March 23rd, 2017 // 11:35 am @ Oliver DeMille
Why Did the American People Give Donald Trump the Presidency?
(If you haven’t read Part One of this article, do so here. This installment is a continuation of that article.)
The Big Question
Now that you’ve read Part One of this article, let’s dig deeper into why the American people elected Donald Trump, and what they expect of him in office. Michael Polanyi brings us to bedrock with another key question: What is freedom for? In other words, what is the true purpose of freedom? We can only understand the differences between the masses and elites (or translate between them) if we know how the two groups answer this profound query.
Is freedom for prosperity of the masses? Or the wealth of a few? Is the purpose of freedom to give power to the few? Or power to the masses? Is freedom for the protection of the people from every challenge or difficulty that might arise? Or for protecting the inalienable rights of all? What is freedom for?
Is its purpose the improvement of the world? Answer: Yes. But how?
This is a deep question. One of our most pressing modern challenges is that elites and the masses answer it very differently. In other words, they see the purpose of freedom very differently. The American founding fathers knew this, and they gave the masses the voting power specifically to ensure that the masses won this conflict. They believed—based on history—that if elites ever won the tug-of-war between the elites and masses, freedom would drastically decline.
Elites naturally view the world in one of two ways:
(1) the superiority of the upper classes; or
(2) the superiority of the upper classes combined with the concept of noblesse oblige.
In the first of these, elites see themselves as better than the masses—in other words, they believe that as the more educated, wealthy, and sophisticated group, they know what is best for the rest of the nation. Some elites add to this the view of noblesse oblige, meaning that they feel they have a responsibility to take care of, protect, guide, and help provide for the rest of the people—those they consider their inferiors in this world.
Thus Elite Group 1 believes that the purpose of freedom is to allow the fittest to thrive, the richest to get richer, the more powerful to exert their will on the world. In contrast, Elite Group 2 sees the purpose of freedom as the powerful and wealthy taking care of the rest of us, making sure we treat each other well, ensuring that the poor are financially supported by the middle class. Group 1 could hardly care less what the masses do, they are instead focused on getting more power and wealth for themselves. Group 2 are the opposite: like helicopter parents, they want to exert power in every aspect of our lives, using the authority of government to ensure that they are taking good care of us in ways they “know” we need—ways they believe we are too ignorant or confused to take care of ourselves.
The masses are also split into two major groups: (A) the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren wing of the masses, who are against Elite Group 1 but seek the support and leadership of Elite Group 2. (B) The other wing of the masses, most of whom supported Donald Trump in the last election, are adamantly against both Elite Groups.
This is the biggest divide in modern American politics and society. Note that the mainstream media is overwhelmingly in support of Elite Group 2. They sincerely believe they know what is best for the masses, and they consider any other view unenlightened, lacking, even dangerous.
The irony purported by such elites is palpable. For example, as recently pointed out by various commentators, on the one hand they decry a wall on the southern border as “racist,” “non-inclusive,” and “uncaring”, while on the other hand many of these same people live in restricted, elite, gated communities. They aren’t against walls per se. Indeed they surround themselves with walls—to keep out the unwanted from their homes and yards.
Likewise, many of those who adamantly call for increased gun control and restrictions on firearms are personally surrounded by well-armed bodyguards, and their estates and homes have the latest security measures and teams of gun-wielding security teams.
Another example: some rail on anyone who supports school choice or wants regular people to be able to send their kids to private schools, as if public school is the only good choice, and then they send their own children to prestigious private schools or hire expensive personal tutors. Apparently private school is great for them, but not for regular Americans. There are many other examples of such hypocrisy in Elite Group 2.
Keys and Locks
In all this, many elites seem to sincerely believe that while they, with all their “superiority” and “entitlement”, deserve such protection (walls, private school, and guns galore), the regular people are racist and intolerant to seek the same thing. Do they actually believe that because of their wealth and status they deserve the special tax breaks and tax shelters they use each year, while the regular people are required to just ante up and pay their full share? Really? This is precisely the attitude and aristocratic smugness the framers wanted to avoid when they refused to let elites choose our elected officials.
Again, the specific reason the American Framers gave the voting power to the masses is to give them power over the elites. This is exactly what elites find most objectionable about the Constitution, the main reason they want to use Supreme Court decisions and treaties (both of which thrive on the kind of fine print that most of the masses never read) and any other means they can discover to change and circumvent the Constitution.
Note also that in modern times large majority of experts—in various fields—have joined the elite classes, both in term of attitudes and values. More national mainstream media experts have become elites than perhaps any other field.
What They Want
But back to the key question: What is freedom for? To elites, the purpose of freedom is almost universally to increase their station. For the masses, in contrast, it is to pursue their happiness—in whatever ways they choose. Once again, these two groups are opposed. To increase their station, elites need the masses to remain below them on the socio-economic scale. To pursue happiness, the masses need the freedom to reach whatever status they seek. Some care about status, others don’t, but the freedom to pursue it, and whatever else they want (as long as they don’t violate the inalienable rights of others) is closely governed by elites in our world. To this end elites have erected numerous systems (including the rules of education, career, promotion, investing, starting businesses, the courts, etc.) that make it easier for their own offspring to attain status, and more difficult for the masses and their children to do the same.
All of this has a direct influence on what the American people now expect of President Trump. The elite classes want him to tack back to the center, meaning they want him to moderate his attacks on things the elites cherish (such as the mainstream media, bigger and bigger government, and national reliance on experts in every walk of life), to talk and act more like elites (they call this “appropriate”, “decorum”, or “presidential”). They want him to get little done in actual policy, to blame Congress or K Street for not really accomplishing what he promised during the election. To be clear, the more the Trump Administration delivers what it promised, the more the power of elites is dismantled. Whether you personally like or dislike president Trump, know this: Elites don’t want to be diminished, so they’ll fight Trump at every turn—and in whatever ways they think might work.
