The “Objective” Media’s Disrespect for Political Parties and Hatred of Partisanship Created The Trump Effect

Trump voters are frustrated. That’s plain as day. Marc Fisher at the Washington Post has a good writeup with quotes from Trump voters, and they show a profound frustration with the lethargy of the political system. Some of Trump’s voters are conservatives who are upset that the GOP establishment hasn’t delivered on its promises to end Obamacare, throw out all the immigrants, etc. Some of them are low-information voters upset over stagnant wages and economic immobility who have bought into some of the misleading conservative rhetoric on those subjects.

But all of them share a belief that an outsider like Trump could singlehandedly fix whatever it is they’re most concerned about and “make America great again.”

It’s easy to make fun of these people. But it’s also hard to blame them. It’s not just the Fox News effect. The traditional media shares a huge amount of the blame.

As Martin Longman correctly notes, the principal reason for the lethargy of the government and its inability to solve basic problems lies in the way Congress operates and the way the Constitution is set up. There was a period from the 1920s to the 1980s in which, by historical accident, racist and populist Southern Democrats could make common cause with socially liberal Northern Republicans to craft consensus public policy. That uncomfortable and unjust alliance is thankfully broken now, but left in its place is a country starkly divided on policy and cultural lines. Republicans and Democrats have very different, diametrically opposed visions of what is wrong with the country, and their policy solutions usually move in directly opposite directions.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), America’s system of checks and balances prevents either side from making much progress even after it wins elections. Unless one party has the White House, over sixty Senators, a sizable majority in the House and a working majority on the Supreme Court, truly transformative change is simply not going to happen. Since people are getting frustrated and want transformative change, they’ll seek out increasingly unusual solutions and candidates.

It should be the job of a functioning press to elucidate this for voters. The press should clearly explain that Democrats want to do X, Republicans want to do The-Opposite-Of-X, and that in almost all cases compromise is impossible because it would be schizophrenic to try to do both. If one person wants to break a fever by sweating it out and the other person wants to cool it with a cold bath, you can’t “compromise” by putting them in lukewarm water. That would be stupid. And yet, that’s all too often what mainstream pundits and journalists ask for: cooperation, compromise and an end to “bickering”, as if the disagreements involved were mere childish spats for power rather than deep and abiding disagreements about moral imperatives and the nature of economic and social realities.

Mainstream pundits feed into public malaise by pretending that government fails to deliver on its promises because politicians refuse to be adults and make “moderate” policy (as if there were any such thing), rather than because political parties and their adherents have very different ideas about what the country should do. And in almost all cases, the press adamantly refuses to pick sides in terms of who is actually right about the policy disagreement, because that might constitute a shocking lack of objectivity. But the alternative is worse: a press that not only refuses to elucidate the basic facts that allow voters to understand whose fixes are right and whose are wrong, but fails to even inform voters about why things are broken in the first place.

Which in turn leads a huge number of voters, understandably, to reach out in frustration to someone–anyone!–different. It could be the brash and abrasive real estate magnate, or the weird soft-spoken brain surgeon, or even the angry Jewish socialist. Someone who will break through the clutter and just make things happen.

That’s totally understandable. And the press deserves the lion’s share of the blame for failing to educate voters about why it’s so hard to make things happen in America. If they did, maybe we might be able to get the structural changes to government we need, rather than pretend that we just need to elect the right person to fix everything.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.