Consensus appears to be that before the presidential election last year, the mainstream media in New York and Washington totally missed how many Americans were attracted to Donald Trump’s message.
While that’s not completely accurate, some media outlets appear to be attempting to correct that possible misstep by profiling those attracted to the reality-television-star-turned-politician’s nationalistic message.
This response elevates a community that, arguably, already has some of the most influential voices in the world. The U.S. president is the world’s most powerful leader, has some of the most followed social media accounts and enjoys the support of multiple personalities on cable’s most watched news network.
There’s obviously a case to be made for presenting the values, concerns and worldviews of these Americans. But for an industry that already has a poor record of highlighting marginalized communities, this approach is risky.
Tony Hovater, a 29-year-old welder from a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, is a white nationalist who appears to be more concerned about white supremacists making history than white supremacists killing people.
The New York Times reported:
“After he attended the Charlottesville rally, in which a white nationalist plowed his car into a group of left-wing protesters, killing 1 of them, Hovater wrote that he was proud of the comrades who joined him there: ‘We made history. Hail victory.’”
Perhaps a few people in Manhattan or downtown Washington are disconnected from voters such as Hovater, but many Americans aren’t.
One of the things the 2016 election revealed was that Trumpism isn’t an outlier worldview. With more than 60 million people voting for the Republican nominee, it’s fair to say that many Trump supporters can be found in the same schools, churches, neighborhoods and workplaces as the people who found so many of them deplorable.
Despite the popular belief that those in elite media are deeply disconnected from Americans such as Hovater, political scientist Jasmin Mujanovic tweeted that some in the media are actually disconnected from those harmed by Hovater.
“You can only really write pieces like that if you’re convinced that the violence which these extremists represent, and engineer, will never touch you. Likely because you’re white, wealthy, and mobile and they’ll probably target vulnerable, static ‘minorities,’” he wrote.
The next time we are looking for Trump voters, perhaps we can talk to the people whose lives have been or would be significantly damaged by the policies these people support.
Instead of another panel featuring people still on the Trump train, why not a panel featuring the families of the nearly 54,000 immigrants deported from the interior of the United States during Trump’s first eight months in office?
Or before awarding one more cable news contributorship to a conservative Trump supporter who agrees with the president, why not hear from a member of the military who could be affected by his policies on transgender men and women?
In response to the piece, Eugene Gu shared on social media some of his experiences being an Asian American in the South.
Dear New York Times,
As an Asian-American doctor in the Deep South, a low-key Nazi attacked me in the parking garage. Please don't normalize white supremacy.
Eugene Gu, MD
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) November 25, 2017
Few people understand the importance of words more than journalists do. So we should know there are people at the end of words tweeted, spoken at a rally or shared during a news segment.
Those aligned with the White House often tote voters’ low confidence and trust in the media when confronted with the president’s low approval ratings. But what is often missed is how many of those viewing the media unfavorably have done so for years, if not decades. And one of the reasons is because they don’t see themselves reflected in the coverage.
As the country appears to be diversifying in new ways and at rates not before seen, the media has the responsibility to cover the shift and attempt to right decades of wrongs spent ignoring some communities. Perhaps if the Americans who agreed with the president’s caricature of inner cities saw more profiles about their inhabitants' lives in Trump’s America, they’d have a better idea of what those voters believe they had to lose by Trump's becoming president.