Those who elected Trump—not just his adamant supporters but many others who voted for him, or anyone else besides Hillary Clinton, because they saw a Hillary presidency as true disaster—want him to take on our biggest current national problem: too much elite influence in our society. Elites now control most media, most of academia, most of our leading cultural institutions (e.g. Hollywood, television, pop music, etc.), most government agencies, and a lot of finance and business. The power of elites in the federal government has become stifling, and threatens our Constitutional way of life. Moreover, as we’ve already discussed, they use their power to rig the systems of education, career, investment, etc. in ways that benefit their own children and increase the difficulties of the masses and their children trying to live the American Dream. More and more people now realize, or at least suspect, that the system is rigged against them.
The voters want Trump to reduce elite power over government and give it back to the people. Or, failing this, to at the very least reduce elite power over government. To do something that effectively gets rid of the rigged system. If he does this, the elite media will become even more extreme and increasingly vicious in its attempts to stop him.
Note that the elite classes argue for something similar. They want to use American institutions to equalize the American masses with regular people all around the world. This would leave them—the elites—in charge, but put all the masses of the globe on the same footing.
Few Americans who understand this situation support this elite agenda. Trump at least says that he’s trying to put regular Americans on the same footing as elites, not put them on the same footing as the masses around the world—with the elites in charge of us all. This is the great battle.
The media, or course, as a key arm of elites, doesn’t clearly tell the American people that this is occurring. But it is, and it presents a clear and present danger to our society.
The elite classes, including mainstream media, operate using what Polanyi called “the chisel of skepticism driven by the hammer of social passion.” This is a powerful way to see elite and media actions for what they really are. The social passion they cherish is that elites must take care of the rest of us, that they know better than the rest of us, that they—as our superiors—have the training, wisdom, status and wealth to do what we really need, and as their inferiors we should be happy to follow their lead and grateful that they care for us and are guiding us along.
Anyone who sees this kind of smug arrogance for what it really is (…smug arrogance…) is immediately branded “angry” and “ignorant”. Those who persist on this path can expect to be called bigoted, racist, narrow-minded, and eventually evil. This is the social passion of today’s elites, including much of the elite media.
But note: The way elites implement this is to use as much skepticism as possible. Skepticism is often confused with objectivity or journalistic fairness, so even a mainstream media that has long since lost much of its objectivity is able to appear removed and analytical simply by remaining deeply skeptical. This is, in fact, how many in the media are trained. They ask tough questions, but with a skeptical tone, and respond to the answers with even more skepticism. To their audience, this frequently appears to be good journalism.
But those reporting the news get to choose what questions to ask anyone they interview, and as long as they retain a skeptical tone, many listeners don’t realize that people who agree with the reporters are asked easier questions while those with a differing view are asked questions designed to entrap or frustrate. A nod or frown allows media members to sway the audience, yet media skepticism convinces many listeners that the media is treating everyone the same. The same skeptical tone frequently masks the art of spin, even deception. Note also that even media anger sells well as long as it comes in the tone of skepticism.
Skeptical tone allows the mainstream media to continually claim that their focus is truth and justice. Fairness and objectivity, they claim, are their driving purpose. But their definitions of fairness, objectivity, and justice are skewed. The old American Founding view of freedom (to do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t take away the inalienable rights of anyone else) is minimized by the ploy of skepticism. The new definition is to just quit thinking and instead follow the lead of our “betters”—the elite and their paid staffers (most of the experts).
Plans and Purposes
Despite all this, in the last election a majority of people in a majority of states saw through media spin and supported the candidate they considered most likely to oppose and decrease elite power—either Bernie or Trump. And here is the deep reality: if the Trump era boasts a major economic upturn, bringing more financial power to the masses, he will likely maintain such support. If not, it will dwindle or crash. The American masses want reduced power of elites, but they measure this largely in terms of increased economic power in their own personal lives.
These two things, above all, are what his supporters expect from a Trump presidency—or anyone they lift to office: (1) a reduction of elite power, and (2) increased economic well-being for the masses.
There is a third desire, and a fourth. As Polanyi put it: “The ideal of a free society is in the first place to be a good society.” Once again, elites and the masses define this very differently. Elites see good society as one that follows their ideas of what is good, including letting them (as superiors) rule, and letting them redistribute wealth as they see fit (meaning from the middle class to the lower classes, but leaving elite wealth largely—and conveniently—in the hands of themselves).
The masses, in contrast, see good society as one where they (the masses) rule, so they can keep elites from dominating, a society that benefits everyone and maintains freedom and true opportunity for all. Indeed, throughout history elites have used their rule to keep the masses from wealth and power. The masses see good society as one where people, communities, and groups voluntarily (not by forced government) take care of others and help those in need. The masses also believe that a good society gives them the opportunity to pursue improvement—personal or economic—as they will, as long they don’t violate the rights of others.
When the masses rule, through election that puts in leaders who do what they promised, and the people take care of others and love others voluntarily, and each individual has the freedom to pursue his or her goals without government or class hurdles, the masses see this as freedom. They also see it as good society.
If elites have too much power, the government intervenes in too many things, or the government or elites block our moral pursuit of improvement and advancement (using regulations and requirements, all of which are designed to benefit the elite classes), the masses see this as a loss of freedom and less-than-good society. This, by the way, is where the majority of people in the majority of states see our nation today.
