By Innocent Mwangi (firstname.lastname@example.org) [9th November 2016]
In 2016, the world was treated to a world class political drama in the name of the USA 2016 Elections; starting from the primaries to the conclusion of the November 2016 Elections.
This election had two very interesting candidates, none of whom had the support of their parties ‘Establishment’.
On one side was Bernie Sanders of the Democratic Party, who, although he appeared to elicit immense excitement among Democratic Party supporters, was not on the Democratic Party’s Establishment radar. And despite his huge success in the primaries, he was quickly dispensed with and relegated to an also-run.
But he did not graciously exit the race as he felt that his Establishment-backed rival, Hillary Clinton, was not playing fair. He at one time accused Hillary of duplicity in financial violation. He also accused the Democratic National Committee of favoring his rival; and so one can forgive his lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The Republican Party Establishment, on the other hand, had an array of candidates who, in their estimation, were painstakingly carved out of the Republican establishment mold. Candidates such as Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, John Kasich among many others were ‘perfect’ pro-establishment candidates.
In hindsight I think Hillary Clinton would have won had she run against any of the Republican candidates with the exception of one – The Donald; or Donald Trump, if you like.
From the onset, Trump was treated by the Establishment and the mainstream media alike as the joker in a crowded primary with 17 Republican candidates. Here was a candidate without any experience in government seeking to become the president of the United States of America. And so no one took him seriously; some even questioned his own seriousness in the race. Others dismissed him as an attention-seeking showbiz snob whose only interest was to expand his business empire and to placate his insatiable ego.
The mainstream media instantly ignored him; and where he received media time, it was tilted only to expose his purported ‘bigotry’.
Days turned into weeks; and then into months as one by one, the other sixteen Republicans gave up their dreams of succeeding President Obama. On May 14, 2016, the last Republican Primaries candidate, John Kasich, reluctantly conceded the Republican Presidential nomination race to The Donald.
As it became clear that Donald Trump was poised to be the Republican nominee for Presidency, the Republican Establishment was squirming in their seats. How could they support such an ‘inelectable’, ‘not-fit-to-be-president’ candidate?
Some such as Jeb Bush stubbornly refused to endorse their own candidate and seemed to have given up the fight to their rival Democratic Party candidate, Hillary Clinton. Others such as Paul Ryan flip-flopped on their support; frequently distancing themselves and the Republican Party from Donald Trump.
Poll after poll went on to show Hillary Clinton comfortably in the lead. The media gullibly seized on these polls to hammer their discourse on Trump’s ‘unelectability’ while at the same time extolling Hillary Clinton’s wealth of experience.
In this discourse, it was lost on the media that Trump actually had a lot of support from what has now come to be known as the ‘silent voters’ – those who chose to ignore pollsters and instead opted to playing their cards close to their chests. Fed up with politicians and a government that seemed aloof to their needs, these renegade anti-establishments, anti-politicians voters came out in large numbers to vote for Donald Trump.
The shock in the Clinton campaign and in the media; and indeed in the entire world, which had been duped into believing that there was no way Trump could be elected, was palpable as state after state reported huge wins for The Donald. Soon, the media, especially CNN, were left reeling under the weight of a loss of credibility as The Donald was declared president-Elect of the United States of America.
How could the mainstream media have gotten their predictions so wrong? I believe that when people are desperate for change, anyone with a change message is more believable than a candidate with a proven track record.
What the Americans were looking for in the 2016 Elections was a new way of doing things, a departure from a system that they believed had outlived its usefulness.
Trump was quick to seize on these heartstrings by projecting himself as a change agent who is not a politician, but one who could Make America Great Again.
As he wound up his campaign a day before the Election Day, Trump closed with a clarion tweet to the American citizens: “LETS GO AMERICA! Time to take back our country”.
That clarion call, ‘time to take back our country’, in my opinion, roused up not only his now diehard supporters, but it also galvanized the ‘leaners’ and the ‘undecided’ voters who finally decided to cast their protest vote for Trump. The result, even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, was a decisive win for Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
Now that the USA 2016 Elections are long gone, there is need for a thorough soul-searching by the mainstream media across the world – a media that appear to have gotten it so wrong in the USA 2016 Elections.
It was also a big lesson for the pollsters who are increasingly ceding their credibility ground. Perhaps there is a need to redefine the role of data in predicting results by interrogating and contextualising polling data.
Besides, the mainstream media should understand the transient nature of today’s audience; who are no longer glued in front of a TV, or who have their ears stuck on a radio transmitter.
Instead, today’s tech-savvy audience has access to information on the internet via smart phones, laptops, tablets, etc. They are not only consumers of information, but they are themselves originators of content. This audience is dispersed and borderless; and can access information at the touch of a button.
The ‘mainstream’ media still lives in a dream – of a time when you and I did not have any other voice apart from the one filtered and controlled by them.
Now, however, the dispersed and easily accessible internet and the social media have given almost everyone a voice; and Donald Trump and his campaign team appear to have mastered its use very well.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, basked in the glory of the support of the world’s ‘mainstream’ media – and she lost. So did the mainstream media.
Donald Trump won because he represented change; and a vote for him was a defiant vote against the establishment in Washington DC. He also won because, after the mainstream media shut him down, his only viable choice was the social media driven by the internet.
Despite being derided by President Obama that one cannot run the government ‘with a tweet’, Donald Trump ultimately demonstrated that social media has actually become the new ‘mainstream’ media – a dispersed, borderless, unfettered media controlled by the consumers themselves.