So Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States. You can guess, I suppose, by reading this blog that I would not be a fan and on that you would be correct. This is a dispiriting day for many of us, but given how 2016 has been a flaming train wreck colliding with a giant truck at a level crossing, it’s not surprising.
How have we gotten to the point where a reality TV star is the leader of the United States? There’ll be plenty of analysis, but here’s my two cents.
The mainstream media has quite a bit to answer for (I don’t expect anything better from Breitbart et al). It’s been a perfect storm since 2008. Back then, Twitter was two years old, and Facebook was still shaking off its university roots. The demise of print media was heralded, but we are much further along this process now. Now many of us get our news from Facebook or Twitter, the minute-long radio news in the morning, or Sky or CNN or the BBC if something big happens, and we can watch it over again and again. Newspapers aren’t dead yet, of course. Look at the Daily Mail, and the swing it has in the UK. But it’s not print that rules. We generally see newspaper stories in our newsfeeds now; the headline needs to catch our eye so we click and give advertisers that all important revenue. Clickbait rules, even among once respected organs. The UK Independent is a case in point. Once it went wholly online, it gave up all pretence of being anything more than a Buzzfeed-type site. A case in point; its Twitter feed last night had alarmist headlines about Trump winning Florida with only a handful of ballot boxes open. What does it matter, this clickbaiting, you might ask? After all they were right, he did win.
It matters because on social media, newspapers have sacrificed cold hard reporting for likes and memes. News organisations have always been biased. One only needs to go through the Pathé archives about Ireland to see that. But a veneer of objectivity and rationality existed pre-Internet. Tabloids aside, you weren’t supposed to get excited by the news. And you were supposed to be reading facts, clearly laid out, where your reporter could identify (but not name, of course) his or her sources.
Let’s not forget, when your job is insecure and you’re getting paid eff-all, you don’t care as much. We can also thank the collapse of the journalistic financial model for the sloppiness and desperation we are seeing. Diverse voices are leaving the media. You’re poor? Good luck, you need to be able to finance yourself through an unpaid internship.
While Trump had Fox News and a host of right-wing websites on his side, respected organs like the New York Times came out against him. Unfortunately these organisations made it easy for Trump to claim the election was “rigged” and the media were part of the conspiracy. The Times even published a short story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie where Ivanka Trump secretly donated to her father’s opponent and Melania had sexual urges towards her female Pilates teacher. If you put yourself in the mind of someone who perhaps isn’t the most media literate, who is seeing unprecedented bias and omissions from the mainstream media, who is being called a redneck and a racist, well… You can see where I’m leading. Much like with Brexit, attempts at reasoning and empathy with Trump supporters led down roads of hectoring and patronising. Just like with Brexit voters, a streak of cussedness- probably inherited from Britain- runs through the American people. They don’t like being told what to do.
When you are in a bubble where you don’t believe the traditional media- because the traditional media is aping the worst of the new media- and what the new media tells you makes more sense to your worldview, you get someone who distrusts anything that does not suit their own personal agenda.
And then there was the fact that Trump was so downright awful in the minds of many of us, that any concession of Clinton’s faults could be seen as a tacit endorsement of him. Clinton and many of her supporters tried to ignore a concerted campaign by Wikileaks and the unprecedented antics of the FBI. This was a mistake. She could have never completely have eliminated the doubt, but she could have tackled this more robustly. Wikileaks threw plenty of mud, most of it fairly watery stuff, but mud sticks.
Did Clinton lose because she’s a woman? Would a similar male candidate- a bit dull, a bit uninspiring, far from flawless, centrist, but a competent, a safe pair of hands- stirred up so much vitriol, so many angry men and women?
Let’s also be honest. Hillary Clinton could have done better. Another female candidate may well have done it. A Michelle Obama type, who is direct and blunt and confident in her skin. Reading Clinton’s history, it’s easy to see that she has often gone with the path that is easiest, that would get her (and Bill) to the top faster. She has subjugated her real self, like many, many women of her generation. Voters could sense that, that there’s a front up. It’s also disappointing to see her non-appearance after the Trump’s surprisingly gracious (for him, at any rate) acceptance speech.
My instincts are that there is something about a woman in charge that many Americans still can’t bring themselves to stomach. Take the allegations of sexual allegations against Trump. For all the many faults of Ireland, no politician would survive that. For many Americans, any sexual contact outside marriage is wrong. So what’s the difference between consensual sex and “grabbing” someone “by the pussy”? It’s all sin. It’s different in Europe. We shook off religion faster (could you imagine an atheist president?). We were a collection of older societies on top of which Christianity sat like a poor layer of icing. The United States was founded on fear of alternate modes of society; whether that was differing religions back in Europe (the Puritans fled persecution in England), the native cultures of the indigenous peoples of America, or the power of the millions of black people kept shackled by terror and systematic racism. White Christian America is still just as afraid as it was in the 17th century.
How do you approach a terrified animal, lashing out because offence is better than defence? You don’t beat it, or shout at it. You come with kindness, with your hands open. Julian Gough said on Twitter today that no white supremacist ever had their minds changed by shouting and hectoring. And it’s hard to be kind to those who abuse us, who think those of other races are inferior, who say stupid and nasty things, who think that women should just shut up. There has been too much division. Far too many fights over Twitter that got nasty. Far too many trolls who had their voices heard. There is a time for righteous anger, for certain. But there is also a time for kindness. And time for standing up with rational debate, with facts and figures and no name-calling. It’s harder than ever in 2016, but this has to be our low point. We have to try.