It’s impossible to untangle the variables that led to Donald Trump’s election. Hillary Clinton blames James Comey. Others might point to the president’s policies on trade and immigration and foreign wars. In the five years we’ve had to process Trump’s rise, it’s clear that some portion of his support is rooted in widespread resentment for media bias and political correctness. We know that. You can basically add opposition to those two issues to his platform.
Now, it’s 2020, and the New York Times forced a top editor out for publishing a simple op-ed by a popular Republican senator. Elites have spent the better part of two weeks openly affirming their total intolerance for opposing views. This is how you elect a populist president.
Trump did not appeal to exasperated voters merely because they’re sick of liberal bias and PC culture. He appealed to them because liberal bias and PC culture now mean they are no longer welcome.
They are decent people who are tarred as bigots. It’s not merely about the news’s ideological tilt or liberal plot lines on CBS sitcoms. It’s about the swift and irrational rush by elites to cast them and their values from polite society. When those same values were considered mainstream barely ten years ago, it’s frustrating, confounding, and anxiety-inducing.
To them, Trump’s unapologetic opposition to the liberal media and PC culture felt like a voice of reason amid rapidly shifting norms. It was and is reassuring to many people—and for understandable reasons. Look no further than the Times’s treatment of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) as proof. The senator expressed a position held by a majority of the country, and the Times apologized for it.
People expect the Times to publish news with a liberal slant. They do not expect it to determine reasonable mainstream ideas are beyond the pale and unworthy of a platform. That’s what Trump taps into, and it’s extremely powerful. (Sen. Bernie Sanders does this too.)
The left is increasingly convinced the media’s obsession with fairness renders “liberal bias” a myth, and actually makes the press overly favorable to conservatives. That is hilarious. Stated more honestly, it’s at least a more consistent argument, that conservatism is evil so the press should just drop the pretense of objectivity and champion leftist values. The sentiment at the heart of both approaches is exactly why the corporate media is moving to deplatform mainstream conservatives.
It’s also exactly what drives some people to Trump—maybe even enough people to swing a state or two in the Rust Belt. After the election in 2016, elites pledged to embark on journeys of self-reflection that would help correct the blindspots responsible for their botched political forecasts. But they never even left the airport. Actually, they just turned their cars around and went home.
Until the left rejects the progressive-or-bigot binary it has rapidly embraced over the last decade, this problem will fester. Even if elites refuse to believe it’s wrong to silence different viewpoints by categorizing them as bigotry, perhaps they can at least restore sanity to the media for the sake of defeating the populists they so deplore.