Finally, the masses want safety. They want national security to be effective and consistent. They don’t want to wonder about who our allies and enemies are, or feel confused about the gap between the White House’s words and its actions regarding national security.
Answers Through Asking
Note that on this topic, the flyover states (and back-road locales that have more electoral college votes than liberals want them to) have also provided more than their share of the military personnel for the nation. When soldiers serve and pay the ultimate price for our freedoms, these flyover parts of the nation and their families provide much of the giving and suffering.
Such people are willing to die, or let family members die, to keep our nation free. Again, the framers knew what they were doing when they established the electoral college—keeping these people relevant in electing the commander in chief.
Contrast this to what the elites seek: to maintain and increase elite power and wealth, and to patronizingly take care of the rest of us. The framers got it right. They gave the masses—not in sheer numbers, but a majority of people in the majority of states through the electoral college—the final election power. They did this on purpose. They did it to keep elites—any group of elites—from getting too much power. This is what elections are for! This is precisely what “democracy” requires. Any arrangement that doesn’t put the regular people in charge of elections is some brand of aristocracy or other elite rule.
The Real Question
What then, can be done between elections to give more power to the masses, less to elites? The answer to this question brings up difficult and disturbing realities. Let’s put this in very simple terms:
- Are our most important institutions in society supporting the increase of elite power or the increase of power to the people?
- Specifically: Are we teaching (schools), raising (families), inspiring (parents, churches, entertainment, media), and training the next generation to be independent and wise thinkers (power to the people), or rather to focus on the twin goals of (1) fitting into the system, and (2) getting ahead in the system (more power to elites)?
- Are we teaching, raising, inspiring, and training them to question and improve the world (more power to the people), or simply to accept the world as it is and try to rise in status and promotion within it (more power to elites)?
- Do we mostly pass on the values elites want the masses to hold: seeking status and prestige (as doled out by elites), the government as the answer to most problems, the main life goal of being an employee, risk avoidance, trying to impress our “superiors”, and “this is just the way the world is”?
- Or do we effectively pass on the values of the American framers and modern freedom: service, independent thinking, moral purpose, “your mission in life is the key to your career”, entrepreneurialism, acquisitiveness, innovation, ingenuity, tenacity, and personal sacrifice for God, family and country?
- Do we most vigorously promote institutions (power to the elites), or principles of truth (power to the people)?
- Do we believe mostly in experts (power to elites) or the common sense of the people (power to the people)?
- Do we trust the mainstream media (power to elites), or do we generally distrust the media—just like the American founders did (power to the people)?
This entire question can be summed up by how we educate:
- Do we educate our young surrounded by the system established by elites for the education of the masses, focused on textbooks, reliance on experts, grades (designed to sort the masses based on their potential usefulness to elites), lectures, grade levels, pressure to fit in and conform both socially and intellectually, and controlled by bureaucracies?Is our educational emphasis mainly what Toffler called the real curriculum of most modern schools: rote memorization, training rather than education, obedience to superiors, and being on time to work?
Let’s be clear. This is a system designed to increase the power of elites. (However, ironically, almost none of the elite class educate their own children this way.)
- Or do we choose the kind of education that has always created nations and generations of leaders, using great books, great ideas, original sources, focus on principles, individual mentors, personalized learning, and lots of discussion and depth? Is our goal to educate young adults who are deep thinking, independent minded, creative, innovative, entrepreneurial, and effective leaders in their chosen work and lives? This is what brings power to the people—those who get such an education.
Indeed, this is the very type of education the elite classes provide for their own children.
What do we want for our future?
On the one hand:
Rote education for the masses, and at the same time quality Leadership education for the children of elites?
Or, on the other hand:
Leadership education for all?
This is the true dividing point.
This is our fork in the road for America today.
Which path will we choose? This choice is the deeper reality than what goes on in elections, or in Washington.
This is also the pivotal question of our individual power—are we using it to build the rule of elites, or the rule of the people? The reason elites have repeatedly won this battle throughout most of history is simple: they convinced many of the masses to join them, to focus not on making a better system for all, but rather to focus on trying to seek promotion and status in the education-career-governmental system set up of elites, by elites, and for elites.
Which side are you building and strengthening each day?
Regardless of how you feel about the last presidential election or the current administration, this is the great question of our time. It is vitally important right now, today, because how we answer this question will determine the future for our families and our nation.
February 27th, 2017 // 7:44 am @ Oliver DeMille
(The Reality of Today’s Political Protestors)
Thought vs. Feeling
No doubt about it. Symbols matter. The flag. The national anthem. Stories about great heroes from history, such as Paul Revere or George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr. In short, symbols move us. They take on a life of their own—above the historical facts, more important to peoples’ hearts and minds than mere reality. “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story,” as Samuel Clemens put it.
Symbol has power. But not as much power as truth. The simple, genuine truth is even more formidable than symbol. Not always as influential, or persuasive, in the short term—but more important. Compare two views of the world:
Symbol over Substance: “Perception is reality.”
Substance over Symbol: “The truth shall set you free.”
The truth is that perception isn’t reality; reality is reality. Period. But perception, or symbol, does have great power. That’s why the arts are often more influential than science or logic: symbols make us feel, and feel deeply, and when our feelings are at high pitch our minds usually follow.
When politics is added to this mix, the results are interesting. Or, in more symbolic language: when our emotions take over politics, everything becomes larger than life–even overwhelming. The feelings are strong, tied to deeply emotional symbols: the White House, the media, election night agony or ecstasy. As a child I was always surprised at how much emotion adults exhibited when the names Nixon or Carter were mentioned. Immediate anger, or sadness, or a smile. Then came the name Ronald Reagan—a certain cause of sudden frowns or grins, depending on whom I was talking to at the time.
