The Media Stages a “Postmodern” Election

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By Walter Donway

November 18, 2016



Postmodernism became the leading intellectual movement in the late twentieth century. It has replaced modernism, the philosophy of the Enlightenment.
For modernism’s principles of objective reality, reason, and individualism, it has substituted its own precepts of relative feeling, social construction, and group-ism.
This substitution has now spread to major cultural institutions such as education, journalism, and the law, where it manifests itself as race and gender politics, advocacy journalism, political correctness, multiculturalism, and the rejection of science and technology.” 

Dr. Stephen Hicks, Professor of Philosophy, Rockford University

Here is a tip for you. When a person’s beliefs, a cultural phenomenon (such as a Presidential election), or an interpretation of reality (such as the mass media analysis and grossly wrong prediction of the election) seems incomprehensible to you—not just wrong, but unfathomable—it is because it proceeds from fundamental philosophical premises you have not identified.

Tuesday night, election eve 2016 in the United States, I was watching PBS Channel 13’s coverage of the unfolding election and its results. The panelists were intelligent and highly experienced and sophisticated, intent on understanding what was happening, seemingly open to being surprised (not much choice there!), and, in the end, able to indulge in some humility as they sat stunned and acutely embarrassed at the election’s sweeping triumph for Republican Donald J. Trump over Democrat Hillary R. Clinton. I had not expected as much and admire their performance—and that, too, is part of this mystery.

Today, the “narrative” of the campaign—its meaning, supposed central conflict, and characters—created by the media—is causing the intense post-election rage, depression, and righteous indignation.

In the months leading up to Election Day, the repeated national polls by CNN, the “Wall Street Journal,” the “Los Angeles Times,” Rasmussen, and a dozen other organizations reported, week after week, that Hillary Clinton was in the lead. The size of that lead fluctuated, certainly, and polls tightened toward the election, but on election eve the respected site “Real Clear Politics” gave Clinton a 2.2 percent average lead over Trump. (One poll only, International Business Daily/TRIPP, showed Trump leading and, to their credit, some media sources pointed out that IBD/TRIPP had been most accurate in the past. Well, they did it again.)

Hillary Clinton had been in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination for months, against openly socialist candidate Senator Bernard Sanders (D.-VT)—a race the media covered with a more or less respectful attitude (by media standards)—when New York City billionaire builder, Atlantic City casino pioneer, and, more recently, TV personality, Donald J. Trump, crashed the Republican Presidential nomination gala that already featured some 15 or more contenders.

Although he never held public office, Trump had been testing the waters for more than a decade in both parties, on the state level as well as federal. He tested the idea of being a candidate of the Reform Party as early as 1999. He was an active Democrat for a while. But by June 16, 2015, he seemed to have committed himself and at Trump Towers on legendary Fifth Avenue in New York City, he entered the race for the Republican nomination for President.

We see Yale undergraduate girls sprawled together, weeping; heavily racially accented riots on both coasts; internet posts by frightened women; and columns in the foreign press on our “racist, fascist” new President. The press eagerly reports this, shaking its collective head, again and again, and explaining: Well this is what happens when the people … and then repeating their own manufactured version of what the election of Trump meant.

In that speech, on the first day of his candidacy, Trump—knowingly or unknowingly, perhaps someday we will know—threw himself, like an airborne fullback, straight into the path of postmodern politics and, above all, postmodern journalism. And that explains the squalid level of campaigning that followed: the media’s almost exclusive focus on racial and sexual antagonism and its portrait of the country as endlessly divided and divisive. The result was rising levels of personal animosity among voters and near certainty that Mr. Trump would be rejected as racist, xenophobic, misogynist, unqualified for office, temperamentally unfit—swept away by the force of minimal American decency.

It also explains Ms. Clinton’s marathon record of spending more time on a single meme, “Stronger Together,” and inventing more ways to say “all of us,” than any candidate in the history U.S. elections. The remainder of the time she spent ridiculing, demeaning, and demonizing her opponent.

