‘It’s a universal law – intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote. “An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.”
Today, such intolerance is manifest in the emergence of a celebrity TV personality and real estate entrepreneur as the presumptive Republican nominee and candidate for president of the most powerful nation on earth.
Donald Trump. Yikes!
That such is the result of a process that’s served America well for generations is a sad reflection of the state of politics and education in America. Such is the result, too, of a media more obsessed with celebrity and acceptance than with representing the interests of civil society.
Of a media more engaged with style than substance, profits than policy, access than accuracy.
At a time where the political barbarism of Donald Trump – the original “Birther” who fed the anti-Obama movement from the beginning – has given license to his followers to engage in delusionary, racist rhetoric against women and whole communities of minority Americans, the press chose to treat Trump-ism as a soap-opera phenomena rather than as a challenge to American values.
That there are Americans who are today celebrating the anointment of a charismatic professional bully, serial liar, misogynist, xenophobic demagogue who divides through hatred in order to conquer is not only the result of eight years of a nativist, racist revival movement but proof that a nation created on the promise of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness still has a long way to go to fulfill its promise to all its citizens.
It’s never been a secret that Donald Trump, rising Phoenix-like from the ashes of America’s Know-Nothings, Father Coughlins, Japanese internment camps, Joseph McCarthys, George Wallaces and Pat Buchanans espouses a vision that’s antithetical to America’s fundamental goodness and values.
Today, let us mourn that Donald Trump is the unchallenged leader of the party of Abraham Lincoln. Unchallenged today, in part, because of the abject failure of our media to directly confront Donald Trump’s dark forces of evil.
The very media that failed us after 9/11, that failed us during Afghanistan and Iraq and the so-called “War on Terror,” and later failed to directly confront institutional corruption, corporate oligarchs and ruling elites.
Now, they have failed to directly confront the rise of nativism, white nationalism, bigotry and racism that followed President Obama’s election.
They failed to challenge Trump, who in 1987 wrote: “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration – and a very effective form of promotion.”
They failed to confront and attempt to deconstruct what appears to many observers a parallel to the 1930s rise of European fascism.
There’s nothing innocent about fascism.
While Trump was either demonizing or attempting to disenfranchise from our Public Square Mexicans, Hispanics, Muslims, immigrants, women, the handicapped and anyone else he didn’t like or trust (including the media), the press chose not to try to understand what was roiling the soul of an angry segment of our body politic.
They chose instead to treat Trump as a celebrity and quickly realized they were all welcome to visit on his red carpet – as long as they didn’t soil his precious fabric.
A fabric woven by weavers of myths, fantasies and vulgarities.
Repeatedly, Trump dodged answering hard questions and repeatedly the media gave him a pass; rather than press him, or deny him access they gave him what he wanted – a mostly unfettered platform for spewing lies, hated, ignorance and more lies.
The Fourth Estate should insist:
Donald Trump, prove that you opposed the Iraq War before it happened.
Donald Trump, prove that you saw thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11 by dancing on rooftops.
Donald Trump, prove that the unemployment rate may be as high as “42 percent.”
Donald Trump, prove that (America is) the most highly taxed nation in the world.
Together we’ve all watched as the press became his Boswells, his Bob Woodwards, his stenographers, chroniclers of process than of content, more worshipful of celebrity than of truth.
Careful never to soil the red carpet.
The Fourth Estate, succumbing to its own parochial interests, has failed to deconstruct Trump’s narratives and lies, especially those that might possibly expose its complicity and coziness with power elites and celebrity.
NB: Never deviate from the red carpet.
Their compulsion to remain relevant (and financially viable) compromised their coverage; ratings trumped reporting. Institutionally, they were seduced by a corrupt candidate of questionable character, intelligence and temperament.
During 2015, out of 77 Trump statements checked by Pulitzer-Prize winning PolitiFact, 76 percent were rated Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire – a record unmatched by any other candidate.
While knowledge is irrelevant to Trump, to Trump’s partisans – or to Trump supporters who hate Hillary Clinton more than they love America – such a candidate should be daily challenged by the press, which should deny him a platform until he fully submits to answering questions.
Ignoring truth leads to constraints over what gets publicly discussed and challenged and jeopardizes the American public’s ability to make well-informed decisions about issues of national interest, policy and political leaders.
In difficult times like ours, such constraint can be dangerous – and can lead to dangerous consequences.
I’ve occasionally argued – I’m a bit of an agnostic on this – that the best outcome for America would be Trump versus either Sanders of Clinton. Such a choice would force voters to either align themselves with dark forces of exclusion, ignorance, bigotry and racism or to align with a vision that empowers all Americans.
While I believe that America is strong enough (barely) to survive even a Trump presidency, I have less faith that America can continue to survive the ignorance and prejudices of a poorly educated electorate.
As America pivots toward the general election, an electorate has been empowered that relies more on myth than on truth, on personal grievances and slights more than on national interests and security – and that scares me.
While recognizing that my own education doesn’t yet meet Solzhenitsyn’s level of the truly profound, I can be less than humble in asserting that I’m convinced that to live in an America surrounded by ignorance, intolerance and a submissive press isolates us, endangers us and disrespects the aspirations that enables our continued greatness.