I wonder at today’s children. Say “Barack Obama” to them, or “Hillary Clinton,” and the immediate response is extreme. Happy or sad. Smiles or anger. Hardly ever anything in between. Say “Donald Trump” to our youth, and adults, and the response is pretty much never boring or uninterested. Anger, yes. Joy, yes. Sometimes mixed emotions. But seldom lukewarm.
Look Both Ways
But substance still matters. It is, in fact, vitally important. If we limit our understanding of politics to symbol, we’ve got a major national problem. Jon Stewart pointed this out very effectively when he noted that while many of his friends voted for Hillary Clinton, those who alternatively voted for Donald Trump didn’t do so because they support racism or calling people names, but because they tended to believe he’d be better for the economy.
In short, every top political figure is really two people: the symbol and the substance. To understand both is mature. To ignore both, thinking that the political leader is really only the symbol, or only the substance, is inaccurate and short-sighted.
The old adages “Focus on the issues” or “It’s the economy, stupid,” suggest that substance is king, that ultimately the voters choose based on the issues. But daily media spin and the words of celebrities, singers, actors (Oscars, Grammys, Music Awards, Hollywood, etc.) emphasize the other view—that symbolism is the real battle. One popular song says that we don’t want science, we want signs.
In the Information Age, the symbols frequently consume us. Wise citizens see through media spin that paints a leader as all symbol. But such citizens aren’t so fully swayed by substance that they think symbol doesn’t matter.
This is complex. It’s difficult for wise citizens, because they must weigh both the symbol and the substance of each political candidate, and decide which mix is best for the nation.
The two big political parties make it even more difficult, by constantly trying to put symbol above substance, trying to convince voters that their party is best and their candidate best—regardless of the details or the optics, how things really are, or how things look. “Just vote for us” the parties assure us. “We’re right; the other side is wrong. Always.”
Again, astute citizens see through the smokescreen. They identify each candidate’s substance, and symbols, and make the difficult choice. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had more candidates who were strong both on issues and symbols?
For some, President Obama met that standard. The symbols were strong: first black president in the United States. Wonderful! The American Dream is real, the symbol of Obama assures us. For those who like weaker national security, supporting Israel’s enemies, more government intervention in the economy, and further regulating peoples’ lives, Obama made sense. But for people who wanted to reduce governmental regulation and get the economy booming, while strengthening our national security, Obama’s tenure left much to be desired.
Neither McCain nor Romney offered something clearly different. The overwhelming symbol of both was “more of the same,” “a repeat of the status quo,” “a continuation of the Bush Administration.” Both candidates actually offered significant differences in their policies—but the symbol most voters experienced was still “the same old thing.”
Hillary had a similar problem. Her policies and symbols offered voters “more years like the Obama era.” For many Americans, particularly among those who were hurting economically, the idea of more Hillary/Obama policies was appalling. They wanted something drastically different. They yearned for change. In fact, it is very possible that if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, with his powerful symbols of change, he would have won the White House.
This is the complexity of voting. Sanders and Trump both owned the symbol of “massive change”, while by 2016 the leading Hillary/Obama symbol was “no change, bad economy.” For some, Hillary symbolized “first woman president,” but the larger public view for many was “more of the same”. She found this symbol too deeply ingrained in the populace to overcome.
In other words, voters don’t just have to choose who to vote for in presidential elections, they also need to choose their personal voting criteria: for specific policies, or for the symbols. It can be even more challenging than this, in fact. Voters also have to choose between every candidate’s good and bad symbols, and good and bad policy promises.
For example, Trump lost a lot of votes because he too often symbolized “acting like a jerk, attacking people who disagree with him, being insensitive to women, minorities, the disabled, etc.” But he gained votes with citizens who believed he symbolized “truly big change in Washington” or who focused on the issues of “booming economy and stronger national security.” Many voters hated the first set of symbols, but liked the second.
In earlier elections, Obama supporters had to choose between the motivating symbols of “yes we can” or “breaking the glass ceiling of race” and the divisive symbols of “Americans cling to their religion and their guns,” as if personal faith and individual freedoms are somehow suspect. This lost him votes, but it gained him votes as well. No candidate’s take on the issues is perfect for a majority of voters.
Hamilton and Madison started the Federalist Papers with a discussion of this same reality. Specifically, Federalist 1 notes that a number of wise and good people opposed the new constitution, while a lot of wise and good people supported it. With any important issue, Hamilton assures us, there are wise and good people on both sides. How can this be? The answer, Hamilton explains, is that only bad people do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, but good people act in three ways:
- good people sometimes do the right thing for the right reason
- good people sometimes do the right thing for the wrong reason
- good people sometimes do the wrong thing for the right reason
In other words, in our day not everyone who voted for Hillary wanted the economy to get even worse or for public officials to be lax with national security emails, and not everyone who voted for Trump looks down on women and minorities or hates immigrants. The symbols and the substance aren’t in lock step. This makes attacking someone who wears a Trump hat or openly supports Hillary, for example, particularly disgusting kinds of physical abuse.
Indeed, while supporters of Hillary often downplay her use of emails as much less important than the media suggested, or note that her views on national security and trade were actually much stronger than Obama’s, even though the media refused to effectively show it, and Trump supporters will point out that he’s spoken widely of wanting more legal immigration (going against the Republican norm), symbols once ingrained in the public mind are hard to overcome. The reality is usually far deeper and more complex than the symbol.
