“A good place to sample what’s on people’s minds is the Yankee Kitchen,” Trip Gabriel wrote in the New York Times, inserting the unexamined premise of the reporting trip he took to Ohio in the place where an observation might have belonged. It was the perfect piece of non-analysis: more than two years into the Trump presidency, a national politics reporter was eagerly demonstrating his, and his department’s, and his tribe’s complete inability to learn anything.
Was the Yankee Kitchen a good place to sample people’s minds? It was not the place in Gabriel’s dateline. The story was written from Youngstown, and was supposedly about Youngstown, yet the restaurant was in Vienna Township—because the generic Trump-voter story depends on conflating depressed Rust Belt manufacturing centers with their whiter, more affluent outskirts. “Youngstown” sounds like hard times, but Youngstown proper is majority nonwhite and voted for Hillary Clinton.
So it was off to the exurbs, to find the right kind of people:
One of those voters is Darrell Franks, a retired tool and die maker, who was once a Democrat but now votes Republican.
“What I want from a president is the rest of the world to look at him and go, ‘Don’t mess with that guy, he will get even,’” Mr. Franks said one morning in the Yankee Kitchen in Vienna Township, Ohio. “I don’t want kinder, gentler. I don’t want some female that wants her agenda.”
It is possible that the preferences of Darrell Franks will determine the Democratic nomination in 2020, but if so, it will only be because three straight years of media-amplified caricature have convinced everyone that they have to vote for the kind of person someone like Darrell Franks wants, to avoid being governed by the person Darrell Franks actually voted for.
But also, while we’re taking someone’s arbitrary ideas about someone else’s preferences for reality: who eats breakfast in diners? Politicians and the press agree that the diner is the place to go to find the common man. Beto O’Rourke jumps up on the counter to get his point across.
Don’t most normal people eat breakfast at home? There’s another unexamined substitution going on here, like presenting tract developments as mill towns. Politicians don’t go to diners to talk to ordinary people. They go to diners to talk to a specific class of people: old people with a bit of disposable income and too much time on their hands—that is, people who are already disproportionately likely to vote; that is, the people who already helped make things the way they are.
And reporters go to diners to be told the things they think they already know.