The present moment in time is down to many factors. Chief among them, I believe, is the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. As Democrats became the party of black people, an enormous prize was left on the table: Southern Whites.
Could Republicans have rejected the Southern Strategy? The party certainly contained folks who might have preferred to. John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky was a key player in getting the Civil Rights Act passed. Jacob Javits, a liberal Jew originally from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was a GOP Senator until 1981.
But all it took was just a little dog whistle racism, just a little, and the votes of Southern Whites started going to the GOP. So easy. It would have been political malpractice not to race bait, no?
Then came Ronald Reagan, whose First Inaugural was white supremacy wedded to anti-Communist saber rattling. The New York Times ignored the references to George Wallace and called it a call for "National Renewal."
What would Joseph Pulitzer have called it? What about William Randolph Hearst? Would they have ignored the race-baiting? Would they have credulously repeated the nonsense idea that cutting taxes could raise revenue? That people were poor because we taxed the rich? That inflation was caused by overzealous regulators?
So much nonsense, printed daily by the press. What was their excuse? That the truth was unknowable. That all they could do was repeat what Reagan said along with quotes from Democrats that disagreed.
Was government really "THE problem?" Journalists could not say. To say, "no, government is not making poor people poorer" would have been unfair. To say that Art Laffer was a well known crank would have been unbalanced. To point out Reagan's clear use of white nationalist rhetoric would have been bad journalistic practice.
So now comes Trump, and journos and political scientists are baffled. Are the rules broken? How did this happen? It must be the fault of Hillary Clinton, surely! Or maybe all the Democrats? Is it voters' and their economic anxiety? Or is it their racism.
Whatever it is, it certainly isn't the press. Because what could be better than college educated white people in New York and D.C. doing their best? What could be better than a balanced and fair approach that tells two sides of every story? What could be better than a business model based on regional monopolies dominating the advertising market as long as they didn't offend advertisers? What could be wrong about always attacking government as terrible because that's "speaking truth to power"?
...Gerald Baldasty and others argue that the party papers encouraged democratic participation, that they treated readers as citizens and voters, not passive observers. Declared the Worchester (Mass.) Spy in 1832, “Go the polls [and] see that your neighbor goes there and vote for the men who have always been faithful to you and your interests.”[vi] And voter turnouts, especially in the northern states, reached record levels, over 80 percent in 1856.
The more objective, detached journalists that Bleyer favored may have done their jobtoo well. By examining politicians too closely, Thomas C. Leonard suggests, the press left the voter feeling helpless, even cynical, regarding the electoral process. Why bother? The percentage of voters turning out for elections dropped sharply in the 20thcentury, that is, once most newspapers ceased being party organs.[vii]An average of about 60 percent voted in the last three presidential elections.[viii]