Wow. Wasn’t that something?
First a shocking victory in the presidential race by a so-called silent majority. Then Election Day +1, +2 and +3, filled with vindication on one side and deep concern on the other. And granted, those were only some of the strong emotions expressed.
Two big questions rose to the top for journalists and others: How did we not see Donald Trump’s win coming? And who are the people who supported a candidate so dismissed by others?
The national press corps and industry thinkers filled the interwebs last week with Wednesday morning quarterbacking.
I kept coming back to a column by Margaret Sullivan, media writer for The Washington Post. Sullivan previously was ombudsman for The New York Times, their reader representative, in effect. As ombudsman, she spent a lot of time explaining journalism to readers and readers to journalists.
Sullivan offered insights on Trump’s election. She included a quote from Peter Thiel, the billionaire who helped wrestler Hulk Hogan put Gawker out of business, when he spoke at the National Press Club:
“The media is always taking Trump literally,” Thiel said. “It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally.”
Journalists wanted to know exactly how he would deport that many undocumented immigrants, or exactly how Trump would rid the world of the Islamic State. We wanted details.
But a lot of voters think the opposite way: They take Trump seriously but not literally.
They realize, Thiel said, that Trump doesn’t really plan to build a wall. “What they hear is, ‘We’re going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy.’”
Trump, quite apparently, captured the anger that Americans were feeling about issues such as trade and immigration.
And although many journalists and many news organizations did stories about the frustration and disenfranchisement of these Americans, we did not take them seriously enough.
The election served as a reminder that journalists need to go deep enough to truly understand the electorate and to take seriously even the unlikeliest candidates. (Remember when Pierce County elected assessor-treasurer Dale Washam?)
Trump voters, however, also have a responsibility.
Even when facts were presented and lies revealed, they were willing to overlook Trump’s faults in their quest to kick out The Establishment. Yes, Hillary Clinton also had faults.
But even if Trump supporters think Trump’s really not a racist or bigot, they shouldn’t be surprised that people on the receiving end of those statements think they have something to worry about.
Time will tell how literal Trump was. As Clinton said in her concession speech, he deserves a chance to lead.
So what does all that mean for The News Tribune?
We didn’t cover the presidential campaign directly, yet on Wednesday morning, many people in this community also were asking: Who were the people who elected Donald Trump?
It wasn’t a surprising question, given that many never hear a different way of thinking, insulated as they are by Western Washington’s traditional big blue wall. (Although today’s front-page story illustrates a shift in Pierce County.)
We decided to do two local stories about the presidential election.
The first was a conversation with local immigrants. Many feared Trump’s promised deportations will include them and their loved ones.
“I’ve been hearing sadness, a lot of worry about what’s going to happen,” one woman told us. “I’m also sad myself. Not just because he won, but because of what he said.” She referred to Trump’s characterization of Mexicans as rapists.
“Words have power,” she said.
The second was a conversation with Trump supporters in Pierce County. Some were enthusiastic about their candidate. Others admitted they held their noses and hoped for the best.
One told our reporter “she was concerned initially about some of Trump’s remarks about women and minorities, but she decided he didn’t mean those comments sincerely.”
All were in favor of change, which Trump embodied, and they didn’t trust Clinton to be their president.
“There is an underlying attitude across America,” one man said, “out of the big cities and in the rural places, that we ain’t getting fairly represented.”
On that day after the election, we tried to introduce each side to the other, something we should have done earlier.
It turns out, each side is made up of real people with real concerns. It turns out, they are our neighbors.
What matters now is how we go forward.
Let it be with respect for the electoral process and respect for one another. Let us all be on guard that the election doesn’t embolden the darkest tendencies among us.
And we journalists need to get back to work. Working harder to get out of our offices and understand the people who live in our communities. Writing about the effects of the election and of a new administration on all of us. And being strong and fair watchdogs over Trump the president, whether he wants us to or not.
LOCAL ELECTION COVERAGE BY THE NUMBERS
We were encouraged by how many readers turned to The News Tribune for local election information this year, which we can track online.
▪ Our local Smell Test pieces, which fact-check local candidate statements, were popular, once again. We did a dozen of them.
▪ Our election night local vote totals got more than 16,000 page views, followed by stories on the county executive race and the Sound Transit ballot measure.
▪ Our endorsement roundup proved particularly popular, drawing more than 15,432 page views and a whopping 4.3 minutes of reading time on average.
▪ A number of our endorsement and race preview stories remained popular for weeks, from the time we posted them until Election Day. The endorsement roundup, a review of gubernatorial candidate stands on the issues and our story about the state schools superintendent race were most enduring. They frequently topped our digital traffic during the final five or six days of the campaign. Clearly, readers were using them as they filled out their ballots.