This obsessive focus of the campaign was the creation of America’s postmodernist reporters, editors, commentators, TV hosts, and public intellectuals. It was synergistic with the Clinton campaign, which had spent more than a year researching and preparing attacks on Mr. Trump–all based on “identity politics”—and waiting for the moment to unleash them. But … the media needed no such added stimulation; they manufactured the public image of Donald Trump that the Clinton campaign then propagated, only to have her words reported by the press … and so on, and on.

Today, the “narrative” of the campaign—its meaning, supposed central conflict, and characters—created by the media—is causing the intense post-election rage, depression, and righteous indignation. We see Yale undergraduate girls sprawled together, weeping; heavily racially accented riots on both coasts; internet posts by frightened women; and columns in the foreign press on our “racist, fascist” new President. The press eagerly reports this, shaking its collective head, again and again, and explaining: Well this is what happens when the people … and then repeating their own manufactured version of what the election of Trump meant.

Throwing his hat into the ring on June 16, 2015, Mr. Trump pointed out the most obvious new fact of American life, felt in towns from the tip of Long Island (my town, East Hampton) to California, from Seattle to Arizona and Texas, visible every day, on every street, in every business: new immigrants from across America’s southern border, including an estimated 11.0 million Mexicans and others who entered the country illegally, beginning their residency by breaking the law and with every incentive to avoid contact with the police, IRS, Social Security, and other authorities—illegally employed, often paying no taxes or Social Security, using services such as schools and health care facilities supported by local, state, and federal taxes.

That was (and is) the reality in the face of Americans during a decade of agonizingly slow recovery from the financial panic and crash of 2008, a recovery of employment at a staggering price in new federal debt (doubled during the Obama years to $19 trillion), and Federal Reserve distortion of the financial markets (near-zero interest rates for nine years). It was a time during which high school and college graduates had one of the highest unemployment rates in U.S. history; the unemployment rate among young African-Americans was catastrophic. In cities and towns across America, illegal immigrants, paid off the books, costing their employers no benefits, held millions of entry level jobs.

Appealing to the principle of the rule of law, consistently, not selectively, Mr. Trump said that a Trump administration would halt illegal immigration, reverse it by returning illegal immigrants to Mexico, and prevent new millions from pouring across the southern border by completing the barrier started decades ago and extended during the Obama administration. He went on to say what had been frequently reported, and that Americans knew, that the Mexican government was alleged to have exploited the porous border to drive criminals—“murders, rapists, and drug dealers”—out of Mexico and into the United States.

Later, this was pointed out. Mr. Trump did not refer to Mexicans in general who were coming across the border, but to those Mexico was “sending” across the border. It made no difference, of course. From that moment, America’s foremost newspapers, magazines, and radio and television news programs went into irreversible, unrelenting opposition to the Trump candidacy. Trump had identified a postmodernist grouping (Mexicans and other Latinos who entered the country illegally) and taken a political stand against it.

If you have followed the entire 18-month Trump rise in America, winning over the wide field of candidates for the Republican nomination, then winning the 2016 election race against Hillary Clinton, you know that during those 18 months nothing caused the mass media in America to waver from its attack on Donald Trump as “xenophobic,” “racist,” and “misogynist.” There is scant evidence for any of this and all the most prominent examples—except for the “pussy tapes”—were manufactured by the press.

Postmodernism in an individual, group, profession, or culture is the underlying premise that there is no fixed, objective reality and thus no objective truth. In social relations, it is the struggle between the oppressed and the oppressing groups that explains the meaning of our actions. Our significance is not as individuals, but as members of a racial, ethnic, economic, and sexual group. The narrative of the press, with all its breathtaking episodes, was created to place candidate Trump solidly among the oppressors.

The Trump candidacy began to be defined, during its opening press conference, as an appeal to “working class,” non-college educated, white, racist, misogynist Americans against the oppressed classes. And so this first “postmodern” U.S. electoral campaign became a treasure hunt for real or manufactured evidence of this hypothesis.

Media attacks mounted to become daily inventive smears, not only on opinion pages, but run as front-page stories (it was not uncommon for the “New York Times” to run a dozen anti-Trump “stories” daily on its front page). How to find so many? Well, take the headline, “Times Reporter Says Her Daughter Having Bad Dreams about Trump.” Or a story on half-a-dozen teenaged daughters of “Times” reporters, and how their “body image” had been affected by Trump’s remarks.

