Hillary’s Loss Says Way More About Us As A Country Than Her As A Person
“I wish that girls could fail as bad as men do and be okay.” — Michelle Obama —
One year ago, I went to the United State of Women (USOW) conference in Los Angeles. I was one of just a handful of men to attend. Admittedly my significant other was the one who brought it to my attention, but I was genuinely excited to go all the same.
I went to several panels and I even spotted Buffy the Vampire Slayer herself giving a morning lecture that I sadly missed. Amidst talks given by Jane Fonda and Patrisse Cullors, the general vibe was encouraging. The consensus was fun and generally inspiring, especially in the face of the 2018 midterms in the fall.
The main draw of the conference was an on-stage conversation with Michelle Obama. She was to be interviewed by Tracee Ellis Ross, and be introduced by one the two adorable kids from Blackish, Marsai Martin. It was to be the pinnacle of woke. Here was the former First Lady herself, our soothsayer, bestowing on us the secret knowledge of what it would take to remove Donald Trump from his grasp on power.
To some surprise though, Michelle Obama, responding to a heckler in the audience who was encouraging her to run, remarked that she was no different. Hillary Clinton was the most qualified candidate to run and she lost, with a majority of women voting for third party or for Donald Trump rather than her. She continued saying that we have a lot of work to do ourselves before it becomes about who that person ultimately is. No one would save us, not herself, not the media, not the government. No one. She finished by saying, “It’s not about finding the one right person who can save us from ourselves…it’s us.”
That line has stuck with me a year later. Much has already been said about what Hillary Clinton did wrong or what Donald Trump did right. Parsing all of that out can be tough work. I’m worried though that the lessons of 2016 are being lost on us and on the media.
Until we confront our own issues as a country, people like Donald Trump will keep on winning.
The Political Media’s Yearning To Be Liked
Recently President Trump did an interview with the New York Times. He’s quoted as saying, “I’m sort of entitled to a great story from my— just one — from my newspaper.” Much has been said about this quote implying that all Trump wants, his motive for it all, is a glowing write-up in the Times. I fear it may be the opposite.
There seems to be an industry-wide self-esteem issue plaguing political media today. The once lauded profession is in a tough spot nowadays, and with Trump attacking networks almost daily, there seems to be this overwhelming need to prove that [insert news org. here] isn’t as biased as the accusations may say. Somewhere deep down inside, all the editors and publishers and even some journalists staunchly believe that Trump is a stable genius who acts in good faith.
Outlets continue to run regular pieces every few weeks about a reporter bravely going into Trump country and interviewing people to see if there’s been these dramatic changes of heart that never seem to happen. (Looking at you, New York Times!) Representing only a sliver of the electorate, these diner-regulars have somehow been thrust into the role of fortune teller, and for some reason we keep coming back to them to see if anything has changed.
Astute Reporter: “Do you still support Trump?”
Genius Reporter #2: “But, like, why?”
Diner-Goer: “Because. And the more you keep asking me, the more I’m inclined to not change my answer.”
Similar conversations have taken place all over the South and Midwest and for some reason we keep expecting the answer to change. It’s insane on many levels. These rural diner patrons are only a sliver of Trump’s base and their reasons for voting for him are pretty transparent: economic uncertainty, religious conservatism, and racial intolerance. Take a little bit from each bucket and voilà! We have discovered the recipe for the average diner-goer in the Midwest or South. (Keyword: average. Not all, just typical.) Yet, the media feels the need to tip toe around this in often insane ways.
Between 40–45 percent of Americans said they had very little to no confidence in major news organizations.
This is how we have Hillary Clinton’s emails getting as much front-page coverage in six days as policy did in sixty nine days during the 2016 election (if only Jared and Ivanka’s private email use got that much attention), or three major broadcasting networks airing an empty podium at a Trump rally for thirty minutes. It is how, even with over seven thousand documented lies, the media is still hesitant to call Trump a liar, all this amounting to around $5 billion in free media during the 2016 election.
And the mainstream media wonders why trust in them is eroding. Gallup conducted it’s longstanding “Confidence in Institutions” poll last year. News and television media both occupied the bottom of the list just before the criminal justice system and Congress. Between 40–45 percent of Americans said they had very little to no confidence in major news organizations while around 35 percent of Americans reported only having some confidence in news organizations. That only leaves about 20 percent of Americans having high confidence in our news-gathering organizations.
It’s baffling, but in a weird way also makes sense. Whether it’s the news machine, driven by ratings, thinking this is what we want to see from them or maybe this is exactly what we want because they have been doing the news this way for years, it’s clear that not a whole lot has changed over the years, and it is poised to get worse as we head into the 2020 election. The only fact that we can use to justify this is that the media profits from Donald Trump. It’s not a secret that when networks cover Donald Trump, their ratings go up.
The midterms were no different. Remember this gem? The infamous caravan didn’t just exist on Fox News. Jacob Weindling, writing for Paste Magazine, points out the absurdity of the caravan coverage on all the major news networks. There’s even a tweet showcasing a graph of how this same exact thing happened with Ebola coverage in 2014.
Yes, you may point to the Democrats overwhelming success in the midterms, but I’d argue that was most likely in spite of the national news media’s coverage rather than because of it. The Democrats were lucky this time around because they largely ignored the issue and instead chose to focus on healthcare.
“People lose sight of the fact that on the heels of your first black president you had the nomination by a major party of a woman, for … You know, president of United States, who won the popular vote … you need to remember that.” — Ta-Nehisi Coates —
So What Does This Mean For Us?
It’s hard to condense all the creepiness, sexism, racism — all components of the 2016 election — into a few paragraphs, but for me it all comes to a head in the uncanny nature of the media‘s ability to engage in reverse self-fulfilling prophesies. The rule of law should be that whatever the media makes a big deal about isn’t a big deal generally.
Hillary’s loss speaks volumes about the people who didn’t vote for her as well as the people who did. It can be easy to forget that. Her nomination as a presidential candidate for the Democratic party is unabashed progress, plain and simple. She’s credited as part of the reason so many women ran in the 2018 elections.
And the only way we make issues like this important to the news, worthy of coverage, and a staple of our political digest is if we do the work to make it so. Like Michelle said, the news won’t save us, our politicians won’t save us, and neither will our heroes or mentors.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, in an interview with Chris Hayes on the Why Is This Happening podcast, goes on to say what I think needs to be said, specifically referencing Mitt Romney and John McCain in their campaigns against Barack Obama:
“At the same time to go the other way and to, you know, focus too much in on the notion of unprecedented, is to let a lot of people off the hook who are responsible. Every single politician, who not just made a Birther joke, but tolerated a Birther joke, is responsible. All y’all responsible. All y’all responsible. I don’t want to hear about how nice Mitt Romney was. I don’t want to hear it. I have no tolerance for that at all. I just have no tolerance, because I remember … A really bad half-assed joke, I remember him. I remember him saying, “I have my birth certificate.” I remember that. It’s not funny.
His larger point is that the long sordid history of acceptable racism, sexism, and mistreatment of others started long ago, was accepted long ago, and was normalized long ago. The responsibility lies with each and everyone of us. No one else. The old adage is that we get the politicians we deserve.
I want us to be a country again that deserves another Barack or Hillary at the helm.
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