Understanding the Friction Between Trump and Journalists

It has little to do with his politics, inexperience or temperament

Donald Trump's presidential bid has revealed a yawning chasm between elites and most working-class whites, writes Matt Lewis. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Donald Trump's presidential bid has revealed a yawning chasm between elites and most working-class whites, writes Matt Lewis. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 26, 2016 at 5:00am

If you’ve been paying attention, it’s pretty clear that Donald Trump supporters don’t care much for members of the media, and the feeling is mutual. While charges of liberal media bias go back further than I can remember, something else is at play here. Why do so many journalists disdain this man? After some deep reflection, I’ve identified some compelling reasons that have little to do with his political philosophy, lack of experience or in some cases, even his temperament.

First, I suspect that writers — trained to be pedantic — have a particular problem with Trump. If I ever thought of saying, “Many, many people” told me this or that, I would stop and self-edit. Likewise, I would also never say, as Trump so often does, that “a lot of people are saying” such and such, because the obvious rejoinder from an editor would be: “Prove it.” I suspect that Trump’s rhetorical style is especially annoying to writers, who also just happen to be essential when it comes to covering politics.

This helps explain the disconnect between journalists and average Americans. When Trump speaks, he sounds more like a regular (non-writer) person. The public rewards him for this, and we punish him because we find it so reflexively discordant (and secretly suspect his vagueness conceals his dissembling). This differs from his refusal to bow to our cosmopolitan shibboleths (something that might also be a source of subconscious bias). To most writers, precision and documentation take on an almost moral status.

Second, Trump’s shoddy campaign bothers the hell out of me. Why should I care how he runs his campaign? Unlike many Trump fans who view the process as inherently corrupt, I grew up respecting the game of politics. Over the years, I have read and studied hundreds of books on politics — Chris Matthews’ “Hardball,” John Brady’s “Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater,” James Carville and Paul Begala’s “Buck Up, Suck Up … And Come Back When You Foul Up” (to name a few) — as well as countless leadership books by the likes of Peter Drucker, John Maxwell, and Stephen Covey, and volumes on the leadership lessons of great men like Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln.

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These books have ingrained in me indelible maxims about politics and leadership — lessons that Trump constantly flouts. Now, when Trump ignored all the traditional rules and won, I was introspective enough to at least consider the possibility that everything I had learned about campaign politics — not my values or ideology — might have become outdated. But it turns out that, in the long run, the old rules still matter; he’s not winning. Hillary Clinton has created a superior campaign operation, and Trump’s lack of discipline and lack of a campaign has contributed to his blowing what was an eminently winnable race.

Lastly, there is admittedly a yawning chasm between the ways elites actually live versus most working-class whites in America today. Political scientist and think tank scholar Charles Murray has a theory that goes like this. Once upon a time, working-class whites were basically the salt of the earth who worked hard and played by the rules. But, for a variety of reasons — economic and moral — they are coming apart at the seams. Today, working-class whites are less likely than are elites to be married, attend regular church services, etc.

The two classes have switched places. Once thought of as bohemians, today’s elites actually live rather bourgeois lives. We (despite being the son of a prison guard, based on my chosen profession, I’m counting myself as “elite” here) generally live very conservative and moral lives, even if we don’t, in Murray’s words, “preach what we practice.”

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This, I hypothesize, has led to an interesting phenomenon, whereby Trump’s vulgarity is actually celebrated by the formerly salt-of-the-earth working class and rejected by the so-called elites who view it not only as aesthetically Philistine but also as morally repugnant.

Why am I telling you this? In the interest of greater understanding and disclosure — but not as a confession or apology. As Joan Didion’s dictum suggests, “Style is character.” And Donald Trump’s style — the way he talks, the way he decided to “wing” his campaign instead of running a smart one — says something about him as a man — and possibly the way he would govern. Something that should be ignored at your own peril.

Roll Call columnist Matt K. Lewis is a senior contributor to the Daily Caller and author of the book “Too Dumb to Fail.” Follow him on Twitter @MattKLewis.