Take a deep breath everyone, step awaaaaay from the Twitter – Donald Trump has been elected President and the world has not ended. While it’s fair to say this has been one of the most dispiriting campaigns in my lifetime – the truth is that his election is a watershed opportunity to reclaim our system. When I say reclaim, I don’t mean from the Democrats or liberals or for that matter from Republicans or conservatives – I mean from the incestuous cross-section of the financial, media and political establishment that has long been gaming this system for their own purposes.
To some degree the campaign was a microcosm of what ails our process. Today, much of the mainstream media is wringing their hands about the results – yet is was the media’s coverage of a reality TV star that set the train in motion. They breathlessly followed every twist and turn, minute by minute. Broadcasting, analyzing and pontificating on every Trumperance – ultimately delivering over $2 billion in free media coverage to the Trump campaign. To have some perspective, the next closest GOP candidate, Jeb Bush, received only $214 million in earned media – just over 10% of the amount. Quite a difference, especially when considering all these same news outlets over and over predicted Trump can’t win!
While Fox led the way in skewing coverage when it came to the GOP, aka the Fox primary, all the media left and right got in on the act. Morning Joe created this new low standard of the “Trump call in” with Joe twisting himself to legitimize Trump’s positions only later to find some faux outrage. Trump is great TV and ratings soared. CBS CEO Les Moonves said it himself, “Donald Trump might not be good for America, but he’s great for the bottom line,” as record advertising revenues were scored by the cable and network new divisions.
But after cashing all those advertising checks, the same media that skewed coverage one way, decided it was time to drag Hillary across the finish line. When it came it to trying to finally settle the outcome of the election it was NBC that suddenly, mysteriously unearthed “the lost” Access Hollywood tapes in an October surprise. Unfortunately for supporters of team Clinton, NBC released the tapes too early allowing Trump to weather the storm, stabilize and finally for Hillary to be outdone and ultimately undone by none other than Anthony Weiner.
When it comes to Comey – I might be wrong, but my sense was he was put between a rock and a hard place when investigators found Clinton emails on Weiners’ computer. What might, under normal circumstances, have been managed quietly was blown up because if Preet knew of the emails, there was no certainty of when the rest of the world might know. Facing this uncertainty and after promising Congress he would notify them of any new developments – Comey had basically no choice. Comey didn’t cost Clinton the election – if anything Huma and Anthony did.
For the press, reporting the objective truth was more elusive and yes more challenging than ever. Watching Trump say one thing and then his team scramble to calmly explain what “he really meant” in 180 degree fashion was both disturbing and amazing to watch at the same time. Kudos to Conway and Miller for interpreting Trump-speak into reasonable sound bites, even if the dissonance was often jarring, But sadly it reflects the world we live in today.
Double standards, double talk and hypocrisy have become the norm and they have taken their toll on the electorate. 10 years after the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression not one person responsible has gone to jail. Just this year, Wells Fargo brazenly ripped of hundreds of thousands of account holders – yet the CEO walks away with a golden parachute. Many of our elected officials simply pick and choose which laws they choose to follow. Federal indictments are handed down in Nassau County mere weeks before an election. And the state’s top law enforcement office holds the Trump Foundation to one standard and the Clinton Foundation to another. Is it any surprise that voters are just a bit cynical when it comes to sorting out what’s important and what’s not? What’s the truth and what’s not?
Finally, when it came to the political establishment what a disaster. In a year when 16 rock ribbed establishment Republicans envisioned their own pathways to the White House all but one, George Pataki, hid for months while the 17th, Trump, built momentum toward the nomination. One after another, GOP candidates made the cynical miscalculation, much like the pundits, that the next misstep will take Trump down and their campaign would be there to pick up his voters. Jeb Bush’s PAC spent close to $100 million attacking Marco Rubio – not one campaign with resources focused on taking out Trump until it was too late.
For the Democrats, Wikileaks proved the conspiracy to undermine Bernie Sanders was real and was devastating to the Clinton effort. And as much as Trump was over reported by the media, Sanders, who was very much inspiring his own populist uprising, was largely dismissed and underreported. We can’t underestimate the impact of this disparity on the Democratic primary. Ironically, in many ways Clinton actually looked more like a Republican, certainly more establishment than Trump ever did. Her coziness with Wall Street, her experience voting for and overseeing two failed wars, her shifting support for free trade and her apparent wealth all could of easily landed her in a GOP primary. Is it any wonder she had a difficult time turning out the Obama coalition?
So now what? In the days after election I’ve heard of hispanic grade school students crying for fear that they might be deported, of mothers numb as to what it means for their daughters, a number of reporters genuinely concerned with rising anti-semitism and pundits one and all shocked that “this is not their America.” Their concerns, their fears are real and we must all be on guard for those elements of hate in our society that conflate an election result that acknowledges America’s tough problems with an acceptance of intolerance. But at the same time, this tendency to lump all Trump voters in with racists, homophobes or the general “basket of deplorables” is also unacceptable.
Finally, for those Democrats, liberals and independents who think it’s the end of the world, remember thrice married Donald Trump is not exactly a christian fundamentalist, he voted for John Kerry in 2004, was pro-choice long before he was pro-life and actually in the campaign set aside issues like gay marriage. Donald Trump is not a conservative and not an ideologue – he is real estate developer, a master marketer and ultimately a deal maker. And while his temperament on the trail has left many of us concerned – only he knows how much of it was showmanship and how much of it was authentic. The truth is Trump seems equally as genuine denouncing Hillary as “crooked” as he does praising her as “lovely” and “tough.”
From repairing the promise of the American Dream for middle America, to reclaiming our inner cities to fixing our broken immigration system – there are tough challenges ahead. Challenges that have eluded establishment Democrats and Republicans alike, the professionals that have formulated their policies and the special interests that have funded them. For the past 18 months Trump has colored outside the lines. He did not campaign within the boundaries of what had been accepted practice – to fix America, he’s going to have to do the same thing.