The narrative of the press, with all its breathtaking episodes, was created to place candidate Trump solidly among the oppressors. And so this first “postmodern” U.S. electoral campaign became a treasure hunt for real or manufactured evidence of this hypothesis.

Astoundingly, while being made the greatest scare and hate figure in the American media since Richard Nixon—many whispered Hitler—Mr. Trump did not shrink back or lose heart; he swept across America defiant, his rallies surged in size, and—not insignificantly—neither the press not anyone else could talk about anything else.

Soon came the big “Trump University” scandal, alleging that a “university”—really a program—created by Trump for aspiring businessmen and New York “deal makers”—was a fraud. Till that moment, there had been widespread praise and endorsement of Trump University. But “National Geographic,” you know, reported a poll showing that 77 percent of Americans believe there are signs that intelligent aliens have visited Earth. It was not difficult to find a dozen or so New Yorkers to testify to their discontent with the University. Also, a lawsuit had been filed against the University and this became the new media rage.

I will be brief because the story is well known. With the press united in attacking Trump University as a failure and fraud and, thus, attacking Mr. Trump as an incompetent businessman, Mr. Trump said that his lawyers felt that the judge in the case was inexplicably biased against the defense (Trump University). He said he wasn’t sure why, but the judge was of Mexican heritage, said Trump, and “I am going to build that wall.” Given the widespread anger in Mexico and among Mexican Americans at the proposed wall, said Trump, the judge might not be able to decide the Trump case fairly and should recuse himself.

I submit to you that this example alone fails to suggest that Mr. Trump is “racist” and it is one of very few even cited. House Speaker Paul Ryan inexplicably joined the critics—well, not inexplicably, he saw in media reporting of this incident the coming tidal wave of media exploitation of the race card. Another major charge against Trump was that decades ago one Trump building in New York City was charged with exclusion based on race; Mr. Trump and his organization defended themselves. No guilt was admitted or demonstrated, no fine paid. It is notable that the Trump organization controls hundreds of thousands of rental apartments in New York City and no other case is cited.

In fact, as a New Yorker familiar with its news, personalities, and rumors, I know that until the election no charges related to race, no rumors, surrounded Mr. Trump.

One other media frenzy concludes the race issue. As bombs and gun attacks by Islamic Americans shook the country, as did the mass murders by Islamic radicals in Paris, Mr. Trump suggested that the United States should halt immigration from such ISIS hot spots as Syria until “we know what is going on.” His proposal was to be sure that the vetting of new entrants from this country was effective in identifying the killers that ISIS vowed again and again to send.

And that is the whole case for “racist” candidate Trump. In literally thousands of hours of solemn TV talk shows, and thousands of media stories, postmodern “advocacy” journalism has fulfilled its mission: to crusade not for truth and balance but to identify and oppose the “oppressor.” A word or gesture at a Trump rally, the endorsement by the legendary “David Duke” of the Ku Klux Klan—instantly repudiated by Trump—and endless interviews with African-Americans—created the impression over months that the entire Trump movement was aimed at racially motivated white Americans. And, said star “New York Times” columnist Paul Krugman, it is not just explicit racism but “dog whistle” messages from Trump that are picked up by his “white nationalist” supporters. Just in case nothing that Trump actually said could be demonstrated to be racist.

As Trump supporters increased and Trump swept the entire field of Republican contenders to take the nomination, and gathered support as the election approached, the press congratulated themselves for being right. White, “non-college educated” (this repeated endlessly), middle-American voters must not care that Trump was racist. Obviously! The media had told them over and over a million times in stories, editorials, testimonials, panel discussions, and photographs that their man was a bigot. They must be racist, too!

On his campaign Web site, and in every speech I heard (none in person), Mr. Trump set forth positions characterized by one political principle and goal: reduce government intervention and involvement in the lives of Americans and view all American as equal but none as having special rights.

