I also published this here at medium.
What’s the main thing Donald Trump supporters and the media’s most vocal Donald Trump haters have in common?
Rage over proven obsolescence.
One side is overtly angry about their economical and cultural obsolescence: no one wants to hire them, and “white man” has become an insult. The other side is more covertly angry, partly at their repeated and repeated and repeated failures to predict and diagnose the Trump phenomenon. One side is outwardly furious, the other side more subtextually angry (but it’s easy to tell, from their opinion pieces and facial expressions on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC).
Yet there’s a telling difference, and it’s telling us a major, unexplained reason why Trump continues his vertiginous position atop the GOP rankings. The people in the second group are under absolutely no threat to lose their jobs. After the first debate, they predicted the End of Trump. After the second debate, they predicted the End of Trump. (Repeat for eight more debates.) Are they punished for this absolute failure to do their jobs?
Now, you and I and Trump voters (they’re not as dumb as some of them look) know that predictions are not a pundit’s entire job. Some of it is analysis. But it’s rare that Anderson Cooper or Rachel Maddow or Megan Kelly lets a pundit sign off of an appearance without asking them “so what’s next?” In other words, predictions are clearly some of their job. If they were zookeepers, cleaning elephant dung wouldn’t be their ENTIRE job, but if they entirely failed to do that one part for six months, you’d notice, wouldn’t you?
Maybe it’s a bit of punishment that the 22 people who wrote the articles in National Review’s “Against Trump” issue, and many other establishment Republicans, including David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and scores of others, have been made to realize that they aren’t half as influential as they thought they were a year ago. Maybe there’s even some personal humiliation for pundits in the now-revealed fact that, despite them (the pundits) telling us that the white working-class would be effectively sold a bill of trickle-down bait-and-switch for the umpteenth election, it turned out that those voters had very little interest in the concerns of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Maybe. But you sure wouldn’t know it from, say, one pundit getting fired or reassigned or a pay cut or less air time on talk shows.
(Sidebar: what does this all this rhetorical warfare look like from, say, the female-led perspective over at jezebel.com or the African-American perspective at theroot.com? I’m guessing it looks kind of like those bird’s-eye-view images of a Wall Street trading floor, a bunch of hostile white men yelling at each other. Or maybe rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Funny. Moving on.)
When pundits like Nate Silver, James Fallows, Gloria Borger, and many, many MANY others, blame “everyone” for misdiagnosing Trump (clearly, they’re not counting Trump himself), they sound like no one so much as your teenager coming home with a tattoo, or the financial hedge-fund guys who drove the economy off a cliff. You know, the ones that threw away your life savings and now pretend The Big Short wasn’t written and didn’t happen.
Because the establishment keeps their jobs no matter how badly they screw up. And Trump voters don’t.
Being an incompetent Wall Street trader means never having to say you’re sorry.
Being an incompetent Republican or Democrat in Congress means never having to say you’re sorry.
Being an incompetent pundit means never having to say you’re sorry.
Being part of the political-correctness-enforcement brigade means always having to tell others to say they’re sorry.
Being a white working-class guy whose job was outsourced offshore or to a robot means always having to say you’re sorry.
Now, if we were in a court of law, the defense would be right to say that I haven’t proven causality. I haven’t proven that when the establishment belittles Trump, the Trumpkins be little. (Small. Petty. Hostile to elites.) In other words, I haven’t proven that Trump supporters are egged on by elite dismissals. “Reading” the Trump electorate has so far baffled the experts, and I don’t claim to have access to as much data as them. Instead, they’re paid to write with incredulity – “no matter what we say, it only makes him stronger!” – and tell us they don’t know why.
But here’s what I know: every Trump supporter has either been fired, or is closely related to someone who has been, and in the case of outsourcing and robots, they were fired even though they did their jobs well. So if a Trump supporter even has time to read the media (well, s/he must have heard of Trump somehow), s/he eventually absorbs an overall message: old white guy writers keep their jobs no matter how badly they do them, we lose ours no matter how well we do them. Maybe that makes them support Trump to “stick it to the man.” Maybe seeing that the entrenched establishment is un-fire-able – and let’s throw Congress in here – makes too-often-fired people rally around the one person they’ve seen fire people with impunity. Maybe we’re seeing the fired fighting the non-fired with the firer.
