We have yet another case of media malpractice in the 2016 presidential election.
Reporters, anchors and commentators seem intent on providing many Americans with a warm bath when they need a cold shower. It’s not the job of the media to reflect the concerns of consumers, but rather to seek out the truth, and report it even when it’s uncomfortable. And they do the public no favors by shielding them from the harsh realities of an increasingly competitive world.
So why is the Fourth Estate so determined to coddle America’s newest cadre of victims: white working-class voters who are looking for someone or something to blame for the fact that their lives haven’t turned out as planned?
Seriously? Does anyone’s life ever turn out as planned? If we all played the blame game, there would be no end to it. We’d never get the chance to be happy, productive or fulfilled because we’d spend all our time feeling sorry for ourselves.
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I’ve been working since I was 16. That’s more than 30 years. In that time, I’ve been fired from five jobs. Each time, I bounced back. It never occurred to me to blame co-workers, employers or a foreign country.
Class envy is also in the mix, as when reporters do stories about how “the rich” don’t pay enough taxes, or how workers’ wages are plummeting, or how corporations are moving jobs overseas to increase profits.
As for the coddled, these are the folks who – we were repeatedly told during the coverage of primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan and Ohio – are terrified of losing their jobs and being displaced by immigration, globalization and trade deals. And, according to this narrative, government is largely to blame for this pain. It should have done a better job of protecting low-skilled workers from evil companies eager to ship jobs to China, Mexico or India.
Never mind that these workers may have made bad choices, or closed doors to opportunities. Forget the fact that they could have fortified their position in the economy by pursuing more education, obtaining training and learning new skills.
The most notorious of these trade pacts – the North American Free Trade Agreement – is now seen, by many Americans, as a bad deal. Of course, the idea of breaking down trade barriers between Canada, Mexico and the United States was never particularly popular in Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. NAFTA fared better with the public in states closer to the U.S.-Mexico border such as Arizona and Texas where companies and workers alike saw the potential to prosper if goods could move more freely from country to country.
Say what you will, NAFTA does have the magical power of uniting Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in opposition to it. The way Sanders sees it, workers shouldn’t have their job security negotiated away by corporations. For Trump, the problem isn’t the deals themselves but simply that our leaders need to negotiate better agreements.
The “displaced worker” meme is an old story with a new twist. In 1992, insurgent candidate Pat Buchanan did surprisingly well in New Hampshire’s Republican primary by making an outlandish promise. Vote for Buchanan, we were told, and he’ll bring back textile jobs.
Back then, the low-skilled jobs hadn’t been moved out of the country but rather to a different part of the country – often, the American South. You didn’t hear many complaints from south of the Mason-Dixon Line about jobs moving into their region from another. If this caused stress for folks in New England, well, that was no concern of the Southerners.
Now, 20 years later, some of those same states in the South are losing jobs to foreign countries. And the grumbling seems incessant.
The media feed the anxiety. One of the most recent narratives to emerge is that white-collar workers would have more sympathy for the plight of the working class if it was their jobs that were being outsourced. Perhaps.
Or it could be that most professionals have had their share of setbacks and failures in their own lives, and so they realize that there is no point in trying to blame them on some external factor over which you have no control. Better to step up and take responsibility for getting back on track and generating new opportunities that could leave you better off.
Now that’s a worthwhile message for the media to spread.
Contact Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.