Trump: Wailing to the left of us, rejoicing to the right

Mike Berger on the mainstream media's responsibility for the GOP candidate's upset victory in the US presidential elections

"When I heard Trump was going to beat Clinton I started crying." (Lili Radloff)

"This is all symptomatic of modern journalism’s great moral and intellectual failing: its unbearable smugness. Had Hillary Clinton won, there’d be a winking “we did it” feeling in the press, a sense that we were brave and called Trump a liar and saved the republic." (Will Rahm)

Both Lili and Will are journalists, but there the resemblance ends. Lili went the whole hog and swallowed the anti-Trump propaganda churned out on a daily basis by a mainstream media in total lockstep with each other and with the Democratic Party election strategists.

So when the bubble burst Lili was left bereft. Having totally surrendered her powers of scepticism and intellectual independence to the comforts of conformity, identity politics and moral certitude, all she could do was to shed tears of rage and hurl insults at the victor and his supporters.

She was not alone: the various ideological, ethnic and gender-based tribes created by decades of activism amongst academic elites along with their media acolytes, were equally outraged. Here is a letter from Avaaz requesting my support for the following petition: " The world rejects your fear, hate-mongering, and bigotry (their emphasis). We reject your (Trump's) support for torture, your calls for murdering civilians, and your general encouragement of violence. We reject your denigration of women, Muslims, Mexicans, and millions of others who don’t look like you, talk like you, or pray to the same god as you."

And then came the punchline "Facing your fear we choose compassion. Hearing your despair we choose hope. Seeing your ignorance we choose understanding (emphasis mine). My reply: 'Look in the mirror and recite after Pogo "We have met the enemy and he is us"'. Repeat as often as necessary.

Radloff has not recommended rioting as far as I know, but in her article she resorted to the most offensive analogy she could think of in the South African context: Trump supporters are really white Apartheid racists, finished and klar. They are outside the pale of human empathy and rational understanding.

I have a certain sympathy for Lili Radloff for I occupied the same space in my own youth  but, thank goodness, a little voice within me insisted over the years that I venture  beyond the echo chamber of my own skull and ideological tribe.

It also became impossible, as I matured, to avoid the conclusion that our dogmas were just too pat and simplistic: that there were many more fish in the sea than dreamt of in our philosophy. It was, nevertheless, impossible to support or condone the racist brutality, oppression and dishonesty inherent in the practice and theory of Apartheid. Nor did it seem desirable to discard the fundamental values which inform the liberal-democratic ethos: respect for the dignity and rights of the individual, toleration of difference, social justice coupled with personal responsibility, the rule of law and the cultivation of individual virtue and rational debate.

Lili Radloff, Avaaz and the rest who claim to progressive-liberal credentials, display none of these virtues. They are deeply into identity politics of a kind indistinguishable from old-fashioned racism. Their respect for human rights and dignity extend only so far as the borders of their own ideological tribe and their intolerance puts them on a par with the extremist fringe of Trump supporters. The more they rail against Trump extremists the more they look alike.

Will Rahm on the other hand, like a number of journalists who toed the party line in the course of the election, has shown the grace and courage to introspect. He correctly notes the abject surrender of journalistic independence and integrity which characterised the MSM. He documents the ugly insults and intolerance they manifested towards Trump and his supporters, encapsulated in the phrase "basket of deplorables" - which probably helped seal  Clinton's fate.

The fact is that the election was there for Clinton's taking. Trump was a truly awful candidate and the demographics and dominant media-driven ideological narratives within the USA were all in Hillary's favour. She herself was a notable policy wonk with vast experience in Government. And as a female candidate, the driver's seat was hers for the taking.

But the ugly mobbing of Trump by the Democratic Party's embedded media base almost certainly stiffened the resolve of rational sceptics and Hillary's opponents alike, sufficiently for them to overlook his unsuitability for the position of President. If potential scapegoats are to be sought to account for Trump's unexpected victory (and there are many), one may look no further than the media. In the end enough Americans voted against pervasive media bullying and racialised-genderised identity politics to push this unlikely and unlovable candidate across the winning post.

They probably did the right thing. As dubious as Trump is on many fronts, the capture of American democracy by a hegemonic, divisive, tribalised ideology linked to big money was worse. As happens with so many admirable movements, the ideals of a multi-culturalist agenda had become corrupted by an intolerant and self-referential mindset, arrogantly dismissive of other values and perspectives and oblivious to the concerns and struggles of those not legitimised by certified victimhood - increasingly the only criterion of political legitimacy.

In such a polarised political scene, the cocooned elite ignored the warning signs. No-one, his supporters as much as his enemies, knows whether Trump will find the insight, humility and skills to become a respectable President or will create havoc as predicted by his opponents. But, whatever the future may hold, Trump was the beneficiary of widespread alienation and resentment over the monopolisation of virtue and power by the liberal intelligentsia.

Such a disruptive movement may indeed bring liberation from the stultifying totalitarianism creeping into political discourse, but it also releases potentially toxic energies. The same trends are seen in Europe. Generally when the political pendulum reverses itself it swings too far in the opposite direction.

Thus the great task now is to retain the good which has been accomplished over the past decades, weed out the excesses and re-introduce respect for all identities and values compatible with the Western liberal democratic tradition. Only in this way will Western democracies show the adaptability and resilience to, firstly, recognise and, secondly, resist the challenges mounted by anti-democratic, totalitarian and nihilist movements across the globe - not excluding those from within the Western democracies themselves.

The lessons this holds for South Africa in the grip of its own struggle to create an inclusive, just and effective democracy is another topic.

Mike Berger