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Does it? Trump’s supporters are convinced the media are conspiring against them (Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0)

Here is a typical example of how politics is discussed in the echo chambers of the West. Two-thirds of the electorate are “dissatisfied with the way the country is working”. They know the differences between the mainstream parties are faked, and are in revolt against a “bipartisan rigged system in league with special interests”. The media are as much a part of the fraud as the powerful they are meant to scrutinise. They regard ordinary folk as “barely civilised” and “never treat them fairly”.

As it happens, this denunciation of establishment control comes from one Thomas Lifson, an admirer of Donald Trump and editor of a magazine entitled The American Thinker (somewhat misleadingly if Mr Lifson’s efforts are a guide).

With the tiniest of tweaks it could have been delivered by a follower of a dozen or more movements in North America and Europe. Supporters of Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen, Nicola Sturgeon, Law and Justice in Poland, UKIP, the Tory Right and Jeremy Corbyn in England, and the Putin propagandists in Russia, agree on all its essentials.

The identity of the rigged system shifts according to geography and ideology. For French, Dutch, Polish or British nationalists, it is an EU which forces immigrants and refugees on the natives.  For Trump and the Daily Mail, it is the politically correct liberal elite which imposes its cosmopolitan anti-racism on the whites. For Scottish nationalists it is the old Westminster parties which want to do down the plain people of Scotland, and for the post-socialist Left it is neo-liberalism using its anti-democratic wiles to deny us real political choices.

Populism’s presumption is breathtaking. If Trump truly speaks for two-thirds of Americans, he should be heading for a crushing victory. At the time of writing, he looks as if he is about to become the greatest loser in modern US history. The Corbyn Left in Britain, meanwhile, is a populism that shows no interest in people. The party is everything to its adherents, the voters nothing at all.

Equally, it makes no more sense to talk of a monolithic media than it makes sense to employ that demagogic category of “the people”. There are vast differences between the declining number of journalists who report for a living. We are not united on anything. In any case, Twitter and Facebook have made everyone a reporter of sorts. In the 21st century the elite media has been replaced by two billion online voices.

Yet the idea of the “media” both as an institutional bloc and establishment puppet has grown as actual media have declined and fallen. It is a fantasy villain that plays the roles of populism’s enabler, target and alibi.

You cannot reduce social movements to changes in communications technology. Nevertheless, it is foolish not to accept that the fascination declining US television stations have with the ratings-boosting Trump helped him win the Republican nomination, or that Twitter and Facebook are not enabling fringe groups to go mainstream everywhere.

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August 28th, 2016
1:08 PM
It's very well for Mr Cohen to blame a blinkered, "post truth" public who refuse to believe a supposedly neutral media and who are prepared to attack individual journalists who dare not to meet their (the public's) political preferences, but it cuts both ways. Look at a journalist like Paul Mason. Now, I am on the centre-right. Am I supposed to take Mason's reporting at face value? Or would it be more worthwhile viewing him as a "post-truth" blinkered journalist, peddling leftist drivel?

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