has gotten worse since he sewed up the nomination. Moreover, it is Ryan’s obligation to provide voters with his own, independent judgment. That’s what all elected officials should do, but it seems a basic requirement for leaders.

4. Ryan’s continued support for Trump in order to provide cover for his members (“defend Republicans”), which one can surmise is one reason he continues this excruciating contortionist act, is deeply misguided. Trump is losing nationally by a lot. He’s losing in critical states where there are at-risk members of Congress. Rather than tying their fate and the fate of his majority to Trump, Ryan should be telling every member that we are in extraordinary times, when endorsing the presidential candidate is not a requirement of being a Republican in good standing.

And concludes:

It’s very likely Ryan and other Republicans thought they’d tepidly nominate Trump, keep the election close and thereby save some GOP seats. It has turned out differently, as Trump has repeatedly embarrassed the party and attempted to humiliate Ryan and other leaders. You cannot fine-tune the electorate such that you can bank on losing but not by too much. In the case of Trump, once the American people get a look behind the curtain and recognize what they are dealing with, a runaway election becomes entirely possible. Support for Trump then becomes an anchor around the ankles of Republicans — not to mention a source of nonstop intellectual and ethical stress for Ryan. Perhaps in the weeks to come, he will see that.

Paul Ryan’s dilemma is a microcosm of the entire establishment Republican Party’s dilemma. Do they denounce their own presidential candidate and squander whatever slim chance they have of winning the White House (assuming they actually want to put Donald Trump in the Oval Office)? Or do they squander what intellectual and moral credibility they have left and stand by their man?

In these unprecedented times, this blog believes that Republican politicians should have absolutely no compunction about abandoning a presidential candidate who offers at best a grotesque pastiche of conservatism, and disassociating themselves from Donald Trump. If it leads to a grassroots backlash and future GOP primary battles, so be it. The poison coursing through the Republican Party must be drawn one way or another. Best do it now. And assuming a Clinton victory in November, they will have every chance of a Republican landslide in the 2018 midterms and retaking the White House in 2020.

At present, however, most Republicans seem to be operating under the assumption that Trump is a nightmarish aberration, and that things will simply go back to normal once he has left the scene. This is not so. Trumpism will require defeating, not by condescending attacks on his supporters or with barrels of Koch money, but rather by the patient and charismatic advancing of the small government principles which represent the GOP at its best.

Here’s the rub, though: only those Republicans untainted by association with Donald Trump’s experiment in angry, illiterate populism will have the credibility to do the rebuilding. Paul Ryan should have been one of the rebuilders. He may just still qualify, if – and it is a big “if” – he puts his responsibility to the country ahead of his responsibility to guide the GOP’s short term electoral success.

But right now, the Speaker of the House is awkwardly straddling two sides, displeasing both the loyal Trumpists and the principled conservatives-in-exile. If Paul Ryan is to fulfil his potential he needs to stop being arbitrator-in-chief between the Republican Party’s warring factions, pick a side and become a belated profile in courage instead.

 

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Top Image: ABC News

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