There are many poisonous perceptions wafting through this dense post-election smog, under which, much of the country finds itself struggling to breathe. None, I would argue, are as potentially suffocating to our democracy as this:
It’s the media’s fault because people who voted for Donald Trump did so in response to being insulted, belittled and condescended to by the “smug, liberal media.”
As Editor-in-Chief of the New York Daily News for nearly the entire campaign (I was appointed in Oct. 2015 and parted ways with the paper last month), I take dire exception to this construct.
When The News called Trump “Lord of the Pigs” after he told a story to thousands of supporters ― from whom he received raucous applause ― about shooting Muslims with bullets soaked in pig’s blood, and then we condemned New Hampshire Republican voters with the headline “Dawn of the Brain Dead,” for handing Trump their state’s primary win, we were skewered from voices on both sides as callous. Didn’t we know that politicians are always fair game, but once you go after voters, you’ve crossed a line?
If you applaud racist, xenophobic drivel, then you are a racist xenophobe. This is not a smug, elite opinion. It is simple math.
The answer was simple then and remains so today: While the roots of the unrest that fueled Trump voters are legitimate and in need of urgent remedy, the xenophobic, racist manifestation of that disillusionment cannot ever be accepted or excused as a way of explaining the unrest.
Bernie Sanders’ supporters were spurred by the same anger and desire to dismantle a system that had abandoned them, yet they did so without wrapping their discontent in threats against minorities and entire religions. And why was that? Also simple: their candidate was not framing his platform with bigotry, but in terms of helping everyone who had been victimized by the Washington D.C. cesspool.
Trump tapped into the same populist rage by not only attacking the broken Beltway-business-as-usual that’s truly to blame for this mess, but by then ratcheting up his rhetoric to a sinister level by demonizing and disrespecting entire races and religions ― to standing ovation after standing ovation. There is only one way to interpret that. If you applaud racist, xenophobic drivel, then you are a racist xenophobe. This is not a smug, elite opinion. It is simple math: A + B = C.
The idea now that we in media need to do a better job of understanding what those cheering Trump’s vile rhetoric really want, or who they truly are, is utter nonsense. We know exactly who they are and what they want. They’ve made that abundantly clear. To talk around this point is to normalize behavior that as human beings, let alone citizens of this country, we should never accept as normal.
Attempting to equate the vitriol hurled at hatred as a combative measure with the vitriol of the hatred itself is a disingenuous way for racists to defend, and coerce us to accept, their racism.
The idea now that we in media need to do a better job of understanding what those cheering Trump’s vile rhetoric really want ... is utter nonsense.
We already see many media outlets pulling back in their criticisms of Trump in the name of “honoring the office” as if, because he won the election fair and square, that he somehow ascended to the position in a way that is decent or worthy of respect.
It was neither.
What we truly need to do a better job of understanding is the systemic and willful neglect by our government of our nation’s education system. That, along with cultural and class segregation, has fueled this historic wave of ignorance and fear.
Those are dense topics that journalists don’t always do a good job of investigating and explaining. That one is on us. But Trump’s election is not. His victory was spawned from social and governmental decay. It will not be fixed overnight, nor without tremendous turmoil.
Despite that, none of us should apologize for exposing ― in the loudest, most passionate way ― hatred, oppression and unfairness. Nor should any of us sit by idly while others are manipulated or bullied into doing so. The fate of all we claim to hold dear hangs in the balance.