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Commentary: Media, academics moonstruck over election results

By Colleen A. Sheehan 'Snap out of it!" Cher shouted at Nicolas Cage in the film Moonstruck, as she whacked him across the face.

By Colleen A. Sheehan

'Snap out of it!" Cher shouted at Nicolas Cage in the film Moonstruck, as she whacked him across the face.

In the days following the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States, the American media was metaphorically slapped across their collective countenance and sent reeling. Some reporters, pollsters, and pundits have admitted to getting the 2016 election predictions very wrong. Some have even conceded that there may be something to learn about - perhaps even from - middle America.

However, others in the media are still cosseting their anguish and righteous indignation. They know that they blew predicting the results of the election and that, despite Tim Kaine's elegant and spirited speech on Nov. 9, they got a whooping. They know they were dead wrong, but they don't believe they should have been wrong.

And therein lies a contradiction and a challenge for them.

On the one hand, they believe that as professionals they should collect and report the data impartially, according to the standards of scientific objectivity; on the other hand, they want to advance their agenda and make the world better, even perhaps helping to stop the bad guys in their political tracks.

In this last election few in the media rose to the standard of objectivity and accuracy in data collection and analysis, let alone even-handedness in reporting the data. This occurred for two reasons: first, because most of them are out of touch with rural and small-town Americans, and second because, when push came to shove, they chose their values over professionalism.

Why didn't the mainstream American media and pollsters hear middle America or pick up on just how widespread their restiveness is, how intense their feelings of discontent and frustration? Why didn't they understand that so many ordinary people of this nation feel that the American dream has passed them by?

Most of the college-educated, urban-dwelling professionals didn't hear the voice of rural and small-town America because they don't have contact with them. As Charles Murray has pointed out, these two groups don't live in the same communities, work the same jobs, enjoy the same leisure activities, watch the same TV shows or movies, or even eat the same kinds of food or drink the same adult beverages. So instead of talking to these Americans and collecting their views, the anchors and pundits stayed in their studios and read poll numbers about their views.

The mainstream media are part of the "elite" who cannot fathom why anyone would find NASCAR entertaining (sheer monotony times 500), go deer hunting (barbaric), kneel down every night to say the rosary (worry beads for superstition; yoga better), listen to George Strait (seriously? Do people really twang like that?), or vote for Trump (no chance he could win, anyway).

Along with their progressive counterparts in government positions, the national media in the United States see themselves as part of the smart and sophisticated set who care about the nation's future and are in a position to influence its direction. They are the fourth branch of government, now considered part of the professional elite whom Woodrow Wilson identified as the rightful ruling class in America.

But this ruling class itself has a ruler: Academe. If Hollywood follows the progressive elite in America, the Academy leads them all. University professors may not be the beautiful people that Hollywooders are, with their scholarly bad postures, abysmal fashion sense, and often scary hair, but they are the real force behind the showy elite of the nation. They are the makers of the ruling opinion. They are the self-conceived new American sovereign.

They think of themselves as saviors of the downtrodden, the marginalized, the powerless, the have-nots; of racial, ethnic, gender, and alternative sexually oriented minorities. They think of themselves as the intelligent and compassionate people, the carers of the world and dreamers of a better universe.

Middle, and largely white, America does not fit into their scenario of identity politics, except as they are identified as rednecks, bigots, and irredeemables. For most academics, these people simply don't count.

Despite the surprise victory middle America delivered for Trump, which has led some in the media to examine their methods, opinions, and prejudices with an honesty that is inspiring, the election results have had no introspective or humbling effect in the halls of Academe.

In the days ahead it will be very hard for the American professorate and for some of their former students in the elite media to accept the message of middle America in the last election, who have reasserted their sovereignty. It will be hard for them to let go of their psychological selfie and snap out of their sense of intellectual and moral superiority.

They are moonstruck.

Colleen A. Sheehan is director of the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good at Villanova University. colleen.sheehan@villanova.eduMedi