How did the media and the GOP get Trumped? Willingly

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It’s almost laughable how so many pundits in newspapers and on television are now wringing their hands about the growing possibility of the nomination and even the presidency of one Donald J. Trump.

“GOP leaders, you must do everything in your power to stop Trump,” begged an editorial at the Washington Post. The paper listed the real estate mogul’s many sins:

This is a front-runner with no credible agenda and no suitable experience. He wants the United States to commit war crimes, including torture and the murder of innocent relatives of suspected terrorists. He admires Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and sees no difference between Mr. Putin’s victims and people killed in the defense of the United States. He would round up and deport 11 million people, a forced movement on a scale not attempted since Stalin or perhaps Pol Pot. He has, during the course of his campaign, denigrated women, Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, people with disabilities, and many more. He routinely trades in wild falsehoods and doubles down when his lies are exposed.

Tell us something new, Washington Post. How many times was he featured on your pages, while you ignored news of other candidates?

It was only last summer, shortly after the would-be narcissist-in-chief descended the escalator in his New York Trump Tower to cheers from paid out-of-work actors, that everyone in the media dismissed him as nothing more than a summer replacement series. Huffington Post announced that they would cover him as an entertainment story, not in its section on politics. Every time Trump insulted someone new, there would be a round of stories, columns, and op-eds declaring that “this will be the beginning of the end of Trump’s candidacy — he can never get away with insulting (fill in the blank).”

Except he always does get away with it. And the media just can’t stop covering him — for free. While other candidates have to pay for advertising, all Trump has to do is to say something outrageous, and he’s on every channel.

Cable channels routinely cut away from regular programming to cover Trump rallies. While that becomes routine at a point in the nominating process where there are only a few leading candidates left, cable news did it constantly for Trump since the beginning of the race. MSNBC went so far as to pre-empt a regular prime time program to air its own “Donald Trump Town Hall” led by Trump cheerleader Joe Scarborough, the former Florida GOP congressman and host of Morning Joe. A hot mic picked up Trump telling the two hosts “not to ask him anything too hard.” They gladly obliged.

In a way, Trump has the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Citizen’s United to thank for his ascendancy. Not because he benefited from hidden dark money — he is a billionaire himself, although he does accept donations. But the outpouring of funds from GOP donors toward former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush (sorry — can’t drop that exclamation mark) kept other, more plausible candidates out of the race. Bush had such a huge money advantage that even declared candidates couldn’t keep up or compete, and some who might have been stronger with better funding might still be around.

Blame for the rise of Trump lies both with the media and with other Republicans. His rivals for the GOP nomination seem to be afraid to criticize him, perhaps fearing that they will anger his white, working-class voting base. Or maybe they’re looking for a job in a Trump administration. The Post editorial called out GOP members for not hitting back at Trump:

The silence may reflect an absence of courage and also an element of calculation: There was an assumption that Mr. Trump would fade, and that confronting him would only make him stronger. … The calculations have proved wrong. If Mr. Trump is to be stopped, now is the time for leaders of conscience to say they will not and cannot support him and to do what they can to stop him.

Much of the blame, too, goes to those who are voting for him. It’s one thing to talk about “voter anger”; it’s another to tap into racism, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia. It’s disheartening in America in 2016 to read that 20 percent of Trump voters think slaves should not have been freed, and that 31 percent believe in white supremacy. Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke says that voting against Trump is “treason to your heritage,” says a story in Politico. “A staggering 70 percent would still like to see the Confederate flag flying above official grounds in their states,” says a story in Mother Jones.

Mideast scholar Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, writes regularly in his blog, Informed Consent. In his latest post, he takes media, political leaders, and the populace to task over the rise of Trump. “It isn’t only the checks and balances in government that are necessary to keep the republic. It is the Fourth Estate, i.e. the press, it is the country’s leaders, and the general public who stand between the republic and the rise of a Mussolini.”

It has been a dreadful performance by the press and by party leaders. They are speaking in such a way as to naturalize the creepy, weird, and completely un-American positions Trump has taken.

This is how the dictators came to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Good people remained silent or acquiesced. People expressed hope that something good would come of it. Mussolini would wring the laziness out of Italy and make the trains run on time.

When Benjamin Franklin was asked by a lady after the Constitutional Convention what sort of government the U.S. had, he said, “A Republic, Madame, if you can keep it.”

You have to wonder if we can keep it.

Check the date of your state’s primary or caucus and vote. For America, not for a new Mussolini.

 

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