An American divide

McClatchy reports: “The establishment is anybody with big money who can get to the Congressmen and lobbyists,” said Judy Surak, a nurse from Clemson, South Carolina.

All over South Carolina, ask the people reveling in the music at Greenville Heritage Main Street Fridays, or starting their day with homemade onion sausage at Lizard’s Thicket on Two Notch Road in Columbia to define the establishment, and they usually echo Surak.

They often add a gentle qualifier: They don’t want to blow up the political system. They just want it to be more responsive, to work better.

“The country’s long-term problems have to be fixed within the system we have,” said Mark Cruise, a Columbia executive.

The most wary tend to be better educated, higher earning, older voters, according to the national poll. They tend to see establishment figures easing in and out of lucrative, comfortable jobs, climbing ladders to success that seem unavailable to the rank and file who populate South Carolina’s office cubicles.

Of 78 members of Congress who left after the 2010 elections, four out of five found work with lobbying firms or clients, state or federal governments or political action committees.

One of Bill Clinton’s former White House spokesmen hosts an influential network Sunday talk show. NBC hires Chelsea Clinton as a “special correspondent,” paying her a reported $600,000 annually, far above the typical pay for a reporter with no journalistic experience.

The ties are intricate and deep. Five Treasury secretaries in the past three presidential administrations have either headed big Wall Street firms, or became top executives after leaving their jobs.

Every member of the U.S. Supreme Court has at least one Ivy League degree. Every president elected since 1988 is an Ivy Leaguer. So are Clinton and Trump.

Even among Republican presidential candidates who insist they’re running against the establishment, establishment ties have served them well.

Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, promotes himself as a maverick, but has two Ivy League degrees and worked in state and federal governments before being elected. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio was a congressman for 18 years, then was a senior executive at Lehman Brothers’ investment banking division. Trump’s company is building a luxury hotel five blocks from the White House.

Somehow, many see Trump through a different lens.

“He has all he ever wanted. He doesn’t have to bother with this,” explained Elaine Verma, a Kiawah Island court reporter. “He just has the best interests of the United States at heart.” [Continue reading…]

Nicholas Kristof writes: I personally made the mistake of regarding Trump’s candidacy as a stunt, scoffing at the idea that he could be the nominee. Mea culpa.

We failed to take Trump seriously because of a third media failing [the first being that the news media gave Trump $1.9 billion in free publicity, and the second being that the media treated Trump as a farce]: We were largely oblivious to the pain among working-class Americans and thus didn’t appreciate how much his message resonated. “The media has been out of touch with these Americans,” [Ann] Curry notes.

Media elites rightly talk about our insufficient racial, ethnic and gender diversity, but we also lack economic diversity. We inhabit a middle-class world and don’t adequately cover the part of America that is struggling and seething. We spend too much time talking to senators, not enough to the jobless.

All this said, I have to add that I don’t know if more fact-checking would have mattered. Tom Brokaw of NBC did outstanding work challenging Trump, but he says that when journalists have indeed questioned Trump’s untrue statements, nothing much happens: “His followers find fault with the questions, not with his often incomplete, erroneous or feeble answers.” [Continue reading…]

Once a system is perceived as rigged, its agents lose social authority — and that opens a space in which authority is up for grabs and the loudest voices will be those who claim their own authority on the basis that they operate outside the establishment. Paradoxically, authority is easily transferred to those who possess none.

Someone like Kristof can spend as much time as he wants talking to jobless Americans, but that won’t change his status as a member of the establishment. It won’t increase his level of influence among those Americans who are open to the influence of people like Alex Jones.

Half of Republicans don’t believe in evolution. 40% of conservative Republicans think global warming will never happen. 43% of Republicans think that President Obama is a Muslim.

Alex Jones now claims that “the establishment is announcing that they do intend to cancel the presidential election in this country.” And he says the mainstream media is being encouraged to report it “like it’s no big deal.”

In a Facebook video, Jones hands over to his cameraman, Buckley Hamman, who says: “Whether or not Trump is the person that we all hope and believe that he is, he is our last best hope at this point…”

“That’s right,” Jones interjects, “the establishment is scared of him.”

“They don’t have a right to come steal the elections and steal the government and be run by foreign interest, like communist China and all these other foreign governments and Saudi Arabia, telling us we can’t have Donald Trump. Donald Trump could be a monster and I would say we have to vote for him because these foreign mass murderers tell us he’s the worst guy in history.”

Hamman adds: “He is aware, he is open and he is conscious to the idea of the world being enslaved. And he is pissed off about it and he doesn’t want to have it happen any more… And look at how brilliant he is at manipulating the media.”

And who does Trump hold up as an authoritative media source? Alex Jones.

The problem in a broken political system where the mainstream media has largely abandoned its responsibility as a fourth estate, is that the doors get flung open to false prophets — people whose passion for “truth telling” and “exposing lies,” can seduce an audience ripe for a populist, xenophobic message.

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