How To Fix America's Polarization Problem: Talk To Each Other

Jul 6, 2018

Donald Trump, both as candidate and president, has made a habit of blaming everything that is wrong in this country on the news media, calling them "dishonest" and "corrupt" and even the enemy of the people.

He generally does this when stories are being aired and published that make him look bad. Really bad.

As for myself, I couldn't possibly care less about his opinion of me. And as to the news media in general, many of the finest human beings I have ever known practice journalism on a daily basis. Anybody out there ever hear the term "fake news" until Donald Trump became a politician?

Call us whatever you like, just keep your mitts off the First Amendment.

The fact is, there were an awful lot of people I met covering the 2016 campaign for WVXU whom I liked a lot – good, honest hardworking people who reminded me a whole lot of the adults in the blue-collar neighborhood of Dayton, where I grew up.

They were Trump supporters.

And I met many who were just as good, just as honest, just as hardworking who cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton.

It's the one advantage of being a politics writer in the toxic atmosphere of American politics today – you listen to both sides. You talk to people with a wide variety of views and beliefs.

And they find out that you, just because you make your living as a journalist, are not Beelzebub's first cousin.

On Oct. 13, 2016, inside a jam-packed US Bank Arena on Cincinnati's riverfront, I found one of the best examples of how Trump's "fake news" rants could fall on deaf ears if one Trump supporter and one news reporter simply talked.

There was a huge riser erected on one side of the arena where the TV cameras, the network reporters and the photographers gathered to get a direct image of Trump on stage, surrounded by a group of carefully selected supporters.

On each side of the riser were tables equipped with power strips for the dozens of reporters' laptops. That's where I worked on a web story, while a colleague worked on on-the-air stories. 

Trump had yet to come out on stage. There were some warm-up acts, including former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani going on about the revelations in recently released Hillary Clinton emails. "And you know what we found out about these emails?" Guiliani said. "We were right in the first place. Boy, are they slimy!"

He was followed by Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, known nationwide as a fierce opponent of illegal immigration. He brought out the red meat against Clinton, leading the crowd in a chant of "Lock her up! Lock her up!"

I didn't give a hoot about any of this filler material – I was there for the main act.

So I got up and started wandering around the press tables and back behind the riser.

There were several hundred people behind the riser, and they had no view whatsoever of the stage where Trump was to speak – and they were none too happy about it.

A fellow whom I would say was in his early 40s saw the press credentials in the lanyard hanging around my neck.

"You people in the media put this big thing up so we couldn't see,'' he said. "It's just rude. No wonder everybody hates the media."

I asked him what his name was.

Dave, he said, and he owned a small business in Newport, Ky.

"Dave, let me tell you something – this is the honest truth,'' I said. "The media didn’t put this riser here. The Trump campaign did. Because it is in the perfect position and distance to get good video and photos for the national media.

"They wanted it here, Dave, and they didn't particularly care if you and a handful of other people couldn't see."

Dave paused and gave that some thought.

"That makes sense,'' he said. "I hadn't thought about it that way."

I asked Dave why he had come to the rally. He said Trump is the only political figure in his lifetime who could inspire him.

But why Trump, I asked.

"There's only one issue that effects each and every one of us and that is our freedoms,'' Dave said. "Donald Trump wants to preserve our freedoms. He wants to strengthen our military. He believes in our Second Amendment rights.”

He watched as I wrote down what he said in my reporter's notebook.

"Is that shorthand?,'' he asked, looking down at my scribbling.

"Well, it's sort of my own style of shorthand. Not what they teach in school."

He was getting into being quoted and kept talking, as I kept asking questions.

There had been stories breaking over the past week about Trump's alleged sexual transgressions with a number of women. Dave said it was "all a diversion. They just want to shift our attention from things that really matter. Protecting our borders. Protecting our gun rights. I think they know they are in trouble and that's why they are doing this."

Trump was about to go on; I handed Dave my business card.

"I may give you a call to talk more as we get closer to the election,'' I said. "Is that OK?"

"Sure,'' Dave said, stuffing the card in his shirt pocket. "I enjoyed talking to you. I guess some of you media people are alright."

"We're just people,'' I said, as I shook his hand. "Just like you. Just like the people on the other side. Good to talk to you, too.

"And, Dave, if he starts talking about us being horrible human beings again, take it with a grain of salt." 

  Read more "Tales from the Trail" here.