An Active, Vigilant Media Is Necessary for A Democracy

     Rural landscape 2016 – transparency and a message will support its future

It is Easter Sunday and I was able to watch the Sunday shows.  The show I have grown to enjoy most is Brian Stelter’s “Reliable Sources”.  This morning the discussion was about how the leaders in the media and the political parties failed to hear the great concerns across America which energizes Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sander’s “movements.”

Donald Trump has been especially effective in resonating with this segment of America.  Senator Sanders has had a populist appeal that to some extent has included this group, but appears to also include youth who are anxious for a country with greater perceived, personal opportunity.  His message of the millionaire and billionaire class appeals to both the disaffected and the emergent hopeful.

The message presented this morning is that the media and political leaders spend so much time talking to the elites along the New York-Washington Axis that they fail to perform the arduous investigation necessary to understand exactly what is happening in the rest of America.  Without this investigation they cannot present their research and conclusion to Americans.  This is in distinction to the progressive era at the turn of the 20th Century as documented in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit, when the media led in documenting social carbuncles open to public redress.  I guess the question is whether we have such journalistic guardians now.

So what are we looking at this election cycle?  Though Senator Sanders is gathering steam in the west, I doubt he can overcome the institutional advantage that Secretary Clinton has achieved.  She has too much support from the major eastern economic interests and she is very aligned with political power blocks such as the Congressional Black Caucus.   If Donald Trump is able to continue to collect delegates, he potentially will be the nominee and it will be a contest of the eastern-elite’s-business-as-usual represented by Secretary Clinton against a populist, nationalistic campaign lead by a New York billionaire.  How will that break?  How many Americans will end up sitting out the election because they feel they have no choice between a fully-encumbered-power-elite and a virulent nationalist?

An option will be Secretary Clinton’s business-as-usual message versus Senator Cruz should he receive the Republican nomination.  This will be a contest of Yale, represented by Secretary Clinton versus Harvard, represented by Senator Cruz.   The core of the contest will be between traditional political power elites, whatever the rhetoric may become before November.

My interest is with the populism that is exhibited by significant numbers in both parties.  Where will it take us?  Likely the movement will develop along several themes which will be enduring unless the next President addresses the issues raised during the 2015/2016 primaries.  As a center-left, rural voter I see the themes essentially formed around issues of representation, opportunity, self-determination and reliance.

  • Senator Sander’s discussion of the corrupting influence of money in politics is central to the issue of representation. As long as institutions can make stratospheric contributions to individual candidates and mount unaccountable campaigns through highly funded super PACs, we will have a huge imbalance that sullies political discourse.  Obviously the beneficiaries are those contributing the great sums.  Potentially, this issue will require a Constitutional amendment if it is to be adequately addressed.
  • Donald Trump’s discussion of immigration addresses issues of opportunity in America. There has been no resolution and the aspects of the discussion become a wedge to resolution.  Many Americans view immigration as greatly reducing their ability to gain and hold a job at a living wage.  Though there is push back by many because of an American theme of acceptance and tolerance, the issue must be addressed.  When it is addressed, those whose livelihoods depend upon a robust labor market with some supply side (indigenous American worker) bias must be part of the equation.  The current winners are employers who want lower wages and less cost and not American workers who feel in many cases they have been left behind.
  • Trade is a critical issue as has been defined by both Senator Sanders and Donald Trump. Senator Sander’s criticism is that the larger trade deals such as NAFTA have left American communities and their workers behind.  His is a policy statement that we have tried these deals, but we must build in protective elements where American workers are not competing directly with lower paid workers in third-World economies.  This is a basic augment for American self-determination.  There may be rationales for this such as it builds economic stability outside of the United States.  The key to me is that the American elites are not paying the cost for this stability, it is the wage earners throughout America.
  • Personally, my greatest interest is with the abandonment of America’s rural interior by the New York-Washington Axis. Major legislation is packaged as good for America and it leaves rural people behind. Many view this as not beneficial because they are are America’s resilient soul.
    • The Endangered Species Act creates barriers to community and economic development in rural communities.  Its benefit, I guess, is to folks who do not live in rural areas, who feel it is beneficial to prevent species change and see the rural hinterland as a large park for urban and suburban people.  For rural communities, it becomes the burden of Sisyphus to undertake many community and economic projects.  The act’s extensive requirements too often delay and frustrate.  An easy conclusion is that rural people have less priority in America than plant species that are selected by appointed administrators to be protected by Federal law and regulation as endangered or threatened.
    • Similarly, recently, the Transportation Security Administration has refused to provide security screening service to many rural airports initiating or even re-initiated air service.  When this happens, there are really no safe options, just a “suck it up” approach from TSA.  The indifference to rural populations by essentially writing them out of the air transportation system is inconsistent with an inclusive America.  The winners are big airlines who do  not have to support with lower profits provided by rural air carrier routes.  Recently, legislation has been introduced by a bi-partisan group consisting of Senator Merkley and Representatives Walden and DeFazio.   This legislative interest is encouraging, but it has not yet been adopted and signed by the President.
    • On the campaign trail, Secretary Clinton referred to the economic difficulty by West Virginia coal miners when she said “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”   The comment was amazing in how little empathy was expressed for economically distressed people.  They have been a resilient, stable base within America.  The thought is that the movement away from coal will affirmatively address climate change.  There is much more behind it,   defining which economic actors will win and lose.  The pattern seems to be to define a  policy “good” such as addressing climate change and then acting by legislation and investments to implement that “good”.  What should be investigated fully  is who wins by the new economic order.  It appears contradictory that “progressive” political actors accept this type of change which is generally detrimental to rural populations, while at the same time legislating and administering to preserve endangered and threatened plant species which is also detrimental to rural communities and economic development.
  • An enduring issue is the Second Amendment. Donald Trump has expressed gun rights as a key issue for him and Senator Sanders indicated his sympathies for a reasonable middle-course when he expressed concern that Secretary Clinton’s proposed firearms policy would put firearm manufacturers out of business in America.
    • The New York-Washington Axis consistently advocates measures to reduce American’s access to  firearms.  We can only guess that the motive for firearms control is to provide a “fig leaf” to address stressed Democratic urban policies.  Also the policies are consistent with what has happened in many other countries that have legislated to strictly control firearms.  This implies a distrust of the American People by some in political or economic power.
    • About half of all Americans believe we should reduce firearms regulation or keep, more or less the status quo.   We would expect rural Americans to need access more than others, but the polls show that support is much broader.  Undoubtedly it is because Americans do not entirely trust their government or governors to be there when needed to protect them and also Americans do not want to be victims or helpless in the face of criminal or terrorist violence.
    • While there have been tragedies in America that tear the heart, the open question to me is the 166 folks who perished by guns and bombs in 2008 in Mumbai, India, the 63 in the Westgate Shopping Center in 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya, and the 130 in 2015 in Paris, France.     Each of these countries has strong gun-control regimes that apparently didn’t work as effectively as expected.  There is so little consideration of these tragedies within the general call for more American gun regulation.  Jesse Hughes who was playing with the Eagles of Death at the time of the Bataclan massacre in Paris, has expressed  what is a compelling sentiment for many Americans:  “And I hate it that it’s that way. I think the only way that my mind has been changed is that maybe that until nobody has guns everybody has to have them.”

