The Media Buzzword That Suppressed the Vote

The media’s failure in 2016 was not convincing people how to vote. It was convincing them not to vote.

divisive 2016 election
In hindsight, I should have seen it coming. Every night, Lester Holt would open his newscast talking about the “most divisive” election in modern history. He would then turn it over to two pieces – one on Clinton, one on Trump – about their respective days on the campaign trail, with a laser focus on insults and attacks.

So when the election was discussed – online, with friends, at work, anywhere – the common refrain was, “I just want it to end.”

Divisive was the most repeated word of the 2016 Presidential election and it caused too many people to not vote.

Let me be clear, there is no doubt that this past election was the most divisive ever. But the presentation made it seem like each candidate was equally responsible for the divisiveness.

Is that true? I doubt even Trump supporters can say with a straight face that Hillary did as much to inflame and incite the electorate. Trump spent every day for 18 months attacking anyone and everyone who wasn’t a white guy. You name the minority, he went after them. Hell, he even attacked the handicapped.

At the end of the day though, there was no blame placed on the divisiveness, from the media or from the electorate. They saw two people fighting and blamed both.

It’s like when a guy gets a ridiculous 15-yard flag for retaliating in the NFL. The other player baited him into responding so when it happens, it appears they are both engaged in an altercation. But one player started it, yet he is never the one penalized more harshly.

That is exactly what took place during the 2016 election and helped dragged Hillary’s unfavorable numbers down to a level where the average American no longer cared. Even if you exclude all the racist, sexist rhetoric from Trump – the electorate rejected the entire tone of the campaign.

As we look toward future elections and improving our government, it starts with voter turnout. The entire election was about turnout and the GOP’s plan to suppress votes –through systematic gerrymandering aimed at lessening the votes of African-Americans and a scorched Earth campaign – worked to perfection.

How did so many not realize what was going on? Much of this blame must be directed at the political and cable news media, because they created this false equivalency related to each candidate’s role in the “most divisive” campaign of all-time.

As people consistently told me they just wanted the election to be over, they were telling me that they blamed both candidates for the state of the race. Instead of saying anything, I just nodded and agreed. That meek acknowledgement meant that I also blamed Hillary for the divisiveness, and I don’t like thinking about that.  

Why didn’t I say something? Why didn’t I tell people – you know, it’s the guy causing the divisiveness.

Hillary’s entire tagline was “Stronger Together” and millions of Americans stayed home because they thought both candidates were dividing the nation. Michelle Obama spent six months telling us to “go high” and no one listened. How does that happen?

The echoes of the previous eight years were all over this campaign, specific to the absurd notion that President Obama had divided the nation by being black.

So much focus in the aftermath has been on the people who voted. But the future of this country lies in the people that did not turn out to vote. The millions who are horrified by what they’re seeing on TV. The millions who saw a choice between a potential tyrant and a normal President, and decided it wasn’t worth their time.

That is why voting rights – and educating people on the importance of voting – is vitally important. Democracy does not work if the people do no participate.

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