November 9, 2016

“SO, ABOUT LAST NIGHT …” In his column at the Washington Post, Sonny Bunch of the conservative Washington Free Beacon writes:

There’s something to be said for the idea that Trump rode a wave of white resentment into the White House. But this is, at best, a half-truth. I’ll discuss the demographics in a moment; for now, let’s focus on the resentment. “Family Guy”‘s Seth MacFarlane made the totally reasonable point that “the Left expended so much energy over the last several years being outraged over verbal missteps, accidental innuendo, ‘tasteless tweets’ … in the name of clickbait, that when the REAL threat to equality emerged, we’d cried wolf too many times to be heard.”

This is a variation on the “But he fights!” defense/critique of Donald Trump. He gives voice to people who have spent the social media age watching viral outrage after viral outrage consume news cycles and destroy lives, to people who look at the silliness on college campuses and recoil at the thought of giving such institutions tens of thousands of dollars to fill their children’s heads with nonsense ideas. As Robby Soave noted at Reason, “Trump won because he convinced a great number of Americans that he would destroy political correctness.”

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Twitter created a series of impenetrable bubbles this cycle, and bubbles of this sort are not healthy for members of the media. They’re not healthy for anyone, really, but they’re doubly unhealthy for those of us who would dare to think they can or should shape the national narrative. If Democrats’ takeaway from last night is “the people of this country are filled with hatred,” as my own bubble suggests it might be, they will learn no lessons and gain no weapons with which to combat Trump and his successors going forward.

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that it was Twitter that created those impenetrable bubbles, or if it was simply one of the many platforms available to amplify and broadcast them.

During the 1960 presidential election, at the height of mass-media, mass-production, and the concomitant federal government shaped by the socialist New Deal, Nixon and Kennedy shared remarkably similar midcentury centrist views on most issues, from civil rights to the role of religion in America to the Cold War. But virtually every election since has seen pitched battles between two diametrically opposed worldviews: the radical chic anger of the McGovernites versus Nixon’s Great Society-esque foreign and domestic policies. Jimmy Carter’s big government malaise versus Reagan’s Goldwater-inspired conservatism. Al Gore’s radical environmentalism as religion versus George W. Bush’s Compassionate Conservatism. Etc., etc.

Until now. This election offered a plethora of worldviews slugging it out: a Northeast Corridor-based overculture that believes a radical chic-inspired failed community organizer and failed health care reformer in a bespoke suit is the second coming of God. And that his designated successor, whom they previously denigrated as a reactionary racist, whose biggest achievement was making a hash of the Middle East while pointlessly racking up nearly a million air miles (all the while railing against “climate change”) deserves to be president simply because of her gender.

Their reality was opposed by the alternate media bubble created by Trump’s most loyal media supporters, such as Dilbert creator Scott Adams, an increasingly surreal Drudge Report, and a Breitbart.com that would likely be unrecognizable by its late founder.

Their reality in turn was opposed by the #NeverTrump crowd at the Weekly Standard and National Review. Who at times arguably seemed more angry with Trump himself and his mixed legacy in business than his Democratic opponent.

Ultimately though, the reality that prevailed was that of Trump’s working class base of supporters. Who tried to send a message to Washington in 2009 with the surprise election of Scott Brown to block Obamacare. And when that failed to stop the Democrats, tried to send a message in 2010 by sweeping a wave of Republicans into the House to block its implementation. And when that failed to stop the Democrats (and its rollout turned out to the debacle that everyone on the right insisted it would be) sent a wave that recaptured the Senate. A group that’s angry at being called homophobic bigots and racists. Angry at a never-ending war in Iraq after victory was in-hand. Angry at a stagnant economy. Angry over possibly the biggest lie told repeatedly by an American president: “If you like your plan you can keep your plan,” only to discover no, you can’t – and if you want any health insurance at all, you might need a second mortgage to cover the premiums.

Is Trump a perfect messenger for such anger? Of course not. But like Bill Clinton in 1992 and Obama in 2008, he showed up to play, mentally decided that he had more star power and cable media savvy than his opponents in his party’s primary, and rode a populist message to success. I hope he can deliver on some of his promises, but the fact that he won’t begin his administration by launching a culture war against half the nation, as both Obama and Clinton did, will give us all room to breathe.

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