At just after 3 AM, Donald Trump took the stage and announced victory for his campaign in the presidential election.  I was asleep at the time.

Seven or so hours earlier, I spoke to my brother as he left the voting booths.  He had barely made it, but was relieved to find the polls still open.  We kidded a bit about that state of things on Facebook before making our predictions for the election.  I told him I anticipated a Hillary Clinton victory by a large enough margin that I’d be in bed early.  He wasn’t as sure.

“I know what I see on TV keeps saying Hillary Clinton, but the people I see on social media make me think things could go either way,” he replied.  Despite being on the phone, I rolled my eyes.  How could a quick scroll through one Facebook newsfeed possibly give someone a better understanding of the state of the election than the constant stream of media coverage I’d been subjecting myself to?  Isn’t that what the media does?  It aggregates information and relays the pertinent parts.  You can keep your Facebook logic, bro; I’ve got pundits and exit polls to pour over.

At 4 AM, I rolled out of bed and walked to my front door to let the dog out.  As he did his business, I grabbed my phone off the coffee table, expecting to see news update notifications about Hillary Clinton’s victory over Donald Trump, but instead found only two missed calls from my brother.  I assumed the race was closer than I expected and no clear winner had been announced, until I opened up Facebook and found a menagerie of politically fueled rants about President Elect Donald Trump.  It wasn’t until that very moment that I considered the possibility that Donald Trump may be our next president.

Now, it wasn’t that Hillary Clinton was a political insider with significant connections throughout Washington that made me think she’d win, nor was it Donald Trump’s controversial statements throughout the campaign.  I was utterly certain that Hillary Clinton would win because the media had been telling me she would for months.

I’m a rampant consumer of media.  I share my days with newsfeeds, podcasts, YouTube videos and the five screens of varying sorts and sizes I have in my office.  I read, listened and watched for months as everyone from CNN reporters to career comedians told me that Donald Trump’s America was a “racist minority.”  I watched as issues that should have had real bearing on the election were cast aside by the media in favor of more exotic headlines.  Gone were the days of accusing the mainstream media of having a liberal bias, the mainstream media had chosen their candidate and were actively campaigning for her.

Nowhere was this pro-Clinton push more egregious than in the news.  When a comedy podcast sets aside a few hours of air time to bash a presidential candidate, I shrug my shoulders.  When CNN start cutting off guests that speak negatively about Clinton I shake my head.  When it’s proven that CNN’s parent company has donated enough money to Hillary Clinton’s campaigns in recent years that they have been her fourth largest financial supporter, I become downright angry.  As American voters, you should be too.

At a certain point, it stops being about the candidates, the campaigns, or even the election.  Whether you voted for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson or wrote in James Mattis (as my wife suggests would have been the correct answer) you should not tolerate that level of dysfunction in a system to integral to keeping our citizens informed and empowered.  When the media chooses sides, they have a real effect on the perceptions Americans have about the election, and worse, about other voters.

In an effort to make Trump seem unelectable, or perhaps out of sincere belief, the media has gone out of its way to portray Trump supporters as racist, uneducated, misogynists.  They would have you believe that no one would vote for Donald Trump for any reason other than prejudices against racial minorities, women or the LGBTQ community.  A quick perusal of my Facebook newsfeed confirms that many Democrats firmly believe this.  The media managed to actually convince people that the 59,044,897 people (tallied thus far) that voted for Donald Trump did so out of ignorant spite toward people that are different from them.

I try my best to be objective and reasonable when it comes to politics.  I read articles written by conservative and liberal writers, I listen to arguments from both sides on TV and in podcasts, and I try to establish a position based on an informed assessment of the information I can find.  It’s because of that effort that I came to understand that most Trump supporters don’t necessarily agree with everything the man says, they’re just tired of feeling underrepresented by the very representatives they elect.

Rural America, which makes up the vast majority of the country geographically, is subjected to a media that represents only urban American perceptions.  The movies, television shows and written content that gets widespread distribution through traditional media channels all come from the bands of blue on either side of our political map.  As a result, conservatives often don’t get a fair shake in their mainstream representations.  That’s not strictly a Veteran in Georgia’s perspective either – even prominent Anti-Trump writers have made it clear that the way the media represents red state voters is embarrassing and unfair.

This issue is far larger than a single election.  The division between people in the United States feels deeper than ever, and the mainstream media is, in large part, to blame for people’s mistrust of opposing political beliefs.  Conservatives in poverty stricken rural America are mocked in the media for being uncultured and uneducated.  This leaves people in urban areas that have never experienced rural life for themselves to assume that it’s true, and it leaves intelligent red-staters feeling further disenfranchised by the country they love.

I watched a video early this morning of Anderson Cooper asking former adviser to President Obama, David Axelrod, what “everyone got wrong” about this election.  He explained that people must have voted for Trump because they were disillusioned by the government, before quickly noting, “even though two thirds of them don’t think Trump has the temperament or qualifications for the job.”  This is what we’ve come to call “the news.”  In the face of fifty-nine million voters that had made their choice for Trump, CNN’s pundits made it seem as though it was an absolute surprise that anyone could support the GOP’s candidate – and even those who did couldn’t actually think he was the right man for the job.

This election’s coverage was the culmination of a slowly degrading media machine that started using opinion and conjecture to fill time between news stories years ago.  Eventually, the facts started taking a back seat to the more dynamic opinion pieces until we found ourselves where we are today: with network news anchors rooting for presidential candidates and a huge population of Americans wondering what the hell just happened.

Rural Americans that have been openly mocked in the media for years and ignored by economic stimulus strategies and social programs since the recession, voted for Donald Trump because they finally saw an opportunity to be heard.   The media would have you believe that they voted to hurt women or minorities, but in truth, they didn’t cast their votes to hurt anyone.  They voted to help themselves and their communities.  They voted for change because Americans outside of the city have been struggling financially, contending with drug addiction and committing suicide at historically high rates.  When Trump supporters say they want to make America “great again,” they aren’t referring to the oppression of certain groups, they’re talking about a time when the factory was still open, a time before methamphetamines ravaged their community, a time when the country valued blue collar workers instead of mocking them in the news.

Objective, unbiased journalism would have reported that story, if there was any of it left in the mainstream media.

Editorial cartoon courtesy of Robert L. Lang