So we had an election. Maybe you heard? If you didn’t, I’m starting to believe you’re the lucky one. The non-stop, 24/7, soundbite driven election of 2016 was the ugliest in recent memory. We had the opportunity to elect the country’s first woman president. Perceived as a shattering of the glass ceiling, and an inspiration to every young girl everywhere, it was an exciting moment in our history.
Alas, it didn’t happen.
But what stopped it? How could America be denied the fairy tale ending to an election that had such a clear cut good girl / bad guy scenario? Clinton good. Trump bad. How much more did you need to know, right?
Every pollster, even the vaunted Nate Silver, declared that there was no way Hillary Clinton could lose this race. Donald Trump was a misogynistic, slimy, big business type that had no regard for the working man. If he won it was gonna be tax cuts for millionaires while the ever-diminishing middle class would lose out. Repeal Obamacare! Build a wall! Grab ’em by the …
From the start however, you had backroom style machinations that should’ve caused concern. Specifically Bernie Sanders. A senator from Vermont with a decidedly populist message that resonated with nearly every Democrat, the DNC (and it’s former head, Debbie Wasserman Schultz), seemed to think that Hillary was headed for a coronation and Sanders was just getting in the way. Besides, they surmised, Sanders could never win a national election.
Then the media got involved. Every journalist loves a good story, and this was a doozy. The first viable female presidential candidate competing against the Lord of Darkness and Everything That Was Wrong With White Male Privilege. Obviously the good guy (or girl…) was going to win the day, so let’s just heap all kinds of praise upon her while mocking the other guy.
The media’s bias was never questioned, never checked, and never more obviously on display. And the more we headed toward the Clinton victory, the more Donald Trump’s team took it to the streets, spoke directly to the disenfranchised masses, and marched toward the greatest upset that nobody in the media thought could happen.
Then there’s the pesky October surprise. Desperate to put the email/private server scandal behind her, Clinton gets blindsided when the FBI Director sends an expertly worded letter that says, but doesn’t say, but insinuates without actually saying, and sort of hints that he’s found a new trove of Hillary’s emails on a computer belonging to disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner, and those emails might possibly, but not definitely, can’t say either way, but hint that they could incriminate Hillary Clinton just days before the election.
Guess what? This new discovery proves fruitless, and there’s nothing that actually presents a problem or reason to re-open/further the investigation, but it doesn’t matter. The entire scandal gets new life in the days before the election, and the damage is (further) done.
Meanwhile, the media has decided that Hillary Clinton has (at a minimum) an 80% chance of becoming President. Polling seems to verify this, and Clinton stops campaigning in some battleground states. Meanwhile Trump is holding an increasing number of rallies. He’s also not relying on the mainstream media to spread his message. He’s right there on Twitter saying whatever he wants, whatever he thinks, and isn’t shackled to any sense of decency or political correctness.
So while the mainstream media –television and print specifically– crowned Hillary, limited coverage of Bernie, and gave heavy-handed criticism to Trump, social media erupted. Friendships were ended over political beliefs, arguments were validated based on memes, and the rhetoric was ratcheted up to ridiculous levels. Fake news stories had more traction on Facebook than actual fact-based reporting, and nobody cared.
At the end of the day, news organizations and social media platforms are businesses. The more traffic they get, the more pageviews they generate, the more advertising gets served up. All of this adds up to more money in their coffers. And now it’s a battle between accurate reporting and ad revenue. Guess which was victorious?
Having crowned Hillary months before the actual election, the pundits were shocked when Trump won. In hindsight it was easy to see how it happened. Well, it was easy for everyone except the media. To explain Trump’s victory they’d be forced to admit their complicity in the outcome. That’s not to say they intentionally tried to throw the election in favor of Trump — far from it — but they opened the door for what happened.
With the election over, it’s painful to read the newspaper and follow the news. Like a scorned ex, the media is quick to point out every flaw, every inconsistency, every campaign promise that Trump breaks. With fake news mingling with real news, it’s hard to tell what’s real, and it’s just easier (and preferable) to tune it all out.
Ultimately, the election of Donald Trump represents the death of media. The hype exceeded the story, and we were following a narrative that distracted us from the truth. Once we started believing the pollsters, blurring the line between truth and fiction, and working on assumptions –Hillary can’t lose!– then we forgot our responsibilities as Americans.
Trump’s victory spotlights our failure to take responsibility for what we believe, how/if we vote, and to challenge preconceived ideas of right and wrong. It’s disappointing, but maybe it’s what we deserve.