Regarding the Media’s Shock at Last Night’s Historic Upset and the Need for Integrity Among Politicians and Journalists

As a pastor, I try not to wade too much into politics, but I refuse to refrain from commenting occasionally on the subject. Now is one of those occasions. I am not going to communicate any happiness or distress at the outcome of this election. I was honestly disappointed that these two candidates were the best the leading two parties could put forth.

I’ll start by saying (in case you have successfully ignored the news) that last night Donald Trump shocked most of the world, and seemingly the entire Democratic Party, by defeating Hillary Clinton for the highest office in the land. Although it looks like Trump has probably lost the popular vote, he has handily defeated Clinton on the electoral map.

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I tried to stay up last night to witness the final conclusion of the matter, but my eyelids wouldn’t cooperate. When I went to sleep at a little after 1:00 a.m. (EST), the New York Times had projected an almost 100% chance that Trump would win.

When Trump announced his candidacy so many moons ago, I was one who never thought he would actually win the Republican nomination, let alone the Presidency.  However, as he stormed through the primaries and won the Republican nomination, I began to realize he should not be underestimated.

The Media “Experts” Speechless

As I sat in bed with my computer, going back and forth between CNN and Fox News (both were providing free live streaming of their coverage), I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the shock and confusion of the media pundits. It was almost like they hadn’t prepared any talking points for Trump winning easily, so certain were they of only three options: (1) Clinton winning easily, (2) Clinton winning a close race, and, least likely, (3) Trump surprisingly pulling out a squeaker. They never dreamed that Trump would actually “flip” any blue states.

Once it was clear that Trump was going to win, they started trying to put into words how this could have happened. And for the most part, they were clueless. They couldn’t figure out how they could have missed so badly. Using a baseball analogy, it’s not that the media swung and missed. They weren’t even in the right ballpark.

Why the Media Could Not Envision a Trump Victory

Here’s why I think the media missed it.

(1) They underestimated how much of America is sick and tired of the political establishment. And rightly so. The American people haven’t forgotten when their representatives in Washington voted themselves a raise right in the middle of a recession (2008). The American people don’t have so short of a memory as to forget when their representatives exempted themselves from the increasingly not-so-affordable Affordable Healthcare Act that they thrust on the rest of us. The American people haven’t forgotten that their representatives passed that legislation before they, the lawmakers, even knew what was in it. Remember Pelosi’s famous words:”We have to pass it to know what’s in it!” As more than one person has pointed out, by choosing the political outsider, Trump, it’s as if America shouted to the political establishment, “You’re fired!”

(2) They also underestimated how much of America has an extreme distrust of themselves… the media. Every American should know by know (I hope!) that there is no such thing as unbiased media. The vast majority of the media either leans to the left politically or is outright liberal. So when liberal talking head after liberal talking head kept saying how impossible it was for Trump to defeat Clinton, a lot of conservatives just assumed it was the media trying to cause them to lose hope and not vote. They showed up at the polls anyway.

(3) They put too much trust in polls. We are living in an age in which our scientific successes have created a dangerous overconfidence on pretty much any subject in which we think we are applying science. That is certainly true of public opinion polling. Polls, polls, and more polls, led many Americans to believe that the chances that Trump would win were close to nothing. As we’ve seen so many times in the past, the polls can be wrong.

(4) They, again, underestimated the power of the white evangelical demographic. White evangelicals came out in force on behalf of Trump, with 4 out of 5 casting votes for him.

Among the white evangelicals that I know personally, most did not consider him an attractive candidate, but voted for him anyway, some of whom, during the primaries, actually chose him over candidates with legitimate evangelical credentials. I like the explanation David Murray gave for this:

Although there were Christian alternatives for Republican nominee, I believe many Christians were thinking, “Well, every President for the last 40 years has said “I’m a Christian” and where did that get us?” Maybe it’s better to have someone who doesn’t pretend to be a Christian but who is not afraid of the media, who is not in it for personal enrichment, who is competent, and who is able to get things done. Someone who just does what he says he will do. Better honesty than hypocrisy.”

(5) They turned a blind eye to Hillary Clinton’s transgressions. If you can actually trust the polls, well over a majority of Americans expressed a lack of trust in Clinton. I talked to someone today who said he would have voted for Clinton if it had not been for Benghazi. For him, her handling of Benghazi was too much to overcome. At the end of the day, I’m not sure which reason had more merit for Trump’s victory… an affirmation of his message, or a rejection of Hillary herself.

