A Journalist's Confession
For my years of high school, I have taken on the identity of a journalist. And I have proudly worn that identity. I thought I was devoting myself to the religion of information and understanding. Journalism felt like the greatest check to a seemingly unbalanced government. But, as I watched the vote counts finalize nationwide on Tuesday night, I began to question my method of collecting information. I began to question journalism.
As I watched Donald Trump give a victory speech at New York City, I felt deceived. Not by America, but rather by media. Because my initial thought when Trump took the stage was, “How did this happen?”
And when I say “how” I am not referring to the inaccuracy of the polls predictions that led to an unexpected victory.
When I say “how” I am alluding to my failure to understand the situation that led America to vote this way. How did Trump win? I cannot understand. I could not understand why or how rational Americans could vote for him. Yet, many did.
Part of this could be attributed to the infamous “Cupertino bubble” I hear about all the time. I acknowledge Silicon Valley, let alone Cupertino, is not a representation of America by any means. And therefore, I felt that media was my one channel of communication to the part of America I am not exposed to.
And while it is easy to walk away from this election and say the media failed me—the media is “rigged”—the problem is rooted in how we interact with media.
My understanding of this election largely relied on the posts, videos and articles shared through Facebook. Yet Facebook tailors articles that fit my political affiliation and filters out articles that question, even challenge, those ideologies. I have always seen the purpose of journalism as changing discourse, forcing individuals to critically think of the values they hold and the way they think.
Yet, how can we intellectually evolve when the information and opinions we collect reaffirm what we know?
The exposure to one side of the argument has perpetrated a divided culture. About two weeks ago, an El Estoque guest writer wrote “An Argument for Trump” and shared it through Facebook. While some students expressed support, others responded by jokingly calling the article “inconsiderable,” “racist,” “commie propaganda” and even going as far as to call him an “idiot.” Sure, I didn’t agree with the conclusions drawn, but I was glad to hear a logical voice from “the other side” and surprised to see illogical arguments against his post.
A student body that prides itself on their tolerance of people of varying sexuality, homosexuality, gender, is so intolerant toward people of differing political views.
I am not here to argue to give Trump a chance. The statements he has made about immigrants, Muslims, women and so much of America still gives me shivers. But, as I walk around school and hear people shaming “those Trump supporters,” I fear too often people are asking “What’s wrong with them?” rather than “What’s wrong with me? Why can I not understand their perspective?”
By doing so, we risk the danger of being blinded by others perceived faults and overlooking our own faults. When protesters across the nation yell “he is not my President,” we engage in the same immaturity that we mocked Trump for: he refused to say whether he would accept the election results. Our democracy spoke. If we didn’t like the electoral college system in the first place, why mock Trump for refusing to stand by the results of the election?
I understand the desire to prevent the normalizing of the election and to provide support for communities through protest, but I question the effectiveness of these protests. Four years down the line, will these protests convince Trump supporters to vote differently? Will calling Trump supporters “racists” help them understand white privilege? Will calling them “misogynists” help them see gender inequality?
I refuse to generalize all people who voted for Trump as racists and misogynists. In fact, according to The Washington Post, more people of color voted for Trump than Mitt Romney in 2012 and a New York Times article cites that 42 percent of women voted for Trump (although most were white).
Jon Stewart in a Vanity Fair article pointed out the “liberal hypocrisy” stemming from this generalization.
“There’s now this idea that anyone who voted for [Trump] has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric,” Stewart said, “In the liberal community, you hate the idea of creating people as a monolith. ‘Don’t look at Muslims like a monolith. They are individuals, and it would be ignorant.’ But everybody who voted for Trump is a monolith—is a racist. That hypocrisy is also real in our country.”
Unfortunately, this monolith is furthered by the emphasis on Trump’s unacceptable rhetoric. But an election campaign is not about the candidates; it’s about the voters they are appealing to. And when we generalize a large portion of America under a single characteristic, we run the risk of creating what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called “a single story.”
“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete,” Adichie said in a TEDTalk. “They make one story become the only story.”
When we, as citizens of California, here on the west coast, wash away Trump supporters as mere southern redneck racists, we display an inability to understand and sympathize with a large part of America.
That’s where journalism is meant to come in. Despite the immense physical distance from Cupertino to a small town in Texas, I relied on media to show me an American I am not in contact with and allow me to say “I don’t agree with your vote, but I understand your perspective.”
Trump supporters are not all mere ignorants hidden behind their privilege. They are small business owner immigrants who struggle to pay taxes. They are 2nd generation Uber drivers who worry about feeding their kids. They are people who feel like they are on a steady decline with the status quo.
After the results of this election, I searched the internet for answers. Not on Facebook, but on organic searches on media sites. In the Atlantic, I found an article “The Original Underclass” that argues “Poor white Americans’ current crisis shouldn’t have caught the rest of the country as off guard as it has.” An economic professor wrote an opinion piece for the LA Times claiming the election results boiled down to the dissatisfaction with the economy. Harvard Business Review delves into the perspective of the U.S. middle class.
Journalism may have had the answers all along. I was just afraid to ask the question: why would anyone vote for Trump? I was afraid I may find rational answers.