Response and Responsibility
The truth is important: the symbols and the substance aren’t the same. The way the press portrayed Senator Clinton is only partially true, full of spin and falsehoods; same with President Trump. The reality has layers and levels. Wise citizens need to look deeper than party, media, and popular spin.
All this makes the violent protests of the Left even more ridiculous. Many on the Right hated President Obama’s policies and his perceived symbol of “bigger and bigger government” every bit as much as many on the Left now hate Trump’s approach. But instead of breaking windows, starting fires, looting, and violently assaulting those with a different view of things, they focused on working hard in their jobs, raising families, and serving in their communities.
They suffered under a president whose policies and perceived arrogance they deeply disliked, and with every Obama increase in regulation that made the Bush-era economy even worse. But they accepted the votes of those with a different view who put President Obama in office. They didn’t mob together to destroy property or physically assault people. Even the Tea Parties, as vocal as they were, didn’t make a national trend of out looting, burning, and assaulting. They focused instead of sharing ideas, seeking for a more favorable election outcome in the future.
Those on the Left who have chosen violence to protest the new president are entirely out of line. There violent acts are, in fact, illegal and immoral. Both the symbols and the substance of violent protest are wrong. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. stood loudly and effectively for peaceful protest, and left a powerful and noble legacy of standing up for change, for what they believed in, for what is right—the right way.
James Madison considered every election a “peaceful revolution”. There are ways to disagree in a civil society. Violence isn’t one of them.
In fact, the worst negative symbol of the Trump era is calling names and acting like a jerk to people who disagree with you. It’s often offensive, and sometimes extreme. Note that some of the talking heads on MSNBC and other networks have done the same thing for a long time. Still, two wrongs don’t make a right; both sides are to blame when they overstep the bounds of civil discourse.
But as bad as this is, at least it is done with words. The physical violence of those on the contemporary Left who loot and destroy in the name of political anger is a true tyranny in our time, a literal fascism in our midst—and the media who encourage this by portraying it as noble, or somehow blame it on the president or anyone else, or who refuse to condemn it in the strongest terms because the looters agree with their politics, are just as bad. This is precisely the wrong kind of symbol—and substance.
January 26th, 2017 // 7:59 am @ Oliver DeMille
(How Bias in Media is Getting Even Worse, and What To Do About It)
The U.S. media hasn’t been so blatantly biased since the days of the muckrakers. For decades many Americans have known that the mainstream media has a liberal lean. It treated Bush I, Bush II, McCain and Romney differently (worse) than progressives like Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Hillary, and Obama. But in the Trump era the media has gone all in: it has largely lost its sense of objectivism or balance.
This isn’t limited to a few channels or outlets. Nearly every news organization that once claimed journalistic objectivism is clearly one-sided. Journalism is dead, for all practical purposes, as some political watchers have suggested.
Consider TIME magazine’s handling of its famous Person of the Year. In 2015 it refused to put Trump on the cover, even though by the end of that year he had clearly turned American politics on its head (for good or ill, depending on your viewpoint). When the magazine did choose Trump as the 2016 person of the year—even TIME couldn’t deny the surprising revolution he presided over—it did so in backhanded fashion. The cover announced: 2016 Person of the Year, Donald Trump, President of the Divided States of America.
Note the word “divided” in the last sentence.
This kind of bias is now the norm. Not that our nation isn’t divided. It clearly is, and no doubt Trump would gladly own responsibility for that in 2017. But it was deeply divided in the Obama era as well. Why would objective media attribute such divisions to Trump but not Obama? Indeed, this level of divisiveness is perhaps the major lasting feature of President Obama’s legacy. Much of the media simply ignored how many people were deeply alienated by Obama’s politics. Top media outlets literally fawned over Obama, and his heir-apparent, Hillary Clinton, during the past several years. It lauded them, praised them, discounted and downplayed failures—as if such things didn’t matter in the presence of such glowing leaders.
A commentary in The Atlantic noted that Trump voters tended to take his words seriously but not literally, while Hillary supporters took Trump’s words literally but not seriously. But progressives applied the same standard to Obama: they took him seriously but not literally, quickly dismissing broken promises about Syria, Guantanamo, keeping one’s healthcare provider, the cost of insurance going down, etc. They excoriate Trump on the details of his promises, while giving Obama a pass on a long string of failed promises.
Extremism in media is now the fashion. Extreme flattery of Obama and Clinton coupled with extreme vilification of Trump and anyone who voted for him. Even if you dislike Trump’s approach or politics, this development in our national media is alarming.
Moreover, we seem to be entering a new era of media behavior. During the Bush years the mainstream media was clearly liberal, but conservatives, centrists and even progressives could find some balance in media coverage by reading and watching both sides of the media: The New York Times and also The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC and also Fox, The Atlantic and also The Weekly Standard, The Huffington Post and also National Review.
For every mainstream liberal media outlet there were comparable conservative publications and networks. This is no longer the case. Conservative news is still available, but much of Fox is anti-Trump, and many traditionally conservative media outlets publish articles that read like The NY Times or Huffington Post in their attacks on Trump and his embryonic administration.
The reason for this is obvious. Many on the Right distrust Trump, considering him an authoritarian at best (which may or may not turn out to be true), and the old balance of Right versus Left is almost entirely gone in the media landscape. Where are the publications or channels that support the administration’s platform, viewpoint and interests? They are practically nonexistent.
