By common consent the election of Donald Trump, following hot on the heels of the Brexit referendum, has been a catastrophe for the credibility of both the mainstream media and the cultural elite that controls it. In America, so low has the stock of what the internet-based independents call the “lamestream” media fallen that well under half the population doubt its integrity. This clearly matters, as the media form the conduit for transmission of both political debate and cultural values between the different sections of society. The breaking of that conduit is why the media failed in both Brexit and the US Presidential Election to predict the outcome: huge swathes of the electorate, far more than we had realised, had silently become so politically and culturally alienated from society that they had ceased to vote altogether – until now. So will the shocked mainstream media now learn its lesson? Doubtless it will try, but I wouldn’t bet on it succeeding.
The media have two major problems to overcome: one cultural, and one economic. The cultural problem is really a subset of the divide we have throughout our society: namely that between a well-heeled but socially isolated elite who control the commanding heights of power and culture and an increasingly nervous and disgruntled majority who see their incomes and prospects stagnating. Until recently, although recognised by some in elite circles as a considerable fraction of the population, the “left behinds” were thought not to be a long-term problem: time would remorselessly winnow down their numbers as mortality and economic progress took their course. However, it is now clear that technological progress is only adding to their number with every passing year. The now visible effect is that the growing ranks of the disgruntled have increasing demographic muscle, even if cultural control via the media still lies in the hands of liberal minority who find it hard to conceptualise the depth of anger and disconnection that exists.
The second problem is economic: the increasing fraction of spending power in the hands of a very wealthy and largely liberal minority obviously skews purchasing power in society enormously. As night follows day, targeted advertising spend also shifts, giving little incentive for editors and content creators to cater for the conservative preferences of the majority: compare the formerly socially conservative Daily Telegraph or even Daily Mail today with how they were just five years ago to see the way things are going.
It follows that despite the great wake-up call of what TCW’s co-editor Laura Perrins calls the “2016 Glorious Revolution”, the media elites may find it very difficult to reconnect with and reflect the new mainstream values of society: far more profitable and congenial to continue to chase that lucrative liberal dollar. Consequently, in its place independent web channels will probably continue to eat into the mass media market. This is by no means an unmixed blessing: often very reactionary indeed and lacking the financial resources for fact checking or thorough investigation, news sites such as InfoWars mix genuine exposure of stories ignored by the established media with a heady cocktail of fevered paranoia and anger, potentially stoking up passions and frustrations into an ever greater vortex. Such outlets are, of course, treated with either condescension or outright ignorance by the cultural elites.
Therefore, don’t be surprised if as a consequence the liberal echo chamber remains completely sound proofed against the angry chorus of voices from those outside it. Don’t be surprised if those same elites are again caught flat-footed, failing to see each new step change in this developing cultural revolution. Don’t be surprised by unforeseen and perhaps unwanted consequences for us all.