It’s not the first time the mass media as a whole has favoured one candidate over another, but it was the first time that the majority of the TV and newspaper coverage was actively partisan rather than just overtly favouring one party or candidate. Remember that Il Donalduce got almost literally non-stop media attention during the Republican primaries, as he was seen as the one most likely to flame out in the general election. Yes, his candidacy was “news”, but it became almost impossible for any of the other candidates to get any more coverage than a redshirted Star Trek extra — you get a couple of hackneyed, predictable lines, then you get your tragic death scene. Do you even remember who else ran for the nomination? How about good old Ted Rubio or Marco Cruz or Scott Fiorina or Carly Walker or John Carson or Ben Kasich? How about Chris Bush or Jeb Christie? Rand Perry or Rick Paul? Redshirts, every one, thanks to the glaring unending focus on Il Donalduce, the star of the biggest reality TV show in history.
In the Guardian, Thomas Frank explains why Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate for the Democrats, even against the weakest G.O.P. candidate in living memory:
He has run one of the lousiest presidential campaigns ever. In saying so I am not referring to his much-criticized business practices or his vulgar remarks about women. I mean this in a purely technical sense: this man fractured his own party. His convention was a fiasco. He had no ground game to speak of. The list of celebrities and pundits and surrogates taking his side on the campaign trail was extremely short. He needlessly offended countless groups of people: women, Hispanics, Muslims, disabled people, mothers of crying babies, the Bush family, and George Will-style conservatives, among others. He even lost Glenn Beck, for pete’s sake.
And now he is going to be president of the United States. The woman we were constantly assured was the best-qualified candidate of all time has lost to the least qualified candidate of all time. Everyone who was anyone rallied around her, and it didn’t make any difference. The man too incompetent to insult is now going to sit in the Oval Office, whence he will hand down his beauty-contest verdicts on the grandees and sages of the old order.
To try to put over such a nominee while screaming that the Republican is a rightwing monster is to court disbelief. If Trump is a fascist, as liberals often said, Democrats should have put in their strongest player to stop him, not a party hack they’d chosen because it was her turn. Choosing her indicated either that Democrats didn’t mean what they said about Trump’s riskiness, that their opportunism took precedence over the country’s well-being, or maybe both.
Clinton’s supporters among the media didn’t help much, either. It always struck me as strange that such an unpopular candidate enjoyed such robust and unanimous endorsements from the editorial and opinion pages of the nation’s papers, but it was the quality of the media’s enthusiasm that really harmed her. With the same arguments repeated over and over, two or three times a day, with nuance and contrary views all deleted, the act of opening the newspaper started to feel like tuning in to a Cold War propaganda station. Here’s what it consisted of:
- Hillary was virtually without flaws. She was a peerless leader clad in saintly white, a super-lawyer, a caring benefactor of women and children, a warrior for social justice.
- Her scandals weren’t real.
- The economy was doing well / America was already great.
- Working-class people weren’t supporting Trump.
- And if they were, it was only because they were botched humans. Racism was the only conceivable reason for lining up with the Republican candidate.
How did the journalists’ crusade fail? The fourth estate came together in an unprecedented professional consensus. They chose insulting the other side over trying to understand what motivated them. They transformed opinion writing into a vehicle for high moral boasting. What could possibly have gone wrong with such an approach?
Put this question in slightly more general terms and you are confronting the single great mystery of 2016. The American white-collar class just spent the year rallying around a super-competent professional (who really wasn’t all that competent) and either insulting or silencing everyone who didn’t accept their assessment. And then they lost. Maybe it’s time to consider whether there’s something about shrill self-righteousness, shouted from a position of high social status, that turns people away.