  • 1) Halt all new regulation-making and begin to deregulate. Regulation is now an estimated $2.0 trillion a year drag on the economy; some 60 major new regulations, at an annual cost of $670 billion, were added to that total during the Obama administration.
  • 2) Deregulate and encourage the American energy industry, including all fossil fuels, in which a couple years ago, for the first time in history, America became the number one producer in the world—fulfilling a decades-long promise of government to make America energy independent of foreign authoritarian producers.
  • 3) Stop investing billions in research and remediation of so-called “global warming” and “climate change.” Trump is on record as reasonable on this issue, and, of course, acknowledges the phenomenon of global warming (as does virtually every scientist), but, like many scientists, does not see any compelling evidence that global warming/climate change represents a long-term threat to the planet. He would claw back from the United Nations billions of U.S. dollars spent on this crusade. During the Obama administration more new regulations were imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency than all other government departments combined. And most arose from the mindset of the Greenpeace radical environmentalists, who are driven by ideology, not science.
  • 4) Reduce taxes on corporations from an average of 25 to 30 percent to an average of 15 percent, a huge incentive for corporations to remain in the United States, invest more, create more jobs, and bring back enterprises from overseas.
  • 5) Direct new federal money for education to a search for alternatives to the public-school monopoly that for decades has been failing, especially in the inner cities, in spite of huge new investments. The Trump position mentions schools of choice, charter schools, and vouchers—all of which would empower parents, especially those trapped with inner city schools, to become involved in deciding where to educate their children.
  • 6) Uphold the Second Amendment right to bear arms with appropriate screening to spot individuals who cannot be trusted with the responsibility of firearms.
  • 7) Appoint Supreme Court justices who will uphold the U.S. Constitution in their decisions instead of using appointments to meet racial, ethnic, and sex quotas and seat justices who will view the Constitution as a non-legislative instrument of social engineering.

Not one of these positions is “progressive”—increasing government power to enforce collectivist ideals such as “social justice,” “fairness,” an end to “oppression,” “multiculturalism,” “globalism,” “green peace,” “equal pay for women,” “national health care,” “social democracy,” “animal rights,” and totally tax-supported higher education.

Not that Mr. Trump explicitly opposes these utopian hopes; he just never indicates interest in them. Nor are they the ideals of most of the Americans across the great swathe of the country between the two coasts who elected him on November 8. Their ideals are private initiative, success earned by work, wealth as a consequence of effort, the unquestioned value of increasing national prosperity, embracing new technology and admiration for “progress,” individual responsibility, responsibility for family, education as virtually synonymous with opportunity, contributing to community, reverence for the rule of law, religious tolerance, moral judgment as pertaining to individuals not groups, pride in American ideals and the American example as a beacon to the world, American self interest in the world, and reliance on strength to defend America.

When Mr. Trump blazoned on his ensign, “Make America Great Again,” his supporters interpreted this to mean the restoration, protection, and renewal of such ideals. They did not think of the ideals of progressivism that tend to be engendered in the big cities on America’s east and west coasts where the print and broadcast media, entertainment industry, leading universities, major foundations, and large “alternative lifestyle” communities tend to be heavily concentrated.

The news media, once a matter of a daily newspaper, the six o’clock news, and a handful of wide-circulation news magazines, now dominate the airwaves and internet 24 hours a day. Owned by huge corporate conglomerates resulting from years of consolidation, they field hundreds of thousands of bright, talented, ambitious graduates of the colleges and universities that are the breeding grounds and transmission centers of postmodern philosophy, postmodernism politics, postmodernism art, and postmodern journalism.

Not entirely consciously—certainly no pacts or conspiracies or cabals shape the vast, varied media of America and the media is not entirely uniform in its views—in 2016 America’s mass media came to cast the election in terms of the very essence of postmodernism: identity politics and the premise that all political positions reflect the struggle of the oppressors to defeat the struggles of the oppressed. It is an axiom of this view that “people of color,” women, immigrant ethnic groups, the poor, gays and lesbians, the physically handicapped, and animals are habitually oppressed. The oppressor is the White race—especially the middle class, the traditional, the male.

