By Amy Ridenour
Donald Trump's comments on the media resonated with voters because the news media stopped being an honest broker between competing interests in our civic life.
By placing press freedom in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, the Founding Fathers signaled how very important it would be if our Republic were to survive long, and in reasonable harmony.
Ask most working journalists today why the Founders were so enthusiastic, and they'll say it's because the press serves as a watchdog on powerful politicians, corrupt institutions, greedy businesses, and out-of-control government agencies.
"Speaking truth to power," some will say, invoking for their profession not only value and virtue, but a hint of courage, as if editorial writers for the New York Times and the lonely student who stood before the line of tanks in Tiananmen Square have little to separate them but language and distance.
They're not wrong - except mostly about the courage - but they're missing something vital, and something key to understanding why what Trump said resonated with voters.
They're also missing what very likely is the most important reason ever for a free press.
A functioning, reasonably honest news media dedicated to covering the circumstances and concerns of all the diverse groups in society is probably the largest reason free societies like our own are not in a near-constant state of unrest, even violent revolution.
The press provides a metaphorical grease to our civic life by giving a safe platform for competing voices to interact without excessive friction.
When the press elevates people's genuine concerns and shares them fairly and objectively with others, it prevents almost everyone from feeling compelled to engage in risk-taking, violence, or revolution to have their concerns addressed.
But what does the public do when news reports are overwhelmingly one-sided, and/or all-but-ignore the issues millions of Americans care deeply about? When perhaps a person's economic circumstances are dire and, as far as he can tell, no one outside his circle of family and friends even cares?
It's commonplace to see major media news stories about the concerns of illegal immigrants who hope not to be deported.
Compare that to the number of stories you saw, especially before Trump's candidacy, about an unemployed citizen or legal resident who can't find a job, or can only find a job with artificially depressed wages, in a field employing many illegal immigrants.
It wasn't 50-50, was it?
The construction or hospitality worker with depressed wages, a struggling taxpayer who sees 20 percent of New York City residents receive food stamps, a longtime factory worker who sees her job go abroad, all the Americans whose stories didn't appeal to the press - their stories rarely got told.
Until Trump told their stories. And called out the media for not telling those stories first, and often.
In response, the established politicians, and editorial boards across the country, all told the public to avoid Trump.
He was a risk, they said. We don't know his views, they said. He's probably just promoting his brand, they said.
But tens of millions of Americans had already lost hope, and people who have lost hope are willing to take risks.
Electing Trump was a risk.
But when he described the news media, his concerns were theirs. He "got it."
His comments resonated with voters because they agreed with him. The press had ignored their concerns. It had stopped carrying out its vital function in American civic life. It had stopped being an honest broker between competing interests. The public noticed. It cared. And Donald Trump also noticed, and as far as they could tell, he cared.