Thomas Frank’s heartbreaking explanation of how Trump won points a finger at liberals
Thomas Frank, famed scribe of “What’s the Matter With Kansas,” asks a far more relevant question today: what the hell is wrong with the Democratic Party and the liberal media establishment?
“What species of cluelessness guided our Democratic leaders as they went about losing what they told us was the most important election of our lifetimes?” Frank asks in the Guardian.
For his first order of business, Frank asks why Democrats and liberal media rallied around Hillary Clinton. Frank points out that Clinton was exactly the wrong candidate for this political moment.
“An insider when the country was screaming for an outsider. A technocrat who offered fine-tuning when the country wanted to take a sledgehammer to the machine.”
He notes that both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders matched the mood of the nation better than Clinton—Biden, because he could speak plainly and has been consistently popular, and Sanders because he’s an economic populist free from scandal—the obvious reasons that fueled his popularity despite outright sabotage by the Democratic Party. Instead Clinton was deemed “next in line”—her election to the Presidency calculated to “have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch.”
Frank then moves on to the liberal media establishment, which was so clearly in the tank for Clinton as election day neared. One would assume that would work in her favor—except that distrust of mainstream media helped drive Trump’s popularity.
Frank outlines the multiple failures of Clinton’s followers in the press. “It always struck me as strange that such an unpopular candidate enjoyed such robust and unanimous endorsements from the editorial and opinion pages of the nation’s papers, but it was the quality of the media’s enthusiasm that really harmed her,” he writes. “With the same arguments repeated over and over, two or three times a day, with nuance and contrary views all deleted, the act of opening the newspaper started to feel like tuning in to a Cold War propaganda station.”
Here’s what it consisted of:
Working-class people weren’t supporting Trump.
And if they were, it was only because they were botched humans. Racism was the only conceivable reason for lining up with the Republican candidate.
Frank explains why this questionable strategy failed to work. “The fourth estate came together in an unprecedented professional consensus. They chose insulting the other side over trying to understand what motivated them. They transformed opinion writing into a vehicle for high moral boasting. What could possibly have gone wrong with such an approach?”
Here Frank pinpoints one of the most significant splits in US society, the divide between the urban professional class—which, not incidentally, includes most media and political professionals—and everyone else.
The American white-collar class just spent the year rallying around a super-competent professional (who really wasn’t all that competent) and either insulting or silencing everyone who didn’t accept their assessment. And then they lost. Maybe it’s time to consider whether there’s something about shrill self-righteousness, shouted from a position of high social status, that turns people away.
The Democratic Party, Frank notes, has let people down in every way.
It is a liberalism of the rich, it has failed the middle class, and now it has failed on its own terms of electability. Enough with these comfortable Democrats and their cozy Washington system. Enough with Clintonism and its prideful air of professional-class virtue. Enough!