The rise of Trump explained in four graphics

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How did he get this far this quickly?

A little more than a year ago, when Donald Trump opened his presidential campaign by gliding down the golden escalators of Trump Tower, with paid extras hired from the New York theater community to pad the crowd size, it was easy to dismiss the real estate mogul as a self-promoting dilettante more interested in publicity than politics.

So many people got it so wrong. His Republican rivals, in the famous words of George W. Bush, “misunderestimated” him. The Pundit Elite kept predicting that just one more embarrassing gaffe would extinguish his White House hopes. The nation’s best newspapers kept churning out damning investigative pieces questioning Trump’s business acumen, his honesty, his ethics, his wild flip-flops on issues and his command of basic knowledge of the world ~ and it seemed to matter nary a bit.

Historians will be discussing the Trump phenomenon for decades. Yet here we are, the general election upon us. How did Donald Trump, a political neophyte and nearly lifelong Democrat, emerge as the self-proclaimed champion of conservative values, the master of the Republican National Committee, and the voice of angry white people?

It’s easy to oversimplify Trump’s appeal, but I’d like to try to explain the rise of Trump in four informational graphics.

#1: Americans have grown increasingly alienated from major institutions

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Until the 1960s — amid Vietnam, civil rights struggles and social unrest — Americans had almost universally positive views about basic institutions in U.S. society. The trend has been downward ever since. But there has been a significant drop in the past decade in institutions as diverse as religion, schools, banking, the news business, the courts, and, of course, the Congress. There are two major reasons: self-inflicted wounds, such as congressional dysfunction and the Catholic church sexual abuse scandal, and a partisan media led by Fox News, which has made it a constant theme of its programming to tear down institutions in order to rebuild America in its ideological image. Donald Trump positioned himself as the champion of the “little guy” against all the big, bad institutions — from Wall Street, to the news media, to big business, to the “rigged” Congress and court system … even against the Pentagon generals who know less about military strategy than the reality-TV star.

#2: There has been a rapid, dramatic shift to the left on social issues

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Within the past decade, the United States reached a tipping point on social issues. On gay rights, the nation went from strong opposition to same-sex marriage to overwhelming support for the new reality that was blessed in 2013 and 2014 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The younger generation — Democrat, Republican and those disgusted with both parties — is almost unanimously in favor of social change that affects women (“no means no”), gays (“marriage equality”) and the environment (climate change is real, not a Chinese-inspired hoax). This rapid shift has proven to be disconcerting to many older people, particularly men, who cling to (no, not their guns and bibles) their now-unpopular views. They want to say no to social change. Trump says they’re right. And he says that he’s their voice.

#3: We’ve seen a partisan reversal on globalization

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For decades, Democrats were the protectionists and Republicans were the free-traders. Democrats, influenced by labor unions and environmentalists, resisted trade liberalization as bad for workers and the environment. Republicans embraced globalism and immigration as good for business, good for America, and, ultimately, a net plus for American workers.

Not any more. The Republican Party, radically altered by a massive influx of middle-aged white men displaced by a global economy for which they no longer have the requisite skill set, has become the party of protectionism and economic nationalism. They see immigrants as a threat to American jobs and American values.

Democrats and independents are now more open to international economic liberalization than the Republican Party, the traditional home of the U.S. business community. Trump is the big winner in this new reality. His “America First” backers crushed the internationalist Republicans like Jeb Bush in the Republican primaries and are challenging Democratic dominance in the nation’s economically distressed industrial heartland.

#4: People now get political information from self-selected partisan sources

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We live in parallel information universes. Left-of-center Americans rely on a mix of CNN, NPR, MSNBC and the New York Times for their political and government news. Most of those news outlets present news from a predictably liberal mindset. Right-of-center Americans overwhelming rely on Fox News and local radio for their information. Fox and the Rush/Hannity/Coulter axis is not just conservative, it is almost anarchic in its desire to tear down institutions of the “elites” and the “establishment” while advocating for the grievances of whites who feel they are innocent victims of racial minorities, immigrants, non-Christian religions, China, Japan, Korea, Iran, Israel, Mexico, NATO … you name it.

The result of this Great Information Divide is that facts have become obsolete. The news of the left may be biased, but it is rooted in objective fact. Nonpartisan fact-checking websites can tell you how often politicians tell you the truth or lie to you. The news of the right has increasingly become resistant to globally accepted facts (evolution, climate change) and has allowed the virus of “fake news,” often generated in countries like Russia and Macedonia, to infiltrate the political mainstream. As Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said after Fox News retracted a false story that Hillary Clinton would soon be indicted, “The damage was done.”

Social media has exacerbated the divide. Citizens follow information sources on Twitter and Facebook that confirm their preconceptions of reality. This has become the first post-fact-check presidential election. Trump, with his finger on the “tweet” button of his smartphone and a knack for creating viral content, is the perfect politician for this moment in history.


Chris Roush: There is hope for journalism … in business journalism

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Chris Roush, a distinguished American journalism professor and author of two prominent business journalism textbooks, told Tsinghua students on Dec. 2 that the future of business journalism is bright, despite the economic woes gripping much of the news industry.