Each of these issues will undoubtedly continue to develop.  They have become the center of American political discourse.  The refreshing aspect is that new challenges are recognized by many in the media and potentially the normal solutions that feed the wealthiest among us while leaving much of America behind will continue to be challenged.  This is a lot to hope for, but it may materialize if the American people keep their voice and the general media “keep-their-ears-on” by investing in reporting outside of the New York-Washington Axis.

Talking with the Family about Politics



This last weekend I enjoyed the exchange between our family members.  A number of us weighed in regarding an article on authoritarian factors as a measure of support for Donald Trump.  I picked the article up on Fareed Zakaria’s Sunday show.     I sent it out, and enjoyed the response and essays that were returned.  The distance of the exchange was gigantic between Oregon, Kansas and South Africa.  It would be tastier around a table eating chicken, potatoes, and green beans on a Sunday family lunch.  But alas, it shall never be.

I read an article in the Guardian that my oldest daughter recommended in response to my offering and thought it insightful.   As I read it, the story is of failed liberalism and sold-out actors.  Our country has a parcel of folks that do not perceive any remedy to address their social and economic frustrations.  The liberal institutions developed to provide them with a voice are at best an echo.  In many cases they are seen as not having the flexibility to pivot to emerging economic issues, but instead are deeply invested in preserving historical liberal (I guess they now call it progressive) racial, environmental, sexual victories.

Because of their need to defend their acquired constituencies from these battles, there is difficulty by the liberals in pivoting to address legitimate new economic failures.  Many Americans who see a need for change have profound feelings of second-class status and being left behind by the American economy.

Trade is often discussed and key because liberal forces embraced or accepted numerous free-trade initiatives.  The result is perceived economic loss by many Americans.  Donald Trump talks about politicians being about talk, not action.  If he does not have the answers (no-one knows) at least he appears to hear many Americans and he is willing to offer action in which they can believe.  This is supported by Donald Trump’s own financial success and glamour.  Many of his admirers see him as the “real deal”. Both he and his wife use the word “elegant” often.  He offers a glimpse at a world of elegant winners for those feeling left behind and helpless by liberal governmental initiatives.

So much of America feels they have been left behind, overlooked or used to advance others without adequate reward.   My concern is rural America (on another day I will tell you stories), but this is also felt by many working class Americans, who feel they are essentially without options to get ahead.  This is not a majority of our country, but it is a size able lot of Americans.  On the one hand, their frustration could be lost in the ether, but during the election season, we see it every day on the 24/7 news cycle.  Its most discordant elements are emphasized and rebroadcast and we know the power of persistent calls to action and vilifications from the extreme examples of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

So it is a strange phenomenon of reality magnified by perception and circumstances.  Donald Trump is persistent, but I do not believe he is not predominant.  Currently he is something more than a third of the Republicans.  Because of the nature of the perceived grievances he addresses, he will pick up Democrats and independents and we will see whether his message is loud or he is potentially a majority movement.  This is really doubtful, but it does not mean he will not have access to power.  Abraham Lincoln was elected because of multiple “Democratic” contenders, and Bill Clinton got there because of Ross Perot.  History is replete with examples of individuals who have assumed power because their opposition has been fractured.  It is nearly a major lesson of history.

What I presented to the family is how attractive he is to those with authoritarian temperaments.  The propensity to support more authoritarian action allows otherwise considered and conscientious Americans to overlook candidate flaws — even profound flaws.  We will see how this works with Leader Trump.  It should be quite a show to see whether he can empower those feeling profoundly left behind to direct, authoritarian action.