I'm happy I spent the last part of the United States election season here in the Czech Republic, far away from the escalating nastiness of the campaign. My wife and I sent in our absentee ballots, so we did our part for democracy in our country. Unfortunately, too many of my fellow citizens failed to do their part. As a result of low turnout and America's arcane electoral college system, the candidate chosen by only 31% of eligible voters will be taking the oath of office on January 20.
Sadly, American society has been deeply divided for a number of years. The large urban areas of both coasts lean to the left, while the suburbs and more rural middle of the country looks to the right. But Trump's narrow election and the fact that both houses of Congress are controlled by the right means there is little now to restrain the aggressively conservative and nativist agenda they will push.Like many people in the U.S. and elsewhere, I don't believe Donald Trump is qualified to be president. His record as a businessman includes a string of financial failures that have hurt many who believed in him. I worry that his record as president will be more of the same. His policies likely will hurt not only those who believed his wild campaign promises but also hundreds of millions of other Americans and people around the world who oppose what he says he stands for.
As a journalist, I have heard the criticisms that the American press somehow failed to tell American voters the truth about Trump. Some compaints are valid, such as the fact that few reporters treated him as anything other than an amusing joke until he won the Republican nomination. And it also is valid that little time was spent listening to the concerns of people who wound up supporting Trump. If they had, reporters might have been more cautious in their certainty that Hillary Clinton would win easily.I do empathize with the frustrations of the mostly white working class Americans who voted for Trump. American society has changed significantly during their lifetimes, and economic opportunities for the less educated, such as good-paying factory jobs, have diminished greatly in recent decades. But Trump rallied those voters by making empty promises of a return to a 1950s economy of steel mills and automobile factories and coal mines that won't reappear no matter how many times Trump says he'll “Make America Great Again.”
But responsible news organizations like the New York Times and Washington Post and even Buzzfeed actually did a good job of exposing Trump's many flaws and fact-checking his many outright lies. Everything we know about Trump's bankruptcies, law suits, phony "university", failure to pay federal taxes, lies about charity donations, misuse of foundation funds, impossible promises and history of sexual aggression is thanks to the work of investigative reporters.
However, those strong stories were ignored by those who wanted to believe that Trump would make their lives better. And those stories also were drowned out by the flood of utterly false stories spread by everyone from cynical entrepreneurs making money from Facebook clicks to the deliberate electoral sabotage practiced by Russia's propaganda machine. The latter, in fact, should greatly worry my friends here in the Czech Republic. You could be the next target of this internet-era weapon.
The author works as an American journalist and a Professor of Journalism, currently as a visiting scholar at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.