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OK Everybody, That Sucked. Now, Back to Work

The lessons citizens, parties and media need to learn from Trump’s victory.

By Paul Willcocks 9 Nov 2016 |

Paul Willcocks is a journalist and former publisher of newspapers, and now an editor with The Tyee.

Donald Trump dealt a big blow to my belief in journalism.

I’ve always argued the work matters because people are generally smart and decent. Provide them with the needed information, and they would make good choices.

But for all the faults in the media coverage of this campaign, people had the information they needed about Trump. They knew he was a sexist, racist liar in an expensive suit, proudly ignorant, profoundly dishonest and willing to do whatever it took to win.

And yet about 60 million Americans decided he was the best choice for president.

We should talk about the way the campaign was shaped by the reduced role of traditional media and explosive growth of dishonest, echo-chamber and partisan feeds.

But that’s not really an explanation. People still had every opportunity to know what Trump was, and voted for him in spite of it. Or worse, because of it.

And we should talk about the choices that the U.S. political process threw up for its citizens.

Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate to face a populist opponent. She’s a career politician who, along with husband Bill, has become fantastically rich by exploiting the connections gained in office.

And she ran a wretched campaign, at least in terms of reaching the millions of American who feel they have not only been left behind but forgotten by politicians who serve the richest first and foremost.

It was ironic to read the U.S. State Department’s condemnation of Sunday’s election in Nicaragua this week, my home for much of the last two years. Critics fear — rightly — that former Marxist revolutionary Daniel Ortega and wife Rosario Murillo are intent on creating a governing family dynasty.

But Clinton embodies the concept of family dynasty and entitlement, with a candidacy supported by money and connections, especially within the Democratic party. And with an expectation of deserved victory that lasted until the bitter end.

Voters faced a choice between two candidates who live in worlds that have no relation to their daily lives. Trump acknowledged that, celebrated it. Clinton pretended it didn’t matter.

I wouldn’t argue that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ascendancy follows the same pattern. It’s been more than 30 years Pierre Trudeau was prime minister.

But in Canada, and especially British Columbia with its Wild West approach to political donations, we need to look at the growing distance between citizens and politicians and their parties. When a drug company pays to sponsor the BC Liberal convention — and the amount is a secret — citizens rightly wonder what the company gets for its money. When Trudeau meets regularly with people willing to pay $1,500 for the privilege, people wonder what they are getting in return beyond some snacks, cocktails and a photo op.

The biggest fear about Trump’s victory should probably not be about what he will do. He is already moderating his tone, and the system — even with a Republican Congress — is set up to check any excesses.

But Trump has taken another step in unleashing powerful and often ugly forces in U.S. politics. His supporters, at least some of them, expect a wall on the Mexican border. They’re looking forward to seeing Hillary Clinton investigated and jailed. They’re counting on ISIS being bombed to oblivion and people who don’t look like them being barred from the U.S., or deported.

So in four years, when those things haven’t happened, who will emerge to tap their anger and dissatisfaction?

One answer is someone willing to out-Trump Trump. Someone who will denounce him in all the same ways he denounced his Republican rivals, Clinton and anyone else who challenged his simplistic, thuggish version of reality.

But, as the last naive person in journalism, I’m banking on a different outcome.

Citizens have four years to assess the gamble on the angry outsider, the blustering bully with promises of renewed American greatness built on slogans and prejudices.

The Democrats have four years to think about why they lost to what a New York Times editorial called “the worst nominee put forward by a major party in modern American history.” If they don’t learn from that, then things could very likely be worse in 2020.

And the media — traditional, new, emerging — have four years to figure out why facts mattered so little in this campaign and how they need to change.

I’m not generally emotionally invested in elections. Voters make their choices and four years later the province or country is not fundamentally different as a result.

But I was devastated last night, in part because journalism — the work I’ve done for quite a few years — seemed to have lost its purpose.

That was last night. It’s morning and, while not sunny, the fog seems to be lifting in Victoria.

Time to get back to work.  [Tyee]

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