(6) They underestimated Trump. They underestimated him in the primaries. Then they underestimated him in the general election. Their bias rendered them incapable of noticing his political genius.

Political genius? Yes. I think it is the most stunning political upset in our lifetimes, so let’s call Trump’s race what it was… flawed at times, but ultimately, brilliant. I’ll give you three examples of why.

First, consider how Trump used the power of the repetition of words to his advantage… think about his use of “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary.” He said these over and over and over and over. Even if you don’t believe that Ted Cruz is a liar or Hillary Clinton is crooked, he used them enough to make the labels stick, working to Trump’s advantage. The media saw this kind of labeling as juvenile (I would agree) and believed it would work against him. Trump knew better. It worked.

Second, consider how the media bought into the idea that a political outsider couldn’t win because (a) they don’t know what they’re doing, (b) they don’t have the blessing of the political establishment (nor themselves, the media establishment), and (c) a political outsider has never won in our lifetime. In spite of the lack of blessing from the Republican establishment and in spite of the fact that a political outsider had never done it in our lifetime (got to go back to 19th Century Andrew Jackson for the last guy who did it), Trump showed that he knew what he was doing.

Third, referring back to my first point above (underestimating how much America is sick of the political establishment), Trump recognized this disgust and worked it to his advantage with the memorable, and heavily repeated words, “Drain the swamp!”

Yelling at the TV (or in my case, the computer screen)

At one point this morning I was watching highlights of the media pundits’ reactions after they learned Trump was the winner (while I was sleeping). Here is what I kept hearing: “Trump has horrible favorability ratings. Obama has wonderful favorability ratings. Obama actively campaigned for Clinton. We don’t understand how a liberal President who is so liked can be succeeded by a man so disliked! It makes no sense!” Then they all shrugged their shoulders. No one had an explanation.  They were flummoxed, perhaps even exasperated. At this point I practically yelled (not really, but metaphorically) at the screen: “You failed to consider the amount of angst against the other candidate!”

The media could not see in America what Donald Trump saw, nor could they see his ability to successfully tap into and leverage what they could not see. Again, to quote David Murray*:

Americans want to punish the political establishment, both red and blue, for their multiple failures and are looking for someone, anyone, to be a battering ram through politics as usual. As someone said, trying to explain Trump’s popularity, “He’s giving voice to what millions of Americans are yelling at their TVs every night.”

Back to Baseball

As I stated at the start of this post, the media completely missed it. They weren’t even at the right ballpark. Meanwhile, Donald Trump was up at the plate hitting single after single. Occasionally he would swing and miss (usually when he would say or tweet something impulsively) but he kept at it… understanding the people who could elect him, crafting a clear message that would connect with them on an emotional level, and staying on message.

And then last night he hit it over the fence.

Hey… in the year that the Cubs won the World Series, why would we be surprised?

A Need for Integrity

Hopefully you knew that at some point I would have to divert from pure political commentary and move toward spirituality or morality. Now is that time, but I will keep it short.

We are desperately in need of public officials and representatives who have integrity. I am not just speaking of outward decorum. I am speaking of those who are truly more interested in serving the public rather than getting from the public. I am speaking of those who actually do what they say, pursue what they advocated during their campaign, and look out for the interest of all their constituents rather than just their financial backers. I am talking about people who will not cheat the system to get their way.

But we also need journalists with integrity. I am speaking of journalists who, because they know of their inherent bias, work to actually balance that bias and present the facts as objectively as they can, asking themselves “How can we present this as objectively and as true to the facts as possible?” rather than, “How can we spin this to help our favorite candidate win?”

Pie in the sky thinking, but can’t a man dream of such a government, and such a media?

Because it is pie in the sky thinking, I am grateful that our Founding Fathers recognized the depravity of man, and put so many checks and balances into our system. The 1st Amendment is one of the key pieces of this system. The media has a right to miss it. And I have a right to call them out on it. It’s the beauty of freedom!

But how can a person get integrity? Glad you asked (warning: here comes the preaching part). You receive it as a gift from God. Start by getting right with God through the gift of salvation in Jesus. His death on the cross paid for all your sins and transgressions. Second, rely on Him every day to work the character of Christ into your heart and soul through His Word, prayer, Christian friendships, and worship. Develop a conscience sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s correction and learn the discipline of quick confession to the Lord and renewed dependence upon His Spirit for right thinking, speaking, and behaving. Do all this and you will be a person of integrity.

 

 

*I would be remiss to not link you to David Murray’s excellent column on the phenomena of Donald Trump: Click HERE. Take notice of when he wrote the piece. Prophetic?

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