None of this justifies violence. Obviously. Frankly not all of it justifies Trump, considering his commitment to the working-class has been opportunistic at best and poorly elaborated at worst. But he at least gestures in the right direction – against both parties and tired ideas – and if the elites were smarter, they’d see that as a wake-up call, or at least a cry for help. If Immortan Trump can make the masses run forward, pots and mouths open, with the tiniest valve push of the spigot, imagine what a true populist Empress Furiosa could do?* (*Mad Max metaphor.)
Anyway, where do I get off? Well, I’ve been writing weekly thousand-word essays about populism for more than two years. I’ve been warning about a restless working class that’s fed up with excuses from both parties. Yes, I’m a white male. But I like to think I’ve adopted some of the Silicon Valley ethos of constantly re-examining things and finding new ways to be useful in a more inclusive world. I try not to fall back on outdated paradigms. I certainly haven’t been paid to get on TV or write for a major magazine and look stupid a week later, repeatedly and cluelessly proving that there’s one rule for the elite, another rule for the working-class.
And I don’t mean only during the “Bush or Rubio will be the frontrunner any day now” phase. This is still happening. For example, I’ve been seeing a lot of “Why now?” pieces of late – why oh why didn’t Trump (or Bernie Sanders) happen sooner? This one, from March 14 (that’s four days ago), is my favorite, partly because it’s written by David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker:
The question remains why the Trump phenomenon has proved so buoyant and impregnable. Some have earnestly ascribed it to broad social and economic forces, particularly the “new normal” of stagnating wages, underemployment, and corporate “offshoring” and “inversion.” Yet those factors were at least as pronounced in the last election cycle––and Republicans chose as their nominee the father of comprehensive health care in Massachusetts.
Even me, the guy who spent years warning about the conditions he describes, even I know those conditions are necessary but not sufficient to account for the rise of Trump – and Bernie Sanders. Nowhere in Remnick’s long piece does he follow this up with anything like: “Then again, in 2012, there was no one running for either major-party nomination saying anything like ‘a pox on both your houses!’ or ‘Democrats and Republicans have both made horrible mistakes in the last two administrations!’” (As Trump and Sanders have.) In Remnick’s piece, that idea doesn’t even cross his mind.
(Also not on the Remnick radar: Republican primary voters knew three things about Trump when his candidacy was announced, 1) he seems financially independent/successful, 2) he forced Barack Obama to “reveal” his birth certificate, and 3) he has said “You’re Fired!” to scores of celebrities on Celebrity Apprentice. In other words, apparently, he’s in the one percent, but not of it. He’ll knock heads where he needs to, whether it’s co-workers he groomed, Wall Street guys he knows [“and I know all of ’em”], or politicians of any party. He’s apparently a non-apologist who rails against a non-apologizing, incompetent establishment and a movement for political correctness that forces others to apologize. Not bad for people who have to come home every day, apologize for not finding work, and then based on the latest student protests, apologize again for being white men.)
Is Remnick at any risk of losing his job? Far from it. In fact, he keeps many other ostensibly smart analysts employed full-time writing about the election, like John Cassidy, Jill Lepore, Jelani Cobb, and others. Let’s presume that Remnick does his job and reads every article published in The New Yorker. (Only takes a couple of hours a week.) So if Remnick is being sincere, apparently none of these other smart people answered the “why now?” question with anything as stupefyingly obvious as what I just wrote. (Okay, I checked; no they didn’t.) And clearly they’re not in any danger of losing or being demoted at their jobs either.
Personally, I don’t believe in playing with fire or the fired or the firer. Lately, Trump has veered away from populism and toward a crazy violence-inciting nativism. I’m not defending it, I’m not voting for it.
But I’m also not criticizing Trump while embodying an establishment that refuses to think beyond the two-party system and systematically ignores working-class agony. I’m not giving short shrift to the forced-obsolescent while unwittingly providing evidence for why I should be, but aren’t being, made obsolescent.
Wondering how to be a more responsible paid opinion columnist/TV talking head? Thanks for asking! As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step is admitting you have a problem. If you want to actually reach a Trump voter, try starting your next anti-Trump jeremiad like this:
“I was wrong about Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. I am sorry. Others were also wrong, but that doesn’t justify my behavior. I continue to be paid despite clearly not doing my job up to the standards that I and my colleagues have set. Thus, I personally serve as evidence of the establishment double-standard that so powerfully animates the Trump and Sanders movements. Sorry about that.
“Having said that, I still believe Trump is a dangerous demagogue and here’s why…”
At that point, you might have a chance of changing a mind.