Donald Trump’s victory should not be seen as a rejection of the political establishment or the economic elites. Rather, the narrative should be that the institutions that for years had widespread credibility– print media, academia, NGOs, policy think tanks – were ignored and rejected by the public.
In 2016, scores of prominent political scientists, including many professors here at Georgetown, denounced the Republican nominee’s rhetoric. 790 economists, many of whom won the Nobel Prize, declared that Mr. Trump had a “deep ignorance of economics and an inability to listen to credible experts.” He was dismissed as deeply ignorant of world affairs by key members of the Republican national security apparatus, rejected by 70 Nobel Laureates, accused of airing an anti-Semitic closing advertisement by the Anti-Defamation league, received the endorsement of only three percent of newspapers and not a single former president, and was summarily dismissed by Stephen Hawking as a “demagogue that appealed to the lowest common denominator.” One could go on about the institutions and people that warned against Trump’s ascension – the Southern Poverty Law Center’s consistent coverage of hate groups that flocked to the president-elect’s campaign comes to mind – but perhaps it is best to leave it at this loosely constructed sampling.
The electorate did not listen to the institutions that deserve – to varying degrees – legitimacy in our society. This should be the narrative: the electorate did not listen.
The voices and institutions that should matter most were crowded out by voices that spoke with great bluster but without profound insight. In this election cycle, journalists have been alarmed by the staggering amount of misinformation that has dominated the news, particularly on social media. Fringe websites publishing false information about the election drove many Republicans to vote for Donald Trump, revealing the power of confirmation bias.
Facebook, for example, has come under fire for facilitating the spread of fake news. Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of Carolina, recently discussed a fake story claiming Pope Francis endorsed Trump that spread across Facebook like wildfire and was viewed by millions. One does not have to think that Mrs. Clinton was a better choice than Donald Trump to know that a poll showing that 40% of Trump supporters in Florida thought Hillary Clinton was an actual demon is disturbing. Those Floridians likely thought Clinton was a demon because Alex Jones, a host of a popular Alt Right pseudo-news show, said he had evidence that proved that the Democratic nominee and President Obama were possessed. Of course, Trump alone was not the sole beneficiary of “fake news.” A widely popular meme circulated the internet that erroneously claimed Trump said Republicans are “the dumbest” voters.
Voters elected a man that so many credible institutions in our society thought was an unacceptable choice. In future elections, there needs to be a space reserved for institutions and people with a certain level of legitimacy and insight to better voice their concerns. There must also be an electorate willing to listen. A world where we can manufacture facts and live in our own bubbles of truth is a world destined for disaster.