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When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he said this:

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

People like Dennis Schminke from Austin, Minnesota never forgot the one bolded part of that statement because it has been repeated out of context ad nauseam.

“I was very wary of Barack Obama and he proved me correct on that,” he said over coffee on a summer afternoon. “I despise Barack Obama. I think primarily because I don’t think he thinks very much of people like me. That’s just the long and short of it.”…

Trump’s appeal, he said, was born in part of resentment toward the Obama presidency. “One of the places I would agree with the hard-core Trump people, they’re tired of being treated as the enemy by Barack Obama,” he said. “His comment, the whole thing, it’s been worn out to death, that clinging to God and guns, God and guns and afraid of people who don’t look like them, blah, blah, blah. Just quit talking down to me.”

That quote is from one of the more recent takes on the genre of “what do Trump voters think now,” by Dan Balz. James Hohman summarized the findings of several similar reports.

Three new deep dives into Donald Trump’s strength in Midwestern counties that were previously Democratic strongholds — written by conservatives, liberals and a nonpartisan journalist — each highlight a deep craving for respect among supporters of the president and an enduring resentment toward coastal elites that buoys his popularity.

There is no denying that this is the view expressed by many of the people who voted for Donald Trump. The question becomes what—if anything—Democrats can do about that. Last night, David Roberts took to twitter with a response.

Everything  rural and suburban whites (R&SW) know or hear about Democrats or liberals, they get through a media filter. That mostly means Fox News (et al). And Fox is in the business of crafting a ludicrous, bug-eyed, cartoon-evil caricature of liberals. THAT is what R&SW hear from/about Dems. And it’s not just right-wing media. “Mainstream” media like CNN etc. have adopted pretty much the same caricature. They know that “arrogant liberal mocks salt-of-the-earth diner guy” stories are catchy. They sell. They pop. Everybody knows the caricature already.

There’s a reason Obama spent 8 years reaching out to the other side, begging for cooperation, being scrupulously respectful toward Republican voters … and one, single, off-the-record, wildly-distorted comment is all most R&SW people know about him. That didn’t just happen. It’s the result of RWM & MSM alike peddling the same hackneyed morality tale that country mice have been telling about city mice since there were cities. That impression of Obama, so at odds with the reality, was deliberately & vigorously cultivated…

My point: if the media wants to reinforce a narrative of snooty coastal libs looking down their noses at heartland rubes — and it *very, very much wants to* — there’s no stopping it. There’s no way for every single lib to speak so carefully that nothing can be distorted. And, conversely, it hardly matters at all what Dems decide they want to communicate to S&RW. They can craft empathetic messages until they’re blue in the face — THEY DON’T CONTROL WHAT THOSE PEOPLE HEAR. (Sorry for yelling.)…

Actual liberals exist on cable news almost entirely as phantasms, discussed in absentia by panels consisting of nonpartisan mainstream journos and right-wingers (“balance” in cable news). They — esp the non-white, non-male kind — are rarely allowed to speak for themselves. Anyway. The whole “liberals are smug” thing is dumb, dumb, dumb. It’s been around for centuries & it’s always been dumb. It’s a narrative that requires no actual liberal smugness to perpetuate itself. Some libs are smug; some cons are smug; people are annoying; whatever.

I should remind you that David Roberts is no disrespectful elitist. Early in the 2016 campaign he wrote what I consider to be one of the most thoughtful and empathetic portrayals of Trump supporters. That was long before the current genre became an obsession in the media. He simply knows what I’ve been saying for a long time now: for many conservatives, their view of liberals is a caricature that is at odds with reality because it has been crafted for them by Republicans and right-wing media. As long as they live in that epistemically closed bubble, they will feel disrespected because victimhood has become the rallying cry for what used to be the “party of personal responsibility.” In the meantime, no Democratic messaging to the contrary is likely to break through, which is why authenticity is always the best approach.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.