One of the main challenges of producing or hosting a radio or television show is finding new or interesting things being said or written. One of the main challenges of the blogosphere, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest is both the garbage that is published and the immense amounts of information disseminated. Social media, with all its benefits, has also created its own Gresham’s law with so much flotsam crowding out truly good writing, thought, and debate. These challenges have, I think, put too great a focus on the importance of what many call the “alt-right” and its import and influence. And these challenges have also elevated minor and unrepresentative voices to a stature that does not and should not exist.
For all my friends who have called me, shocked that I could support Donald Trump given what the “alt-right” has said and stands for, I can only reply with what I wished more in the media would understand: The vast majority of Trump voters actually made up their own minds and probably have read absolutely nothing from an “alt-right” website or even know how to get to one or what one is. This is true of me, as well. I have so little knowledge of it that I’m almost embarrassed to confess this, it being such a seemingly big part of the election narrative. I will venture a step further and state that beyond the vast majority of Trump voters who I gather have never even heard the phrase “alt-right,” the scholars who publicly supported Donald Trump’s candidacy on a whole series of political and constitutional judgments have also likely spent no time in, with, or reading anything from the “alt-right.” Just as I know the vast majority of Hillary Clinton’s voters have no idea of what Jay Z said in a rally supporting Hillary or would have any truck with a “Rape Melania” protest sign in front of the Trump Hotel.
It is this gross attribution of ill-motives to the other side that has made our political climate so infuriating if not impossible. To wit: is it that incomprehensible for so many to see that one could vote for Donald Trump because they actually supported his platform on the economy, on trade, on foreign policy, on judicial nominees? And that those policies have nothing to do with left-wing attributions of racism or sexism? Is it that incomprehensible for so many to see that people could vote for Donald Trump because they actually have seen the failure of the Obama administration in the economy, on health care, in foreign policy? Or that they saw Hillary Clinton at least as legally and morally compromised as Donald Trump, if not more so and on more important issues?
I understand a media that prefers to highlight the frivolous and irrelevant over the serious and important–and thus create caricatures of both Donald Trump and his supporters. But those caricatures are not true representations and the continued focus on them helps the media continue to misunderstand the country they are charged with reporting on. Indeed, as the media talking heads continue to express surprise over Trump’s election, or claim “we were all wrong,” they admit their own ignorance. First, it simply was not a surprise for Donald Trump or his voters. And “we” were not all wrong–many of us thought he would win and continued to say so, we just were not taken seriously. Again, because those now admitting such surprise actually are admitting they know less about the country and politics than they think they do. For all those who simply still cannot imagine Donald Trump is the President-elect, please understand: for a great many of us, we equally believed Hillary Clinton never would be.
Thus we come to the squandered teachable moment. For all the rantings and whining and purported fear of an imminent Third Reich so many of our friends and acquaintances have posted on social media, we need to appreciate this narrative is also being fed by people who should know better. When the Minority Leader of the US Senate can write, “The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America,” or a literary giant like Leon Wieseltier opines that Trump was elected by “nasty anti-modern furies that carried this repulsive demagogue to the White House,” it’s hard to blame amateur Facebook rants and whines. But it is actually just those kinds of writings and postings that are dangerous and unhealthy, not the peaceful and completely legitimate election of a Republican by millions of people who actually think he would make a better President than the Democrat.
The best thing written on all this is Boris Zelkin’s, “What Am I Gonna Tell My Kids?” There are, indeed, few actually wonderful teachable moments in America. The truly great tradition and event of a national election used to be a classic one. Almost every child can remember the first explanation his or her parent gave them about the first election they asked about. And it was almost always a child’s first lesson in democracy and the benefit of living in America. That well, that moment, as been poisoned for the past six days and those who have squandered and contaminated it should be ashamed of themselves. There could have been no better moment than to explain the first rule of politics: “Not everyone will agree with you.” There could have been no better moment to talk about Jefferson’s first inaugural and his distinction between differences of opinion and differences of principle. There could have been no better moment to explain the whole point of the radical idea that “all men are created equal” is the foundational precept of free government, voting, and consent.
But no. We have entered the early moments of an election result that showed too many were too unsophisticated to actually handle or contemplate losing. The election, to them, really wasn’t about the country or fellow countrymen who may have had different and legitimate points of view. It was, rather, the culmination of an Oprahized society where the triumph of the therapeutic, as Philip Rieff once called it, has become the full blown ethic of the day–how I feel is more important than ever contemplating a greater good or concern. The most important thing, we now see from these protests–violent or written–is that elections are not about democracy or the country, they are about how they make us feel, and that, at the end of the day, is the greatest of narcissims. Let’s grow up, Americans, let’s be adults, and–whether your candidate won or lost–reclaim a truly great and important teachable moment.