Ironically, the acting-up of Occupy Wall Street led to Donald Trump’s presidency. At a moment ripe for populist anger, the left, aided by mainstream media, turned it instead into an elitist temper tantrum. As a result, Middle Americans saw how little they resembled the left and went decisively in the opposite direction.
The left has never had it easy in America. Prosperity aplenty rarely let leftist movements crawl far from the cradle. The Financial Crisis therefore held special promise. Its particulars seemed to be the seeds for which the left had so often longed.
The Financial Crisis was the product of complicated financial transactions few could understand, and often rotten deals, which virtually everyone understood. It was perpetrated by big banks and hedge funds, from which average Americans were already alienated. And of course the collapse itself packed the requisite economic wallop.
Billed as the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, it was even better political fodder. Unlike the Great Depression, which affected the entire population because it was based in the monetary system, the Financial Crisis seemed to have winners and losers cast by Frank Capra. There were bailouts to the malefactors — those “too big to fail” — while those on Main Street — “too small to save” — paid. For the left, the Financial Crisis offered unparalleled promise as It’s a Wonderful Crisis.
On September 17, 2011, almost four years after the financial crisis began, the left responded. Occupy Wall Street seized Zuccotti Park in New York City… and the mainstream media. While Occupy Wall Street held the park for two months, it still has not relinquished its hold on mainstream media.
Three years after Tea Party populism, which it could neither understand nor accept, the mainstream media had a leftist populism it could embrace and broadcast. Reveling in the 99% rhetoric, it dotingly delivered the left’s images and story to America. Unintendedly, the result was to remind America it had little in common with the left. Yet as America drifted away, mainstream media only drifted closer to leftist populism.
For the next five years, Obama governed as a liberal’s liberal and the economy did not recover. Still mainstream media could not shake its attraction to the left. In this alliance of message and media, Middle America found a different elite to oppose. Middle America discovered it was less envious of the rich than repulsed by the left’s elitism.
Far from being the party of the common man, America’s left delighted in belittling his beliefs, concerns, and condition — particularly as Trump’s campaign began to gain traction. As Trump increasingly tapped into these dismissed concerns, the left and mainstream media only increased their ostracism of those they professed to support.
For a group already estranged by eight years of economic non-recovery, Middle America’s new political ostracism was all too reminiscent of its recent experience. While many confounded the left by embracing Trump, many others felt pushed toward him after being confronted by the left and mainstream media.
Repeatedly the media chose to live vicariously through the left’s outbursts — showing the outrage of the outrageous — and pushing away the rest of America. Instead of seeing a victimized Middle America, it focused 0n alternative victims instead — all of whom liberals deemed more worthy of attention and support.
Unquestionably the left, aided and abetted by mainstream media, fumbled the best political opportunity it may have ever had in America. Their combined visceral opposition to Trump and his supporters has only heightened their elitist stature in the eyes of a growing number of Americans.
The outcome has been that the left’s political elitism totally eclipsed its economic opportunity. When the left had its chance to focus on Middle America, it instead focused on itself. When mainstream media had a chance to capture legitimately outrageous injustices inflicted on Middle America, it seized on Occupy Wall Street fringe outrage to express its own. Those protests were the mainstream media’s vicarious thrill — the “id” to the mainstream media’s “ego” — from which it has yet to recover.
Together the left and the media have turned populism against themselves and to the right. Despite feeling entitled to run America, the left and mainstream media find themselves now running from it.
Their efforts to force feed their values to an unwilling America have undercut their own efforts. Mainstream media in particular has never been more out of favor and mistrusted.
Neither the left nor mainstream media could help themselves. They could not separate themselves from their self-image — so smart, so correct, so superior. In so doing, they have created what they fear most: Populism of the right. Now they risk a vicious cycle.
Having fostered a populist right, they push back against it all the harder. As they push, their increasingly strident means of doing so drives America more into a populist mindset and toward the right.
However, their ultimate threat is not having simply joined populism and the right. It is in having proved the populist right’s efficacy, someone even more ideologically conservative and generally acceptable than Trump could shape it into an even more potent and broader political force.