Monday, November 7, 2016

(No. 299) Donald Trump: media consensus & the echo chamber


"Donald Trump: media consensus and the echo chamber

OR

offering tinned goods as fresh produce"

by

Alastair Rickard




As I write this column the American presidential election is just a few days away. As a longtime follower of American politics as well as those of Canada and several other countries I have never seen  so much extreme rhetoric in a campaign (coming from both the Trump and Clinton sides) nor so much repetitive 'group think' comment by television talking heads and other members of the media. Much of the latter has been so ideological and determinedly politically correct as to render it next to useless as analysis.

The late English writer Christopher Hitchens, asked why he wanted to become a journalist, replied so that he wouldn't have to rely on the press for information. I can relate.

I have yet to read or hear a specific reference to what might well be the worst possible Nov. 8 election result in terms of increasing to even greater heights the pre-election toxicity, divisiveness and polarization in the American body politic:  an election result which sees Hillary Clinton win based on securing 270 or more electoral college votes while Donald Trump (who will almost certainly declare ANY result other than a victory for himself the result of a "rigged election") actually receives a higher total of the popular vote than does Clinton. This anomaly of the U.S. electoral system has showed up before and as recently as Al Gore's loss to George Bush in 2000.

If/when he loses, Trump's tens of millions of supporters, doubtless egged on by widespread  inflammatory post-Nov. 8 rhetoric, will generate ongoing popular unrest in American politics going forward the like of which has not been seen since the 19th century. Trump himself will doubtless carry on as a celebrity and a prime example of the arrogance of the self-assured.

The liberal media in the U.S. (as in Canada) have and will continue to stir the pot of political division by deprecating, inter alia, the intelligence of those who support(ed) Trump's candidacy. This widespread elitism among the chattering classes (it can be summed up  as 'we know what is best') is just the sort of irritating and patronizing sermon that contributed so materially to the surprise this same gang suffered in the U.K.'s pro-Brexit vote.

In Canada the editorial approach of the Globe and Mail, self-styled as Canada's national newspaper, aping the New York Times and Washington Post has for months featured an ongoing, repetitive and increasingly tedious competition among its columnists and op-ed writers to determine who can express most emphatically and preciously how shocked and appalled they are by Donald Trump, his bullying demeanor and insulting statements and tweets, etc. etc., all the while offering readers tinned goods as if they were fresh produce.

All well and good to benefit certain media egos but nothing has changed materially involving Trump except for the quantity of examples since even before he declared his candidacy for president in June of last year. He was then clearly an inappropriate person to be president and his antics and declarations since have merely provided devotees of political correctness enhanced opportunities to declare their fear, shock, upset etc. (pick one).

What has changed as we near American election day?

 Really only that for months and months after Trump launched his bid for the Republican nomination he was dismissed by the supposedly wise and best informed members of the media elite as a clownish reality TV celebrity;  he had no chance of securing the Republican nomination much less the presidency.

While Clinton is likely to win next Tuesday, if only because of the curious American electoral college system, Trump has succeeded in demonstrating that the best and the brightest among the American media's talking heads have now lost even more credibility as political soothsayers.

George Bernard Shaw acidly observed that the media can't distinguish between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization. Just so vis-a-vis Donald trump.

Nothing that qualifies Trump (and there is much) to be labeled a sexist, misogynist, racist, narcissist, et al has changed except by accumulation. But once the mainstream media had ridden Trump to months of increased ratings, ad revenue and circulation the time came to get serious about helping the  unpopular Clinton prevent a Trump presidency, an objective devoutly to be wished by a substantial majority of Canadians although (according to the latest U.S. opinion polls) apparently by somewhat less than half of Americans.

The fact of the matter is that, as the election nears,  Clinton's biggest advantage is the high negatives of her opponent among voters. Her own high negative ratings as consistently shown in the polls would preclude her election if Trump's negatives were not somewhat higher.

Any one of several among the sixteen Republican primary election candidates defeated by Trump could have beaten Clinton in this election. Whatever the result on Tuesday -- but particularly if Trump were to win (although that is unlikely) -- the nearer term future of American politics today looks dark, rocky and unhappy.

Nov. 5, 2016


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email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca

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