After every election, winners and losers account for what has been won and lost. This year, millions of Americans feel like the Republic has been ‘saved’ from the ‘orange bad man.’ While, millions of other Americans feel like the country will soon be ‘lost’ to ‘sleepy Joe.’ These irreconcilable perspectives are largely built on self-delusion and tribalism. Neither man actually embodies the supposed evil and unmitigated disaster projected upon them, nor the hope and salvation I might add. The media framed Trump as an unprecedented deviation from the American norm, when in fact his policies were well in line with previous leaders, though his demeanor and rhetoric were not. Joe Biden is hardly a socialist, Black liberation radical; he is a hawkish, fiscal centrist whose policies do not rattle Wall Street one bit.
But we are not only left with the frames of these two men. Through them many Americans look upon their respective supporters, over 150 million Americans between the two of them. Biden supporters have decided that Trump voters are unrepentant bigots; while out of ignorance and fear they ‘cling’ to their guns and religion. Meanwhile, Trump lovers think Biden voters are a strange clandestine force, made up of essentially non-Americans who hate America but love wearing masks during Covid, because they also hate freedom. These two perspectives are framed by the largely media-based understanding most people have of these two men and their supporters. The problem with frames, of course, is they leave things out of view and one can and should ask what has been left out of view.
Most writers you read are not brilliant connoisseurs of knowledge; they are mediocre cowards who willingly subscribe to these frames in pursuit of clicks, approval and acceptance. Or they are outright idiots. And now, since activists, academics and artists also write on social media, they too exhibit the same lame symptoms of general chicken-hood and obsequiousness towards the mob. I will prove it to you.
Do you think that an avid Trump supporter watches MSNBC and thinks to themselves, “mmm, I may disagree, but they have a legitimate perspective…”? Of course not, they rant, they rave, they think that MSNBC is part propaganda and part bat crazy. Now do the experiment the other way around. Do you think the average Biden voter watches Fox and does not have the exact same reaction? One of two things is possible here: Either A) “one side” truly is correct and the “other” side is truly inherently evil, yet so well organized that they have been able to establish corporate media hubs that propagate their destructive mission to the world. Or B) both understandings of the “other” are based on false frames exploited by commercial media enterprises. If you think (a), you are a moron. There is no need to read further.
If you think (B), first, let me say, nice to see you here in reality; I really appreciate your company. Secondly, it seems the question that writers and activists should be asking is why are false frames so vivid and enduring and why are we not doing enough to dismantle them? Instead writers, reflecting the ethos of their corporate media overlords, are perpetuating them.
Recently, Wajahat Ali penned an article for the New York Times discussing the prospect of “reaching out” to Trump supporters, which Ali thinks “waste of time.” Ali is defiant, refusing to “spend any more time trying to understand and help the architects” of his “oppression.” Why Wajahat Ali thinks powerless white folks in Indiana and Kansas are the “architects” of his “oppression” is beyond me. But Ali is subscribing to a simple, infantile worldview that enables him to generalize, flatten out and rob over 70 million people of all nuance. Well, Wajahat has every right in the world to be an idiot.
The middle of this country is inhabited by millions of folks who live in small towns and believe in church and its associated values. I hate to break the news to you, but many of those values do not align with those of us who are non-Christian, big-city denizens. Does that make them evil or oppressors? Of course not. They are the inheritors of core features of not only American culture, but also world culture. Their ideas are not alien or weird, but traditional and rooted in religion. And they also believe their ideas are of immense value. I find framing American Christians “the problem” as strange, they carry forward a living tradition, not a corpse of dead books and rituals they must simply “let go of.”
But of course, we can expect no better from “the other side” because their discourse is produced by the same methods of simplification and obfuscation. It is all too common for the FOX news viewer to deny the realities of racism and its legacy, so endemic to the United States. It is too easy to dismiss progressive activists seeking to address the historical disenfranchisement of blacks as aliens from another planet. Sorry folks, those guys are Americans, those are their views, rooted in realities. The same could be said of voters seeking healthcare and education for all; benefits of citizenship deeply rooted in the western understanding of the state (as well as other traditions).
Does the average Trump voter really believe that Blacks want less police? Blacks want more police, not less, they just want better trained police. But Fox presented Biden supporters as crazy black anarchists who wanted to abolish the police, because of course, they hate America. Lefty Twitter dorks, who are under the illusion that their tweets are important, populated this frame with alacrity. Why? Because they have adopted the sheepish quality of pursuing the team’s message even when it does reflect the team’s ambitions. Social media delivers another poor development in creating the illusion of a “team” on the Left, when privileged white activists insist they represent the needs of black people they never actually spoke to, let alone met.
Understanding the Real Dynamic
We do not necessarily have a political problem in this country or even a cultural one yet. What we do have is a media problem. Strangely enough, both conservatives and liberals have thoughts on power. Conservatives distrust power, while liberals wish to mitigate the effect of power by distributing it more democratically. Either way, there is a “power problematic” on both sides of our political spectrum. Yet, nowhere in this country has there yet to emerge a robust repudiation of media irresponsibility, let alone malpractice. Why? As I said before, if you belong to the media elite, there is too much privilege and your work remains influential, any writer’s dream, to challenge editorial frames. The real challenge that lays ahead is how do we safeguard frameless knowledge, facts and dare I say truth, when all of us are on the verge of losing access to it, not just the half of Americans who do not live like me? If you see writers tackling this question, point me in their direction; it is their work I want to read, I have no use for the frames.