Everyone’s trying to tell you the Earth moved in Virginia last week. It didn’t.
The results of last Tuesday’s election in Virginia and New Jersey were boring.
President Joe Biden’s plummeting approval-rating is boring.
The fact that California is losing a Congressional seat for the first time in its history is boring, as is the fact that Florida and Texas both gained seats.
Sen. Joe Manchin is boring; Sen. Krysten Sinema is equally boring.
NYC Mayor-Elect Eric Adams is also boring.
Recently, we’ve witnessed a collective rush to find novel new outrages and grievances in need of redress. The elections in VA and NJ, the population shift from blue to red states, Biden’s slipping approval, Manchin, Sinema, and Adams are all inconvenient reminders that society’s boring, tired-out old grievances remain alive, well, and as important to voters as ever.
That these old problems bore us silly doesn’t change reality, as we saw Tuesday. Because rather, these subjects don’t bore us at all: They bore media companies, who can’t use anything as dull as fentanyl overdoses, rising crime, higher taxes, inflation, immigration, the economy, the quality of public education in America, high heating costs, or the price of gasoline to create a viral media sensation.
All those things are yesterday’s news as far as media purveyors are concerned.
They don’t want to talk again about the things we haven’t done anything about; that isn’t going to put ad clicks on the table. Not when there are new things to talk and do nothing about.
Driven by traditional and social media, “call-out culture” soon became “cancel culture” and taking trophies for leading the latest social-media mob pile-on replaced baseball as the national pastime. Reporting on same, pro and con, quickly followed.
At least, it did for a fairly small but very vocal subset of the population. Not everyone is on Twitter, it must be remembered: Only 1 in 5 U.S. adults. In contrast, 5 out of 5 journalists and media personalities are on Twitter.
Write about the imminent collapse of the social security safety net- as economists have been warning about for decades- crickets. Publish a thoughtful piece about the taxation model of California- nothing.
Publish a piece calling a Black Republican the “Black face of white supremacy,”- instant dynamite, uproar. It doesn’t matter that not everyone agrees; that’s the whole point. Fomenting and feeding off disagreement isn’t a bug of this fun new system for getting our news, it’s a feature. Headlines like that are designed to be inflammatory, inspiring one vocal subset to attack it and the opposing vocal subset to rush to its defense.
It isn’t just for the publicity, or the lols, or the likes; it’s for money. The LA Times, like every other news outlet in the country, does not exist to tell the public the truth or report objectively about current events.
The LA Times exists to sell itself.
Hawking salacious, outrageous, and outrage-provoking media has become the central click-bait model of the media universe; everything else revolves around it. All the incentive is on the invective. The more incendiary, the better.
Social media makes all this worse. Algorithms promote the most heavily-engaged-with content, which tends to be the most controversial. Facebook executives, as we have long suspected and now know, have long known that this slow death by reductionist algorithm isn’t good for society.
Like the Big Tobacco Companies and Big Junk Food Companies before them, they just don’t care. Delivering value for their shareholders, whatever lip service companies might give to high-minded ideals involving “stakeholders”, is still the name of the game.
As a result, it may seem like an army of MAGA lunatics on the right are batting the middle back-and-forth against the cancel culture mob of the left in a sort-of mind-numbing tennis match, if tennis matches were between people incoherently screaming at each other.
The boring, predictable results of all those Tuesday elections, and Joe Biden’s bad polling, shows nothing could be further from the truth.
No media company wants to talk about the economy for the billionth time, or the price of gas, or high taxation; if news consumers wanted that sort of thing, they’d watch C-SPAN. No one is going to pay for that kind of content; it’s hard to get people to even pay attention for that kind of content.
Nevertheless, the same old “boring” things working-class Americans have long been worried about- the economy, jobs, crime, inflation, the economy, higher taxes, safe streets, good schools, healthcare, and the economy- are the things they are still worried about.
A pack of toilet paper that ran you $20 on Amazon six weeks ago, costs $35 today. What could possibly be more boring than the price of toilet paper?
While media outlets certainly won’t make a mint reporting about it, working-class people do not find this sharp rise in price boring at all. In fact, they find it downright alarming.
Across the nation staffing shortages and high fuel costs are making everything so much worse, with no end in sight. Vaccine mandates aren’t making the situation better.
Some industries, like law enforcement, can’t afford to lose any more personnel. Already short-staffed, police departments in large metro areas are facing thinning ranks and skyrocketing crime- a bad combination for all community stakeholders.
Working-class people living paycheck to paycheck, whose children have been out of the classrooms over the last year, in areas beset by skyrocketing crime rates, suddenly having to pay more for everything and concerned about high heating costs this winter have less time for theoreticals and “unpacking” American culture. They are seeing a direct, rapid deterioration in quality of life; one that isn’t being shared equally in all areas afflicted by COVID-19.
State and local leadership matters, as voters learned only too well these past 20 months. Unless Democrats, and the still-responsible members of the media, start paying attention to the concerns of the working-class, election prospects for Democrats aren’t going to improve.
What happened in Virginia and New Jersey on Tuesday was nothing out of the ordinary. Tuesday was run-of-the-mill business as usual. Working-class voters in both states, and in New York City, voted the way they always vote, for the exact same reasons they always vote that way.
Like they were going to change?
A healthy economy and safe streets aren’t subjects fit for tabloid fodder; but they are still, as they have always been, of the utmost importance. At the ballot box, where it counts, working-class voters just made that perfectly clear.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)