Media types are still scrambling, trying to understand how they could have gotten the presidential story so wrong.
There is little humility in the fourth estate. News reporting, especially at the 24-hour news channels, has become more about storytelling than investigative reporting – and the story has not turned out quite the way they imagined.
The majority of what now passes for information from these news outlets amounts to little more than the views of anointed pundits espousing their own story lines rather than the digging required to get to the truth.
In this environment it is not surprising that the underlying feelings of a broad swath of American voters were not simply overlooked but denied, viewed as limited, radical, and irrelevant.
How did the country get to the point where reality is so immaterial and the personal myth so central, and what might it mean for the future of the world’s largest democracy?
In 1998, Professor Richard Rorty published a book based on a series of lectures he gave at Harvard. In Achieving Our Country, Rorty made the strong case that the left at that time suffered from a form of “semiconscious anti-Americanism,” essentially a desire to pursue a limited agenda that discounted anything but hard-left liberal issues. In a prophetic few paragraphs Rorty envisioned a time when the social fabric will crack:
“[U]nskilled workers will…realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported…they will realize that white-collar workers – themselves desperately afraid of being downsized – are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.”
He went on to suggest that a disenchanted “electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for – someone…to assure them that…smug bureaucrats…and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots…”
In the end, Rorty predicted that the resentment will lead to an overturning of the political system and a return to a more conservative, less progressive time. Rorty passed away in 2007 but his prophecy is now coming to fruition.
Before the election there was concern that if Donald Trump lost there would be rioting in the streets. Now that he is president-elect, there is civil disobedience (and worse, in some cases) in the streets – perpetrated by some of the very people who warned of defiance from angry Trump supporters.
At one not-for-profit agency with which I have a working relationship, the staff decided to adopt a more subtle form of defiance and dress all in black for the next few weeks as a sign of mourning for the country – or perhaps a sign of their naiveté. And in yet another sign of noncompliance, a professor at Yale allowed students to forgo a midterm exam “to help them cope with the fact that Trump was elected.”
The election itself was not an aggressive act. It was not even a micro-aggression. Voting was for the most part a peaceful, well-monitored process. The notion of safe spaces following a presidential outcome makes little sense in a democracy where respect for the voting process should be uppermost. It is this cognitive rigidity that promotes hatred on campuses across the U.S., where speakers are shouted down and movements like BDS are perpetuated.
Even President Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who both had very harsh words for Trump during the campaign, have taken a conciliatory and supportive approach. Yet the hard left maintains its sanctimony, and the “postmodernist professors,” as Rorty called them, continue to fuel resentment caused by real unconcern about what a large swath of Americans feel and live with.
If Trump as president adopts policies that strike enough people as too harsh or hard line, there will be time enough to voice concerns and take appropriate political and legal action.
In an oft-quoted aphorism, Hillel, one of the wisest people of all time, said: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14). Extremism can only beget extremism. This is true for both liberal and conservative views. You must care for yourself first but if you care only for your own views, who will be for you?
Liberals seem to be liberal only to their own. We can only move forward if we work together with understanding and sensitivity – not just to our own biases but to the needs of others.