Nobody in the establishment expected Donald Trump to become the next President of the United States. We can talk all day about how or why the media messed that up so completely, but the fact remains that they were utterly, totally, and completely wrong.
On Election Night hundreds sat in silence at the Javits Center in New York- the scene of Hillary Clinton's campaign victory party- and watched as state after state fell to Trump. Media pundits were stunned to silence. Even "conservative" news network Fox News had so-called experts at a loss for words.
Yet every Trump supporter- be they traditional conservatives, defecting Democrats, or independents- saw this coming from a mile away. How? How were regular Americans (and indie writers such as myself) able to see this, when professional, established politicians and reporters were unable to?
There are many factors, some of which I've discussed before, that could be explored for quite a while. But the bottom line is that we are living in a new reality. Not just a new reality of politics, but a new reality in the way we relate to each other, discuss ideas, and gauge public opinion.
Over the last decade and a half, we've seen the Internet slowly (or rapidly, in some cases) take over our daily lives. Since the late 90's, everyone from companies to campaigns recognized the immense power the Internet had in reaching people and making massive amounts of money. Our society and culture jumped in, lock, stock, and barrel.
The same was true when social networks became a thing. We dipped our toe into Myspace, just to get used to the temperature. But when Facebook reached critical mass, everyone was on board. The potential for not only reaching new audiences, but compiling demographic information for marketing purposes, was too much to ignore. Our media, companies, and culture embraced social media like never before.
Despite the massive influence and use of social media, traditional institutions did not use it properly in this election. Or at least, they didn't understand how much it has changed the way we learn about the world, communicate with each other, and think about things like our government and media empires.
Traditional media, even though they've used social networks and the web for years to build audiences and make money, were unable to see how much these products have replaced them.
How else can you explain the bogus polling numbers we saw during the election? Phone polling is clearly an outdated and broken way of gauging voter response. Clearly, that was the case for Trump. Watching user engagement on social media would have been a better indication of how much support the man had. Mainstream media ignored this, confident that their numbers were right, to their shocking embarrassment.
Then there are the outside influences that helped shape this election. Months ago I praised the outlandish rhetoric of Milo Yiannopoulos, the gay British conservative writer who was visiting college campuses to decry social justice and PC culture. This unexpected figure was aggressively supporting Donald Trump. Traditional media outlets didn't know what to do with this man. They couldn't put him into any boxes and thus underestimated his influence on the election.
His attack on what he called the "regressive" left inspired many young conservatives to stand up for their beliefs, channeling a strong group who would go on to vote for Trump.
Even now he is getting recognition for his influence this year, much to the chagrin of traditional gay outlets:
LGBTQ Nation has written a disclaimer after discovering that Breitbart’s resident gay thot MILO was in the lead for their LGBT Person of the Year poll.
“The LGBTQ Nation Person of the Year 2016 poll has only been open one week and already there is a clear leader: Milo Yiannopoulos,” declared LGBTQ Nation in the article. “It should be noted ‘Person of the Year’ isn’t an award or necessarily the recognition of someone beloved, but rather the result of an unscientific survey.” (via Breitbart)
Milo's internet savvy and connection to popular trends helped him motivate people that would otherwise have not cared about the election. Columbia Journalism Review's Lee Siegel compared him to Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, a conservative response to their style of humor and commentary.
Just as the far right learned some tactical lessons from the 1960s’ countercultural left, the crew at Breitbart et al. learned some lessons from the two erstwhile prophets of Comedy Central. Breitbart creation Milos Yiannopoulos’s “Dangerous Faggot” is the dark, twisted underside of Colbert’s creation of the type of bullying, autocratic persona that would be perfectly at home at Breitbart. (via CJR)
For all of Hollywood's star power trying to motivate Americans to vote for Hillary, they could not move the needle this election year. Yet unlikely people like Milo continue to have an impact, as evidenced by the continued backlash from the left.
Donald Trump's victory proves you don't need the love of traditional media to win. You don't even need honest coverage from them. We've known this for a long time anyway; in every other sector, your best bet for a thriving career is online. If you want to be a cartoonist in this day and age, you're better off making a webcomic than pitching to newspapers. If you want to be a writer, you best have a blog.
If you want to reach a large audience with news and information, the last thing you'd be looking into is a printing press.
Trump understood this, and built his campaign on enthusiastic rallies and direct communication online. He didn't depend on press conferences to get his message out, hoping that the already slanted media would give him fair coverage. Instead, he frequently posted on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and via email. Even now he gets flak from the press for posting to Twitter "too much." But this is the same press that's been trying to destroy him for a year and a half.
Why the hell should he listen to them now?
I'm not trying to say that traditional media is dying. It's been dead for ten years. But it still serves some purpose. Perhaps merely as a window into what the establishment is thinking. Real conversations are happening outside their dusty, empty halls.
The future belongs to the outsiders, the ones bold enough to make a difference and ruffle feathers. Now more than ever we have opportunities to make our voices heard that our forefathers could never dream of. Though there will continue to be people who refuse to change, the rest of us will be moving forward.
Hell, if we can get Trump elected president, anything's possible.