What the Media Doesn’t ‘Get’ About Trump Supporters

March 10, 2017 6:30 pm Last Updated: March 10, 2017 7:47 pm

No president in modern history has been subjected to the type of media scrutiny that Donald Trump experienced during the first weeks of his administration.

Even though nearly 63 million people, or about half, voted for Trump, you still wouldn’t know it reading through Google News or the New York Times’s front page.

To his supporters, the factual gaffes made by him and White House spokespeople can be easily overlooked if he demolishes the political and media establishment in Washington. Moreover, they believe Trump “speaks his mind”—often bluntly.

Trump, meanwhile, views everything as a deal and takes a business approach to politics, which his surrogates seem to adore and often celebrate. People who voted for him know this well. They’re very familiar with his loose style of speaking. His supporters know, and many are happy, that he’s not a politician, and, considering his well-known sales background, they expect a certain amount hyperbole—something Trump excels at. 

Trump doesn’t follow the established political playbook. Again, this is one of the reasons people voted for him. Trump critics would do well to stop viewing him as a person and more like a phenomenon: His supporters view him as a wrecking ball to what they see as a corrupt political establishment.

White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon waits for the arrival of President Donald Trump for a meeting on cyber security in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington on Jan. 31, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon at the White House in Washington on Jan. 31, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Steve Bannon, Trump’s adviser gets this. During a recent talk at CPAC, Bannon said a primary goal of the administration is “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” Perhaps every provocative Trump tweet is part of a wider scheme aimed at destroying the bureaucracy as we know it.

A great insight into Trump’s support is the most popular sub-Reddit on all things Trump, r/The_Donald. When he rails against the media—such as his recent description of CNN as “very fake news”—and claims that ex-President Obama wiretapped his phones, his supporters don’t pick apart his words—instead, they cheer him on.

To them, their support is a means to destroying the “administrative state,” while delegitimizing the monopoly of the legacy media. They’re willing to take the bad with the good—the verbal gaffes, the “unpresidential” behavior, some factually inaccurate tweets, and the apparent sloppiness of his communications team—if it means metaphorically shattering the Washington Monument.

It appears chaotic on the surface, and legacy media outlets often capitalize on it with “fact-checks” dissecting and interpreting what Trump is saying or tweeting with a negative tone. The media’s handwringing, however, is increasingly falling on deaf ears. According to a number of surveys and polls, public opinion of news outlets has plummeted to record-lows.

That’s doubly true with Republicans. According to Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer study, only 15 percent of Trump voters trust the media, and nearly 63 million people voted for him.

Back to the sub-Reddit. When Trump does or says something, its turned into a meme of sorts. Only hours after Trump called CNN “very fake news,” the term “VERY FAKE NEWS” was added under any posts related to CNN by the forum’s moderators.

Other Trumpist terms like “FANTASTIC,” “TREMENDOUS,” “HIGH ENERGY,” and “PATHETIC!” get added underneath posts that perform well. The way Trump speaks isn’t derided. It’s celebrated, and is often turned into a meme. In well-performing posts, the verbiage often imitates Trump’s speaking style.

His Twitter blurbs are intended to build up and galvanize his support base, as well as get the media and opponents talking about certain topics, by speaking directly to the American public. When he attacks perceived political elites, the media, and others, his surrogates love it. He won’t stop tweeting until enough of his supporters indicate that he should not.

This isn’t to excuse the Trump administration’s mendacity or playing fast and loose with the facts. His supporters either accept what he says or acknowledge Trump uses his unfiltered words as a tactic.

They believe most other politicians and former presidents, particularly Obama, lied constantly and didn’t deliver; even worse, to them, the previous administration and journalists told them untruths, while at the same time claimed the moral high ground.

In this war of narratives and counterattacks from Trump and the legacy media, the press hasn’t made an effort to understand why Trump’s supporters support him; instead, they’ve doubled down on the anti-Trump rhetoric. The political media, as has been written, live in a bubble. Because of their job demands, they’re forced to live and breathe Trump. 

But to most American people, who don’t consume news 24/7, they live more normal lives and aren’t constantly tethered to Drudge Report or have to endure hourly sifting through pages of clickbaity headlines that trend on Spike/Newswhip (a fantastic program, I might add). They’re experiencing the Trump effect in a very differently way from the journalists who cover him.

According to Harvard Professor Michael Sandel, in a criminally under-reported piece two weeks ago, Trump’s presidency is the result of “decades of rising inequality and a version of globalization that benefited those at the top but left ordinary people feeling disempowered.”

“Donald Trump tapped into a wellspring of anxieties and legitimate grievances, to which the mainstream parties offered no compelling answers. The upheavals of 2016 were a political response to a political failure of historic proportions,” Sandel explained.

Trump is an unconventional president with unconventional tactics. Perhaps Trump’s opposition should keep that in mind and try to understand his supporters first.

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