Mr. Trump’s positions were infrequently mentioned, if at all, and then quickly dismissed; many commentators whose real opposition was to those positions, seemed to find it more effective to attack Mr. Trump as bigoted, of dubious character, as emotionally unstable …

I have dealt at least briefly with the charges of racism and xenophobia. An even more explosive charge, because of its “sex appeal” as a news story, was Mr. Trump’s treatment of women. It is not too much to say that the single issue that dominated the campaign—at the choice of the media—was the tape leaked by a news television studio of Mr. Trump, some 11 years earlier, in what was a private conversation, accidentally taped without his knowledge, boasting that as a TV celebrity, he found women welcomed his abrupt sexual advances. He put it in the most vulgar way possible, in terms of “grabbing their pu**y,” and so was launched the “groping” story. The media chose to give nothing in the campaign more attention than this tape, played, quoted, described, and discussed literally hundreds of thousands of time. In this, they indicated the paramountcy of any proof positive of “oppression”—in this case, of course, of women.

It was a “news judgment,” which is fair enough, and red meat for audiences, and speaking to their “college educated” peers in the audience, the press evoked a resounding response. This was bedrock postmodernism: the wealthy white male declaring his power over the very genitalia of the oppressed. The media were quick to point out—I recall one African-American panelist shouting it repeatedly—that had Mr. Trump acted on his words it would have been sexual assault, a criminal offense.

No one ever produced any evidence that Mr. Trump had acted on his macho boast, although the media, starting with the powerful reportorial staff of the “New York Times,” made a sustained effort. In the end, some half-dozen women were produced and hailed as heroines, stars, for claiming that Mr. Trump had “touched them inappropriately,” but, alas, there were no witnesses and Mr. Trump denied it. Ordinarily, the premise in our justice system is that charges must be proved for there to be guilt, but the journalists understood very well that the rule in the media is “if you are accused, you’re dead.”

The media smear campaign that followed did not dwell on the numbers but veered from the “New Jersey” story to a fabricated libel of Trump mocking a disabled individual.

The “misogyny” charge got one booster shot. One of the “dumps” of hacked emails from the computer of the Clinton campaign’s head, John Podesta—a contribution of the organization WikiLeaks to journalism-by-illegal-means throughout the campaign—revealed that more than a year earlier Clinton campaign operatives searched for every possible piece of damaging evidence with which to attack opponents, including Trump. One such discovery was a tape 20 years ago when Mr. Trump owned the “Miss Universe” franchise. A new Miss Universe from Venezuela, in 1996, Alicia Machado, was being pressured to resign because after winning the prize she gained more than 50 pounds during the period when she was obligated to be displaying her charms around the country.

Mr. Trump did not fire her, however, but went to her rescue. It is fascinating to watch the video of Mr. Trump announcing to reporters and others that Miss Machado was going to be kept on and helped to lose weight. A sensitive, warm, and often humorous Trump introduced the top trainer who had been hired, then said Miss Machado would be working with him daily, and joked with reporters that both he and they could stand to lose some weight, too. He explained that the pressures on the very young Miss Universe candidates were severe and that, after all, many of us react to stress by overeating. It was understandable; obesity was a serious issue in America. Miss Machado is shown sitting next to where Mr. Trump is standing, thanking him, clutching his sleeve, nodding vigorously, and even saying, “You can work out with me anytime, Mr. Trump.” Trump smiles, pats her arm, and says, “You’re going to do all right.”

That tape was not chosen as a way to nail Mr. Trump as a misogynist. Later, reporters were invited back to watch Miss Machado working out, with much laughter and joking. At some point, although it was not recorded, Trump may have been encouraging her to do a few more sit-ups and jokingly said, “Come on, Miss Piggy, you can do it.” There is no documentation of the moment.

Fast forward two full decades to one of the three prime-time Presidential debates with a huge national audience. Suddenly, Ms. Clinton is relating how Mr. Trump called Miss Universe a ‘fat shaming’ name, “Miss Piggy,” then turns to Mr. Trump and says, “She has a name, Donald!”

Trump at first looks mystified, asking, “Where did you get…” Then, apparently he remembers back 20 years and starts to say, “But I saved her position …” It is too late, of course. Mr. Trump has assaulted another woman, this time verbally. And the oppressor has been insensitive to yet another oppressed group: the overweight.