Regardless of how you feel about Trump as president, this is a dangerous development. Americans have long decried Soviet-style media in nations where the government controlled journalistic outlets and the people only got one side of the story—the official line as approved by the dominating state. In the United States we are witnessing the rise of the opposite extreme: a one-sided media that only tells the American people one story: zealous anti-Trump rhetoric. The media that blasts Trump for his bombast also frequently surpasses him in pomposity (toward Obama and Clinton) and arrogant anger (toward Trump and Trump voters). They spin and inflate (and quite simply misreport) policies, utterances and choices he makes, without clarification or retraction.
Again, this is alarming, even if you dislike Trump. A one-sided media simply cannot be objective, and to aggressively set out shape public opinion in such a fashion is a reprehensible tact for a sector of society that has traditionally been a watchdog of democracy. If this continues, we won’t be getting the full story, or the real story, in the years ahead. And we won’t be able to balance mainstream views with strong media reporting from the other side—because pretty much no media anywhere cares about truthfully communicating both sides. Nearly the entire industry is committed to either passionately attacking the new administration, or misrepresenting its loyal opposition.
On a deeper societal level, part of this growing media problem is couched in the national antipathy toward the so-called experts. Our economy has become so specialized in many sectors that people are increasingly expected to rely on experts for major decisions in their lives (educational, financial, parental, healthcare, etc.), often without even seriously questioning the “accepted expert wisdom” or making their own choices. For the Establishment, Trump voters represent the opposite of this trend.
For example, a political cartoon from The New Yorker showed a middle-aged man, balding and portly, standing up in the aisle of an airplane and announcing to the passengers: “These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?”
At first blush, few of us want some regular guy from our next flight to use democracy to take over the cockpit. But the cartoon hits an even deeper chord. While it is apparently meant to criticize many American voters, it actually does a lot to point out flaws in the expert-dependent Establishment.
First, nearly all passengers shown in the cartoon are raising their hands. Democracy is strongly against the expert-dependent Establishment right now. Most people are skeptical of experts, seeking a second or even third opinion even in arenas where expertise is most sacred.
Second, the word “smug” in the cartoon is poignant. Only smug experts would believe such a political cartoon would make their point; the truth is that most voters, unlike most airline passengers, aren’t seeking a political expert in the White House. They specifically prefer a non-expert, a non-politician. The Establishment can’t quite grasp why anyone would hold this view. They really are out of touch.
These people want a wise and effective leader, not a bureaucratic manager. They want a visionary and strong commander-in-chief, not another smug political specialist. (There is an excellent commentary on the same cartoon in USA Today, January 6, 2017.) Voters want an outsider. They want someone who doesn’t actually like the bureaucracy and the lobbyists. Most of the media realizes this on a logical level, but just can’t bring themselves to believe it in their gut. Mainstream media wants government by experts. A lot of voters don’t.
Of course there is an important place for expertise in society. But clearly elections should be up to the people, all the people across the U.S. – not just the population-dense regions on the right and left coasts. Our era of over-reliance on professional political experts and bureaucratic dominance has caused a lot of problems. Concerning journalism, we want experts in telling us the truth and letting us make our own decisions, not experts of spin who sway the populace to a certain political view—whatever it is. Unfortunately, for decades many in the media have been telling us that their opinion is the truth—to trust them—to follow them—because they know what is best for us. The people are calling their bluff.
At the highest level, the Establishment acts on the assumption that experts determine elections. For example, most elites are convinced that expert choices, not voters, really swayed the latest election, and other elections as well. This is broadcast in various ways, including the following Establishment beliefs:
- Obama’s social media gurus and ground game won 2008 and 2012, while Jared Krushner’s Silicon Valley-style analytics and online campaign won 2016 for Trump.
- Russian hackers were responsible for election outcomes, since clearly the American people wouldn’t have voted this way without some kind of sinister expert intervention.
- Media sway makes the biggest difference in presidential elections, and the mainstream media was clearly anti-Trump; therefore, Fox and talk radio are responsible for the “skewed” results on election night.
In reality, voters gather information in many ways, consider their options, and then select whom they want to lead (or vote against the candidate they least want to be in charge). It is ironic that the Establishment lauds democracy at every turn, but doesn’t actually believe in it. The Establishment believes, rather, that experts ultimately determine votes, one way or the other. And that they should.
Again, this arrogance is only expanding in the current media environment. I expect it to widen and deepen in the months and years ahead.
In all this, what are freedom-loving citizens to do? What about those who sincerely want to get both sides of the news and really compare what the White House is doing and thinking to what the mainstream media is reporting? Answer: such citizens are largely out of luck. They aren’t getting much help from institutional media.
They can try reading The Economist, which is certainly not a pro-Trump or even remotely conservative publication but is at least European and not quite so caught up in the anti-Trump venom of the American national media. This is a good option for some readers. Or they can read the business news, like Fortune and Forbes, for example, which focuses on commerce and addresses the news only tangentially—and with less extremism. Again, some readers can use this kind of sidebar-journalism to get a more objective read on the new.
But it’s hardly a solution. The real answer is for the media to self-regulate and deliver objective, quality journalism. Until this happens—if it ever does—citizens who want to know what is really happening are going to need to find quality sources of knowledge. Most sources of this kind will come not from big media outlets, but rather from deep thinkers who share important views online.
Find writers and thinkers—instead of relying on publications or channels—that spark your thinking and help you see things differently than the major media retailers and showrooms. Since the big media isn’t doing its job anymore, it’s up to us as individuals to more actively seek out ideas and knowledge.
The silver lining in this new era of media is real. In the current news environment, it is up to each of us to dig deeper and think more independently if we want to see through media spin and really keep an eye on the news. The mainstream media is taking much of the nation on a pied-piper-style spin, and only the vigilant will actually know what’s really going on in current events.
