Scott Moore ’20 – Inside Politics Participant
Dramatic changes never simply happen overnight. In the aftermath of the shocking upset victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, many were left grasping for explanations and struggling to understand how they could adapt to the new political climate. Yet those who had been observant knew that something was shifting. What was brought to the surface during the 2016 Presidential Campaign was a broad feeling of discontent and anger towards the perceived “establishment” of Washington. Trump and his advisors managed to expertly capitalize on this wave of unhappiness and triumphantly that dissatisfaction all the way to the White House. Now in the White House, Donald Trump has a different kind of dilemma: how can he continue to take advantage of his image as a very public crusader against the American political establishment while still convincing his base that he is effectively making progress through his office?
Trump is no longer the underdog. He holds the highest office in the nation and his party dominates Congress, a firm majority of state legislatures, and will likely will gain control of the Supreme Court in the near future. Trump has therefore responded by declaring war on the section of the Washington establishment with which the American people interact most directly: the media.
During the fiery debates of the Republican primaries, the candidates were at their most popular when they were savaging their moderators and hosts. Conservatives have long distrusted many of the prominent American news outlets. Universal trust in any one source of news is nonexistent and many of even the longest running networks and newspapers are declining in relevance.
While dissatisfaction with the media may be nothing new, the internet has now made a shift away from the traditional media possible. There are now innumerable entities reporting on current events within the touch of a screen. This shift to “alternative media” has been predictably dominated by the same conservatives opposed to the “establishment.” The Trump insults hurled at the “failing” and “garbage” media outlets that oppose him have not, then, been entirely unfounded. In their place, the President has swept friendly alternatives to the fore, such as Breitbart News. Former Breitbart Executive Chairman Steve Bannon effectively turned the site into an arm of the Trump campaign. Bannon is now reaping the rewards of his loyalty to Trump and is poised to influence media policy for the next several years.
In one of his rare public appearances at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, Bannon expressed his disdain for the “opposition party” residing in the media section. The next day he could be seen smiling contentedly as the President decried the same opposition before the same audience. The conservative crowd was understandably thrilled by the comments.
However, conservatives need to be mindful of the Trump campaign against the media. With Breitbart developing into a pseudo-propaganda ministry for the administration and many of the alternatives thoroughly discredited in conservative eyes, the right will need to continue to be wary of media on both sides of the aisle. No one can deny that there has been a sea change in the role of the news media in American politics and that Donald Trump has capitalized on it. Whether these changes will prove to be a positive or a negative remains to be seen, yet either way, the impact of the battle against the establishment media will have profound effects in the coming years.
The views and opinions expressed are the students and the organizations whom they represent and do not necessarily represent the views of The Eisenhower Institute or Gettysburg College.