As much as I frequently dislike media narratives, they are necessary. Politics is complex, and shaping that complexity into a narrative—with characters, conflicts, and potential outcomes—is a valuable way of doing what journalists are mandated to do: inform the citizenry.
But media narratives are usually uncritically accepted as true even if they distort reality. A storyteller never lets complicated facts get in the way of a good story. The same is true of political journalism.
Other than people like me who talk about how we talk about media narratives, the solution is probably more and better media narratives. On that score, I’d like to highlight a counter-narrative that should, if we all know what’s good for us, burgeon into the mainstream.
That counter-narrative is this: the women are coming.
Garance Franke-Ruta is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Politics. She reported on Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s victory radicalized legions of woman who, according to one source, feel “under attack by their elected officials in a variety of ways.” This, Franke-Ruta’s source said, is “the most galvanizing, activating sentiment for them.”
Last Tuesday was the first time these legions made their presence known. They fueled Democratic victories in governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia. They defined the terms of debate in contests to the bottom of local governments. Everything is game, Franke-Ruta wrote: “What the administration is doing, what their representatives are doing, what is happening in the culture at large.”
This is different from the right-wing reaction that welcomed the presidency of Barack Obama. If Obama was for it, the Tea Party was against it. This, along with the purging of sensible Republicans inclined to bargain with Obama, is why the current Republican Party cannot govern. It has abandoned ideas for the sake of purity. When it came to power at long last, the GOP struggled to function.
The reaction to Trump, however, is diverse and multi-generational and cuts across class lines (though I’d guess most candidates are educated, affluent, and white). Yes, they are reacting to the election of the Lecher-in-Chief, but this wave of women is parlaying that reaction into policy outcomes that will remain vital and relevant long after Trump is gone. The same cannot be said of today’s Republican Party.
The reaction is long-lasting and deep. Since last week, activist groups have reported many times the number of usual inquiries from women who want to run for something, anything, even if it’s only as a candidate for city council or the school board. As Franke-Ruta wrote: “The past year has created a substantial population of possible candidates for Democrats to draw from for years to come.”
Let me put this another way for the sake of my premise, which is that some media narratives are more truthful and more helpful than others. This wave of reaction among women voters and candidates is truly grassroots. But that word, “grassroots,” is almost never applied to women. It is almost exclusively reserved for conservatives and leftists. And leftists are almost always associated with Bernie Sanders.
Sanders did shake up the Democratic Party, but the extent to which he did is an open question made more difficult to answer by enduring and mostly false media narratives like this one: “Sanders is the future of the Democratic Party.” I doubted that claim before Donald Trump won the election, because Sanders represents a color-blind socialism, but I doubt it even more now. I’m sure some women are animated by socialism, but I’m equally sure most aren’t. They have their own reasons for running, and those reasons have broad appeal. Socialism doesn’t.
This is the most obvious media narrative journalists can tell about the 2016 election, but it remains a counter-narrative instead of the prevailing narrative, and we must ask ourselves why. If presented with a choice between a tough-talking democratic socialist and a legion of women pushing for real change quietly and profoundly, which do news executives (mostly men) choose to pay more attention to?
The reason is obvious once you think about it.