(Consider taking our Current Events Course, which helps participants learn to more effectively see through the media, whatever its agenda, and know what’s really happening. Once you’ve completed this course, try getting your news by reading a major publication from both sides of the aisle, such as The Atlantic and also The Wall Street Journal, and then adding one or more of the sources listed above to get a more objective view of things. We all need to read more closely in this new era of media, and keep our thinking caps on no matter what we’re reading.)
January 23rd, 2017 // 1:55 pm @ Oliver DeMille
(What it Means for the Future of America)
First of all, the very idea that each president must aim to leave a lasting legacy of some sort is wrong-minded. Some of the best presidents in history did little except what they were elected to do: keep the nation safe, follow the Constitution, and stop other branches of government from intervening in the economy.
This is precisely what they should do. For example, presidents Madison, Harding and Coolidge are seldom given props for their legacies—but they were better presidents (using the Constitution as a measuring stick) than many others who used their time in office to “do more”, and in the process went beyond the Constitution and reduced American freedoms.
At its root the concept of legacy as a vital part of the presidency comes from the Establishmentarian desire to have a king. Establishment media, political parties, and many professional politicos want the pomp and circumstance of looking up to “royalty,” and the perks that come with close connections to those who hold executive power.
Jefferson once chided John Adams for this same tendency. In the Jeffersonian spirit, the president should…well, we already said it: keep the nation safe, follow the Constitution, and stop other branches of government from messing up the economy with too much regulation and/or bureaucratic intervention. This bears repeating over and over in our generation—until we get it.
In fact, this is the opposite of Obama’s legacy, which could be summed up as: “The more government intervention in the economy and people’s lives, the better.”
But let’s put aside the battle over ideals for a moment and focus on the practical side of governing.
Obama established at least four major precedents that could be a serious problem for Americans—depending on how Trump and future presidents apply them. These include the following presidential disasters:
1. Do what you want unilaterally, using executive orders, instead of doing the hard work to lead and persuade Congress to work with you—as required in the Constitution. Just dictate things from the Oval Office.
2. Use the “nuclear option” to get things through Congress (the Barack Obama and Harry Reid approach of forcing things with a majority vote instead of sixty Senators). One more check and balance gone.
3. Doggedly ignore the views of people and groups who didn’t vote for you. Act like your supporters are the only Americans who matter, and like those who didn’t support you are sub-par citizens whose concerns aren’t important. Treat opponents as enemies (and idiots), not the loyal opposition whose voices carry some important truths. President Obama was a master at this approach.
4. After you’ve been voted out of office, before the next president is inaugurated, reject two centuries of precedence and don’t try to make things smooth for the incoming president—instead, do everything you can in your last two months of office to establish policies and take actions that make it more difficult for the next president to implement the agenda voters selected during the campaign. Simply assume you know better than the people.
This is the Obama legacy. If Trump adopts it (any of it, for that matter) he’ll do much harm to our nation. We can only hope that the Trump Administration will take a better approach to leadership. Note that he can use executive orders and push the “nuclear option” in the Senate to undo Obama overreaches without using these tactics to engage any additional policies that unwisely expand executive power.
Rise or Fall
I have friends who believe he’ll do exactly that, and others who think he’ll use these negative Obama precedents early and often. If he does the latter, such behaviors will become forever part of the executive branch and the Obama-Trump legacy will further damage our society.
Historically, few presidents choose to exert less power than their predecessors. Jefferson and Madison did, and Jackson. As mentioned, both Harding and Coolidge did the same. Washington is a special case, because he had no predecessor. He belongs on the list of those who did it right, because he chose to exert less power than he was offered.
Other U.S. presidents built on the power they inherited and tried to expand it. That’s a dangerous pattern, one we need to reverse. It remains to be seen what president Trump will do.
Ironically, in all of this, the Obama legacy is a devil on Trump’s shoulder. We can only hope that better angels prevail in the next four years.
January 6th, 2017 // 5:44 am @ Oliver DeMille
The New Reality
The election is over, and the new Trump Administration has a problem. In fact, it’s a major problem. To begin with, governing is a whole different thing than running for office. And “draining the swamp of Washington” while also governing the nation is more than doubly difficult.
But the problem goes deeper. The very things that brought a Trump victory at the ballot boxes can be a serious liability in the White House.
Here’s why: Trump won in large part because he mastered the new media—something the Clinton team mocked and laughed at (until their shocked experience on election night).
In fairness, as Democratic strategist Van Jones pointed out, past media revolutions brought similar results. FDR used the radio to put together multiple winning elections, while opponents tried to stick with the old newspaper approach to media. Years later, Republicans were surprised by the rise of television media and how effectively JFK used it to create broad national popularity.
Another few decades, and the rise of Internet media changed the way presidential campaigns worked. While McCain and then Romney attempted to do things the old way, Obama and his team mastered social media and dominated two very effective campaigns.
Note that in all these cases, Democrats adapted to changing media realities while Republicans remained stuck in the old way. This changed in 2015-2016. As Jones put it, Trump tapped into a new media model—a nation of viewers steeped in Reality Television.
Neighbor or Villain
In this new medium, candidates win by emulating what winning participants do on reality TV. The quickest way to the stay on the show, week after week, is to jump in as the villain during week one. Say outrageous things, stir the pot, get a bunch of Americans hating you, boost the ratings, and do it every week. In fact, if you ever lose the focus of the camera, say more outrageous things. Survivor, The Bachelor, The Amazing Race, The Apprentice, even Duck Dynasty, Real Wives, Jersey Shore, etc.—this formula is effective.
