My least favorite genre of journalism is the retrospective "How did we miss this?" piece that comes after years of the profession sticking its head in the sand and refusing to see something inconvenient. The New York Times actually had the balls to print a headline like "The Rise of Right-Wing Extremism, and How We Missed It."
Who missed it? That's a serious question. Who makes up the demographic "Did not see a disturbing rise in explicitly racist and xenophobic politics" and where were these people during the eight years Obama was president? It seems unlikely that an even mildly observant person could have failed to notice that about 20% of the people in this country came psychologically unmoored over the idea of having a black president.
This is one of the fundamental flaws of centrism, with its obsession with Decorum and playing nice – people get chastised for trying to call problems what they are when they first appear. "It's rude and unproductive to call people you disagree with politically racists or Nazis, tut-tut!" Yes, well, these people are really racist and some of them are taking that to the logical extreme of becoming actual Nazis. Like, with swastikas and stuff.
No no, they're merely expressing economic anxiety. They're resorting to shocking imagery because they feel like their voices aren't being heard. They're just raising some valid questions about the "character" of the American population. One excuse, one downplaying, one euphemism after another.
We saw these Retrospectives in waves in 2005 and 2006 as the George Wills of the world wondered aloud How We Got Iraq So Wrong. Then, as now, the answer is very simple: You got it wrong because you willfully ignored all of the disconfirming evidence in order to reach your predetermined conclusion.
Add to that the seriously misplaced priorities of the establishment media, which values blaming nobody and everybody equally (Both sides are wrong!) over identifying problems and assigning responsibility even when it's patently obvious. The only way to miss right-wing extremism's rise is to operate your media outlet while more afraid of being chided by right-wingers than of totally missing a crucial story.
"We" is an ego-saving rhetorical device to lessen the embarrassment of having whiffed on something a blind man could have – and should have – seen coming. If they convince themselves that nobody could have foreseen it, it exculpates everyone. The rise of white nationalism becomes like the weather, a phenomenon nobody can do anything about and which can only be fully explained in hindsight.
We didn't miss it. You did.