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Commentary

The "official world" presented by the media is not entirely accurate

Jack Lessenberry

Every so often it comes home to me that we really live in multiple worlds. The “official” one is what we see presented by the media on radio, television, newspapers and online.

This is a more or less rational world, though people don’t always behave rationally in it. There are certain shared assumptions about things like, for instance, the presidential election – what the candidates stand for; what the issues are, that sort of thing.

We journalists think we have the big picture. Perhaps, but in reality, we spend a lot of time talking to each other and people who think like us, just like Tennessee Baptists and Trotskyites do.

This is something which has been brought back to me even more powerfully by this year’s election. Almost none of the experts in any of the media took Donald Trump seriously for months and months, even after he started winning primaries.

He was going to disappear after New Hampshire, and then was going to peak at 20 percent of the vote, and then a third of the vote, and then was going to be stopped at the convention … and then every one of his rivals dropped out.

Almost the same thing happened with the Democrats, where Bernie Sanders’ candidacy didn’t even make the front page when he announced and was treated dismissively for many weeks. Sanders is unlikely to win the nomination, but will have beaten Hillary Clinton in more than twenty states before the primaries are over.

Yesterday, I was in a sandwich shop in Charlevoix, an hour from the Upper Peninsula, and was chatting with Jan, a server I’ve known for more than twenty years. Jan is in her late sixties, and is anything but rich. She had to scramble when her former restaurant closed last fall, and I was thrilled she’d finally found another job. She has to work two to make it.

When she gave me my chicken salad, she said “don’t you do political commentary? It must be quite a year for you!” I asked what she thought. “I think Trump is going to win, and that’s just fine with me,” she said. “My mother used to say, if you have a man who loses a million dollars, don’t worry, because that means he knows how to make it again.”

I’m not sure that is Keynesian economics, but I think there are a lot of people who think that way. I didn’t have a chance to ask her about the story splashed all over the copy of New York Times lying on the counter, about Trump’s alleged loutish behavior towards women.

I have a strong feeling she would have given it a dismissive wave. Now, a conversation in a coffee shop is not advanced survey research. But somehow, Jan seems very real. Three days after George W. Bush was reelected, I was approached by a bewildered elderly liberal Jewish lady. “I can’t believe this.

I’ve never even met anyone who voted for Bush,” she told me.

I told her there were 62 million of them, and she was wrong about that.

In fact, too many of us seldom talk to those outside our little tribes. If you don’t think that’s part of the problem, then you may be part of the problem too.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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