The quickest way to lose in this format is simple: try to fit in, attempt to be popular, don’t make waves. Even worse: try to impress people. Today’s generation of Americans increasingly see this as acting like a politician. It feels slick and glib, a la Bill Clinton, Bush, Romney, Rubio, etc. Saying whatever you think the voters (or other contestants) will like is the sure road to losing. In contrast, in this new Reality Television media system, being the villain, saying outrageous things, and picking repeated fights, frequently brings victory.
This media shift shocked the Obama and Clinton machines in 2016, despite the fact that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump had been proving the opposite for many months. But now the election is over, and a new reality is setting in.
It’s almost impossible to predict what this will mean in the years ahead. In the last three major media shifts, the new media worked both during the campaign and after. FDR used radio to his benefit during elections and even more while governing. Presidents did the same with television when it took over the media world. Online media kept Obama’s popularity high, and even helped boost his ratings on numerous occasions during the years between elections.
The question now is whether the newest media system, the Reality Television model of “Be the Outrageous Villain and Keep Doing It, Week after Week,” will work for the next four years. Think about it. This is a big deal.
Breaking or Building
Clearly the liberal mainstream media (led by NBC, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, ABC, CNN, etc.) are an unwitting asset; they have shown they are willing to keep supporting Trump in this approach. They want to tear him down in any way they can, and as long as so many Americans distrust the media, this turns to his advantage.
If Trump wants to maintain this strategy in the months and years ahead, he’ll routinely support major reforms that drastically change Washington, he’ll pick a continuous series of fights with special interests and federal bureaucracies, and he’ll vilify someone new every few weeks.
In all this, he’ll usually blame the media. In fact, he’ll look for as many ways as possible to fault the media. The more the better. He’ll tweet, call names, use bombast, and overstate things, all in the name of stirring the pot and keeping the media focus on him and his policies.
The media will think it’s tearing him down, but if this strategy works he’ll be more popular than ever when the next election comes. If you think the mainstream media was shocked in the 2016 election, imagine how they’ll feel after attacking Trump for four years and seeing his electoral numbers increase in 2020. They’ll be positively apoplectic.
But here’s the rub. What a lot of people don’t want to hear is that this kind of bombastic, extreme tone is a lot more likely to coincide with truly, actually, “draining the swamp in Washington.” If the Trump Administration decides to try to play the mainstream media game and attempt to look like a Bush, Clinton, Bush II or Obama style system, we likely won’t see much real change in Washington.
Not So Revolutionary
Somehow the kind of professionalism and antidisestablishmentarianism [I can’t believe I actually just used one of the longest words in the English language is a serious sentence] exhibited by many presidential administrations create a tone of “Washington staying the same.” And that path guarantees bigger and bigger government. Not draining the swamp, but expanding it.
Consider the Reagan Revolution. It started out with what the establishment in both parties considered outrageous, extreme, and even irresponsible. But it also began by making some real changes. By Reagan’s second term, however, the administration wasn’t a revolution anymore. It started fitting in with the establishment, and by the time Bush was elected, the Reagan Administration was pretty much part of the establishment.
This led to the Gingrich revolution in 1992, which was considered extreme, irresponsible, and outrageous (sound familiar?), but by 1996 the Gingrich/Kasich Revolutionaries had become part of the establishment. The party of Reagan, Kemp, Gingrich and Limbaugh became the party of Dole, W, McCain, Romney, and Jeb. Not really a troop of boat-rockers.
It’s hard to tell where the Trump team is headed. Some of Trump’s White House and cabinet picks are from the revolutionary wing, while others are more establishmentarian. It’s a mix. Moreover, the tone out of Trump Tower and president-elect golf clubhouses is largely mild, professional–and leaning establishment.
The Real Challenge
This may be a smart chess move, keeping things hush-hush until after inauguration. Once the new president is in charge, his team will be a lot more effectively armed to take on the mainstream media.
But what if the Trump team takes the other approach? What if they decide they want to be popular? Or hope to get The NY Times, NBC, and CNN to like them? What if Trump hopes to be loved, or gets tired of being vilified, mocked, called a clown, a buffoon, and a devil? What if he wants popularity in New York and Washington? It might happen early, but even if it doesn’t happen for several years, the pressure will always be there.
The way the mainstream establishment fawned over Bill, Barack, Michelle, and Hillary—that’s a lot of incentive; and The Donald has, in the past, shown an affection for the spotlight and a particular aversion to being mocked or blamed.
And beyond his own instincts of self-preservation: Will his chivalry for his wife or his allegiance to his youngest son (who have both been in the cross-hairs of some harsh media treatments in recent months) begin to figure into the equation? All things considered, who wouldn’t want to be loved and popularly lauded when faced with such extremes? Will this opportunity for validation and praise prove too compelling a siren song?
The hard-working voters in the rust belt, Southwest, or rural America will never be able to provide such flattery or accolades, even if they were inclined to do so. But such fawning isn’t even part of their culture. If President Trump wants that kind of love and admiration, he’s going to have to look for it in the elite class. (They’ll never give it to him, of course. They couldn’t even be objective about Dole, Bush, or McCain–committed cronies of the establishment, all.)
Whatever you think of the new president, if he’s actually going to drain the swamp, as promised, he’s going to have to play the villain. Week after week. Month after month.
In short: Being outrageous won’t be his problem. The challenge will be vanity. And endurance. Will he embrace the role of villain and drain the swamp no matter how bad the media attacks become? Or will he follow the pattern of many presidents before him and go after popularity—by increasing the size and scope of government?
Ultimately, the new president will have to make this choice. The consequences will drastically impact America in the months and years just ahead.