“If you can write about business and the economy, then they’re really interested in you,” he told 45 students in the Global Business Journalism Program at the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication.

Roush, a former reporter for Bloomberg News, Business Week and other U.S. publications, said there is a worldwide demand for young journalists who can explain complex economic topics “in a coherent way so that people can understand.” He told the students from more than a dozen countries enrolled in Professor Rick Dunham’s Multimedia Business Reporting class that their ability to tell journalism stories in multiple languages and on multiple media platforms would make them a valuable asset to news organizations in China and around the world.

“Your language skills are a big deal,” he said.

Unlike the students he was addressing, Roush said he had not planned to be a business journalist.

“After grad school, I needed a job,” he told the students. “The first job I found was as a business reporter in Florida.”

A history major at Auburn University who earned an M.A. in journalism from the University of Florida, Roush quickly made a name for himself in his first job and was recruited by a larger Florida newspaper. After distinguishing himself with his coverage of the deadly Hurricane Andrew in 1992, he was recruited by Business Week, the nation’s top weekly business news magazine. He later covered Coca Cola for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Bloomberg News before working for a dot-com start-up. His next stop was academia, as a professor at Washington and Lee University and then at the University of North Carolina.

At UNC, Roush has created a major in business journalism and runs a website called TalkingBizNews.com. He is the author of “Show Me the Money: Writing Business and Economics Stories for Mass Communication” (2010) and “Profits and Losses: Business Journalism and its Role in Society” (2011). He is the co-author of “The Society of American Business Editors and Writers’ Stylebook: 2,000 Business Terms Defined and Rated” (2012). He also has created the websites collegebizjournalism.org and bizjournalismhistory.org.

Like Tsinghua’s Global Business Journalism Program, Roush’s program at UNC has been very successful at placing its graduates at top media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Reuters, the Financial Times, CNBC, MarketWatch, BuzzFeed and Business Insider.

Roush advised the GBJ students to “find an area or topic where you are the expert” and practice their news writing.

“I really believe the best way to become a good writer is to write a lot,” he said. “Write one story a week.”

Roush said it was important for young journalists to bring both practical skills and a positive attitude to their jobs.

“No matter what you are passionate about, if you are good at it, good things will come your way,” he said.


Viewing the American media through fresh eyes

For at least a decade, I was a 24/7 news addict.

Then I went to China and went cold turkey. Surprisingly, there were no withdrawal pains. Indeed, I actually enjoyed life more and had a lot more time for useful pursuits without the pain of my addiction to CNN, MSNBC, Fox and Twitter.

So what happens when I return from Tsinghua University for winter break?

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A short relapse.

One day of CNN was enough to cure me permanently. Here are a few thoughts on the disastrous state of U.S. cable news and the rays of hope for the rest of the U.S. media:

  • There is almost no news on cable news. CNN seemed to be mostly “reporting” on stories broken by other news outlets (“CNN has confirmed”) or filing “turn of the screw” reports on developing stories. MSNBC featured lots of opinions on the news from experts and hosts. Fox was, well, it was Fox. Within an hour, I was watching the BBC. I can’t reclaim all the hours I wasted watching American cable news during my years as a reporter, but I can avoid the temptation in the future.
  • American newspapers, even though they have declined, are still a valuable information source. I know it’s been fashionable in Washington, D.C., to diss the Washington Post and lament its deterioration. Well, I have some news for you. It’s still a heck of a good newspaper with a lot more exclusive news and analysis in one issue than you get in a day of cable news. I can’t vouch for the quality of the regional press, but the print versions of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal can compete with the best papers in the world.
  • Newspaper web sites have become schizophrenic. There are two kinds of news web sites: (1) the good and (2) the bad and the ugly. The NY Times and the WaPo give you serious, substantive information with some very good interactive features. Most sites, like my former employer’s site, are desperately seeking clicks through crime, crashes, celebrities, boobs, animals, weirdness and weather. The quality gap between the good and the bad U.S. news sites is growing rapidly. Many papers have adopted a two-tiered system with quality content hidden behind a paywall. That may be a good business model — it remains to be seen — but it is a highly questionable journalistic model. After a semester of teaching multimedia journalism, I believe even more strongly that modern journalism is about community-building. Hiding behind paywalls keeps the community out and prevents non-subscribers from learning the quality journalism you may offer.
  • TV news is alienating its core audience while failing to win new viewers. None of my students — zero — watch TV news. Granted, for the Chinese students, that means state-run TV. But it’s a problem that U.S. television has, too. The younger generation wants information on demand. Social media is their favorite medium. Where does that leave television? Or newspapers? Ask my students. In my multimedia journalism course, we are re-inventing the future of multiplatform, multimedia news. Other than global leaders such as the New York Times and the Financial Times, I don’t see enough of that.
  • With all of its flaws, the U.S. media remains among the freest (and most freewheeling) in the world. We can be thankful for that.
  • Back to vacation. With the TV turned off.