So the Republican Donald Trump comfortably defeated the Democrat Hillary Clinton in the big US political match. But the curtain-raiser was equally fascinating. As was its scoreboard, which read: Deplorables 3; Media Zip.
Never in the history of US politics has the media supported one presidential candidate to such an extent. Clinton had the backing of virtually every newspaper in the country and all the television networks.
On cable, only Fox News gave Trump a fair run, even though some of its presenters and contributors were critical. MSNBC and CNN were wall-to-wall anti-Trump.
This was not just the analysis of conservative media-watchers. The public knew what was going on. In the lead-up to the election, a Suffolk University/USA Today poll found 76 per cent of US adults believed the media would like to see Clinton elected. For Trump, the figure was 8 per cent.
This means that even a substantial number of Democrat voters believed the major newspapers and TV stations were barracking for Clinton. They were correct. But it was not merely a matter of supporting one candidate against another.
Journalists in the US, Australia and elsewhere sneered not only at Trump but at those intending to vote for him. In other words, much of the media embraced Clinton’s view that half of Trump’s supporters would fit into a “basket of deplorables”.
This was not the first time the US media had so misjudged a presidential campaign. In 1948 it was widely believed incumbent Democrat Harry Truman had no chance against his Republican challenger, Thomas E. Dewey.
After the election, Truman was photographed holding up page one of the Chicago Daily Tribune which carried the false heading: “Dewey defeats Truman”.
However, at least the newspaper had the defence in that it had to get out a morning issue and, consequently, had a tight deadline.
This year New York magazine has no such defence. Its pre-election issue had an uncomplimentary photo of Trump’s face with the words “Loser” printed over his nose.
New York did not have to make such a prophecy about the election outcome. It did so as an act of wish-fulfilment replete with contempt for the Republican candidate and his supporters.
Now, Trump is not my kind of conservative. Yet anyone with an understanding of US politics should have known he had a pathway to victory. Namely, hold the states won by Mitt Romney in 2012 and win Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. He did this and more besides. It was a difficult task, but no more than that as the election result demonstrated.
Some journalists had so much contempt for Trump’s supporters that they grossly underestimated the number of Americans willing to back him. This was evident in the pre-election column by Charles M. Blow in The New York Times. In a message to potential Trump voters, Blow emoted: “I feel that I must say again, and until the last minute and with my last breath: America, are you (expletive) kidding?!”
Then Blow threw the switch to condescension: “I think of the family values voters on the Right with whom I’ve become acquainted over the years. Although I might have vigorously disagreed with their positions and their inherent myopic anachronism, at least I could say that they were as principled in their adherence to their positions as I was in opposition to them.” And then along came Trump.
How elitist can you get? Blow urged people he regards as shortsighted and out of date to vote according to his advice. Little wonder such entreaties from The New York Times were rejected in such places as Youngstown, Ohio.
According to exit polls, more than 80 per cent of Christian evangelicals voted for Trump. Which indicates that it is unwise for members of the east coast left-liberal intelligentsia to look down on “family values voters on the Right”. After all, every adult has the potential to exercise one vote and no one likes to be patronised.
Quite a few of our elected leaders, conservative and social democrat alike, are not particularly nice people. But politicians run governments, where character is not necessarily a condition of competence. Despite the media’s derision of Trump and his supporters, the Republican candidate did reflect concerns of Americans outside the northeast, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles.
Trump’s pitch on unlawful immigration, unemployment among low socio-economic men and women, crime and terrorism made a mark in states he needed to win. Likewise, Trump’s call to make America great again rallied the patriotic. Such views are not fashionable in the newsrooms of The New York Times and MSNBC. Yet they strike a chord with many Americans outside the range of Blow’s besties.
It was not merely left-liberals who got it wrong. On Tuesday night (Australian time), just as Americans were getting ready to vote, Emma Alberici interviewed Whit Ayres, who was introduced as a Republican pollster and strategist, on ABC’s Lateline.
Ayres also misread contemporary America, albeit not as seriously as Blow. Ayres gave the impression he believed Trump would lose and said: “I think Republicans need to adjust … by applying their principles to a new America, which is far more diverse than the America of the 20th century.”
Ayers (falsely) predicted Clinton would do well in states like Florida. And he (falsely) predicted Trump would do poorly in non-white communities. According to exit polls, Trump scored more Hispanic and African-American votes this year than Romney did in 2012.
It is one thing to misinterpret contemporary America and quite another to exhibit contempt towards Trump voters.
One of the reasons Trump will become president next January is because the so-called deplorables struck at Blow and his media colleagues by voting Republican.