The Clinton campaign had found Miss Machado, who had left her native Venezuela to become a U.S. citizen. She now recalled that she had been mortified, terrified, when Mr. Trump called her “Miss Piggy.” She had never forgotten it, she was traumatized. For years afterward, she said, she had had “eating disorders.” Except that, in a much earlier interview, she had said that in the run-up to the Miss Universe campaign she had suffered from “anorexia and bulimia” and added “Most of us [contestants] did.”

The story blazes through the media, with Miss Machado as a symbol of an oppressed woman–could be anyone’s daughter, you know—and, by the campaign’s end, is traveling through Florida from rally to rally with Mrs. Clinton to tell heavily Hispanic audiences that for women Mr. Trump would be a terrifying President.

If you have not had enough of this, by now, you have an admirably strong stomach. But anyone who followed the 2016 Presidential election knows—whatever his or her perspective—that “groping,” and “Miss Piggy,” came virtually to define the campaign, including the three Presidential debates. Mrs. Clinton never went more than a few minutes without referring to them, always in the postmodernist context of identity politics and oppression.

Just one more refrain must be mentioned. On the basis of one incident, the media and Clinton campaign added to the characterization of Mr. Trump that he “made fun of the disabled.” Mr. Trump never seems to have had the imagination to foresee how his actions could be used against him and provide priceless footage for his opponents. At a rally on November 21, 2015, Mr. Trump said that he recalled reading in the press that on the night of 9/11 attacks Arab-Americans were cheering the attack on roofs in New Jersey. He said he knew it was not “politically correct” to say so, but that is the report he read.

All major news outlets immediately denied there ever had been such a report. The “Washington Post” did a “fact check” just to confirm this. And then, oh heaven! It turned out that a “Washington Post” story by Serge Kovaleski, on September 18, 2001, had said that, and that police had actually arrested the demonstrators. Oh my, and the “Post” had just done a “fact check” of all media and reported finding nothing.

“Washington Post” agents, finding Kovaleski now working at the “New York Times,” pressed him and he backtracked on his story, saying, at least as quoted: “I certainly do not remember anyone saying that thousands or even hundreds of people were celebrating. That was not the case, as best as I can remember…”

True, Mr. Trump did say “thousands and thousands” and that was not confirmed (a September 16, 2001, news video merely said “swarms”). But this had nothing to do with the media smear campaign that followed. That campaign did not dwell on the numbers but veered from the “New Jersey” story to a fabricated libel of Trump as mocking a disabled individual. Back to “identity politics.” This is how it happened.

Confronted with this seeming recantation of the “Post” story, at a rally in South Carolina, Mr. Trump recounted the above explanation and, in one of his unrestrained moments, pantomimed the flustered reporter protesting “No, no, no—I never said that.” Mr. Trump brushed his hands up and down, laughing at the reporter desperately denying the charge of having written his own story, and, just for good measure, made a quite funny face of the horrified reporter.

It so happened that Mr. Kovaleski has a disability, one hand frozen in a curled-over position. Some enterprising photographer took a single frozen frame from the entire video of Mr. Trump’s antics, at the precise moment his hand seemed to be curled down; the photographer then set this beside a photograph of the reporter, standing in the same pose as Mr. Trump, his hand curled down. There you go, a headline story:  Trump mocks the disability of reporter. It would not have resonated so well without the rather undignified display of jiggling by Mr. Trump—he is the opp­­­­­­osite of “cool” in the Marshall McLuhan sense—which was shown thousands of times with new captions like “What will we tell our children?”

But, it effectively diverted all attention from the “Washington Post’s” ridiculous “fact finding” report, missing its own story, and from Mr. Trump’s point about Arab-Americans in New Jersey cheering the attack on the World Trade Center. I have recounted this at length to document a major campaign “theme” and make the point that the postmodern journalist does not consider facts, nor objectivity–in which he does not believe–but only the impact of the “right” worldview.

The narrative of the press, both fed and adopted by Hillary Clinton, was complete. Trump the racist, sexist, misogynist, xenophobic ridiculer of the disabled.

To be concluded in Part II …



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