BuzzFeed did its part for this past weekend’s social media garbage fire of uninformed rage by calling up companies to encourage them to condemn the Trump administration’s hastily issued executive order dealing with immigrants and refugees from certain regions.
Stephen Miller asked, “What exactly does Buzzfeed do journalistically besides publicly bully people & companies they don’t agree with?”
I joked, “They also get Trump elected.”
See, one of the reasons tens of millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton was that they were sick of this type of media bullying. But you’re not supposed to point out that BuzzFeed and their ilk’s behavior contributed to Trump’s victory.
Remember when Meryl Streep gave her sermon at the Golden Globes about how awful Trump is? Liberals, and that includes many in the media, absolutely loved it. CNN put out a “breaking news” alert that she had torn into Trump. Conservatives tended not to love it so much. I panned it for its inaccuracy, the lack of empathy it supposedly called for, and general cluelessness.
It was everything about why Trump won. Elite liberal condescension, worst-case construction on the viewpoint of those interested in Trump, and a general missing of the forest for the trees. Others picked up on this rather obvious point, too:
This Meryl Streep speech is why Trump won. And if people in Hollywood don’t start recognizing why and how – you will help him get re-elected
— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) January 9, 2017
You would think the very fact of Trump’s election would humble those on the Left. But you would mostly be wrong. People lost their minds about McCain’s tweet. For just one representative example, here’s comedian Billy Eichner:
Um she asked him not to make fun of disabled people and advocated for the freedom of the press and the arts you fucking moron https://t.co/IzZexd7Bb4
— billy eichner (@billyeichner) January 9, 2017
Some folks really don’t like you pointing out that things liberals do contributed to Trump’s win. I saw some associate professor at a small university make a big production about how he was going to name and shame people who pointed out reasons why some people find it preferable to vote for someone like Trump than the people liberal elites would like you to vote for. You do what you need to do, buddy.
I know that this type of groupthink shaming has gone on forever. But it first hit me when liberal elites tried to get people to stop praying in the aftermath of tragedy. Legitimate journalists and senators and others tried to shame people from prayer. Not just on Twitter, but in articles and front pages of their newspapers as well.
Telling people not to discuss their prayer life is one of the ways you got Trump. Smug condescension from Hollywood elites is one of the ways you got Trump. I don’t want to get too meta, but telling people they can’t talk about how you got Trump is how you’re going to keep getting Trump.
If you want to roll your eyes and tell me to shut up, fine. I’m just trying to help you do a better job of 1) coming to terms with the fact that Donald Trump was elected president of the United States and 2) talking to the people who voted for him in a way that might lead to persuasion or comity. If you don’t want to deal with reality as it exists or persuade people outside of your in-group, carry on.
If you’re still here, let’s discuss a few other things.
You’re Still Getting Serious vs. Literal Wrong
Brad Todd authored the best attempt to understand Trump voters and explain how the media struggled to understand Trump. He wrote:
In August, as a guest on MSNBC’s Meet the Press Daily, I noted that voters take Donald Trump seriously but not literally, while journalists take him literally, but not seriously.
The rubric got traction on social media, became the headline of a widely read piece for The Atlantic by savvy columnist Salena Zito, and has been oft-repeated by other commentators, including tech pioneer and Trump backer Peter Thiel in a much-watched National Press Club address.
Months later and on the far side of the election, the press is still taking Trump more literally and less seriously than voters do.
But now, as Trump begins following through on some of his campaign promises, journalists and #NeverTrump twitterers are saying this construct was stupid or wrong.
Except all this shows is that they never understood Todd’s analysis (which they attribute to Zito, one of a small handful of journalists to not get the election wrong in how she covered it, since she popularized this concept) in the first place, and that they traded hyperliteralism for simple hysteria.
Let’s look at Dan Diamond’s little group of straw men — “and straw women,” as CNN’s Christine Amanpour has said, and no I am not joking (… and that’s how you got Trump). He says he was told to take seriously, but not literally the building of a wall, a ban on Muslims, and an investigation of voter fraud.
The only one of those that actually fits the “take him seriously, not literally” construct would be a ban on Muslims. That’s because a border wall and investigating voter fraud aren’t actually weird or extreme things to say (although framing them as such is … how you got Trump). Hillary Clinton voted for a border wall. It was when Trump said the border wall he would build, if elected president, would be 30 feet high or 65 feet high or 45 feet high, that the literal/serious issue came into play. Whether he was serious about building a barrier or protecting the border, however, is different.
But the Muslim ban is a great example. First, let’s go to the tape. He literally called for a ban on Muslims during the campaign. People flipped out, and he put it out in writing: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Now, it’s true that few media or critics paid attention to the conclusion of the sentence (“until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on”), but he definitely called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
Media took him literally, supporters took him seriously. What does that mean? They understood him to mean that he’d change our border protocols to deal with the reality of the threats caused by Islamist terrorism. They didn’t know how that would look, although they were disinclined to take him literally that it would be “a total and complete shutdown.”
So Diamond, Hounshell, and the ever-vigilant #NeverTrump brigade still identifying heretics on the Twitter battlegrounds decide that because Trump issued an executive order that does not result in a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” he somehow should have been interpreted literally and not seriously? Hunh? Hunh? Hunh? What? That doesn’t even make sense.
See, if Trump had done what his unhinged critics in the media and trenches of social media are accusing him of, that would make sense. But the executive order does no such thing. As David French, who can fairly be described as no fan of Trump, put it:
Finally, you can read the entire executive order from start to finish, re-read it, then read it again, and you will not find a Muslim ban. It’s not there. Nowhere. At its most draconian, it temporarily halts entry from jihadist regions. In other words, Trump’s executive order is a dramatic climb-down from his worst campaign rhetoric.
The executive order only deals with seven countries and there are something like 50 majority-Muslim countries, with millions of Muslims in other countries. See, this is not a refutation of the serious/literal formulation, it’s confirmation of it.
Further, the implicit critique of “don’t take Donald Trump, noted exaggerator and negotiator, so literally” was not intended to be taken as “react hysterically to everything Donald Trump says.” Simply react to the actual executive order as literally written and not the one you imagine it to be. Should you do it — as French does in the linked article above — you will still have contentious points to highlight or react against, but they will be based in reality.
But mostly, let’s just work on trying to understand each other better, whether we’re talking about refugees or any other political issue. Rather than react with ever-increasing rage to people viewing the world differently than we do, we should view these differences of opinion as a gift. “De-legitimized differences and destructive escalation produces losers. It is time to change the game,” writes Robert Hall in a fascinating brief piece in the Huffington Post. He says that we need to recognize the role of opposition in our own development.
Whether you’re in the media or simply someone whose peer group doesn’t include a lot of diversity, you should be trying to understand why Trump won. When people give you explanations, or express opinions about the political situation, see if you can open yourself up to their argument and listen to it before reacting simply with snark and rage.