Trump, Terrorism and US Mainstream Media
The current national and international uproar over Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Moslems from other countries from immigrating to or visiting the US, at least partially precipitated by a suspected terrorist mass murder in California, is setting a new low in both media reporting and political discourse in this country. Coverage of the event quickly eclipsed coverage of a similar event the week before involving what many consider to be a domestic terrorist mass murder at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, both in terms of time spent discussing the event itself and implications for changed policies regarding prevention of similar acts in the future.
While both events, in my view, are unmistakably acts of terrorism, the Planned Parenthood attack quickly devolved into a standard mass shooting incident provoking yet another round of gun control proposals and mental health care discussions which resulted in no legislative action whatsoever. After the California incident, Trump and others have called for tightening restrictions on access by certain foreigners to the country. The two most ludicrous outcomes, thus far, have been the Trump call for banning Muslims altogether (which was less spectacularly echoed by Jeb Bush and some others calling for excluding people from refugee resettlement here on the grounds of religious affiliation) and one vote in Congress that leaves most of us dumbfounded. The unwillingness of most members of Congress to outlaw the sale and possession of firearms to suspected terrorists who have been placed on no-fly or other terrorist watch lists is so absurd as to verge on legislative malpractice.
The media circus surrounding these events started out fine. While way overdone on cable news in terms of constant coverage while providing little information, most of the journalism I watched was careful not to jump to rash conclusions with insufficient evidence. The Colorado incident quickly devolved into another criminal case when the lone gunman was apprehended alive. Coverage now is almost strictly concerning the court hearings for the gunman. Little discussion of what motivated his actions or plans for courses of action to prevent future similar events has transpired. The same cannot be said of the California case or the Trump pronouncement.
The California situation has been investigated much more thoroughly, both by law enforcement at all levels and by the mainstream media. It has been viewed as an act of Radical Islamic Terror inspired, if not directed by, a foreign terror group (ISIS). While the husband was a native born American citizen, the wife was born in Pakistan and arrived here on a fiance visa. This has precipitated all the hand-wringing in Washington regarding potential ties abroad and led to Trump’s outrageous proposal. Politicians (primarily GOP candidates vying to win their party’s nomination for next year’s presidential election, including Trump) have used it as an opportunity to increase pressure to escalate military hostilities against ISIS in Syria and an excuse to vilify the current Administration for not calling it radical Islamic extremism, as if semantics really matter more than substance when dealing with mass murderers.
Most GOP legislative leaders and other presidential candidates have rejected Trump’s proposal outright, while refusing to attack him for it. Democrats and some lower-level GOP members have not been so kind, questioning the legality and/or Constitutionality of such a ban, as well as the ability to even adequately enforce it. In addition to being counterproductive in terms of worldwide perception of US foreign policy, including in countries officially designated as US allies, the move would most likely be met with approval by those it is meant to deter. Such a ban would undoubtedly serve ISIS and other radical extremist groups’ propaganda machines very well and make their recruitment efforts easier by illustrating perfectly that the US is at war with their religion.
Time will tell if Trump can continue to campaign this way and remain ahead in the polls. Maybe he will finally piss off enough people that even the GOP base will abandon him once the actual voting starts. The debate next week may show some signs of restlessness among the other candidates that result in a turning away from his particular form of extremism. So far, I have seen no reason for the enthusiasm he has garnered by spouting the sort of bigoted vitriol against just about every voting group (except for white males) that has comprised the vast bulk of his campaign efforts. The fact that he has remained atop the polls despite his thinly-veiled hate speech probably says more about the weakness of his opponents and their dearth of productive policy proposals than about his own political strength.
A couple of things about the Trump and Terror monopolization of political discourse of late are particularly worrisome at this point in time. One is that it has come to so thoroughly dominate the airwaves and internet ions that it is distracting from some very important political/legislative activity that is very urgent in nature. Spending bills to keep the government running that are being discussed and voted on (or not) in Congress are getting very little public discussion. Who knows what garbage will get passed in the rush to get home for the holidays on yet another lengthy Congressional recess? Another is that all this discussion of Trump and his extremist pronouncements is preventing many important issues from being discussed at length or even at all in the Presidential campaign.
Trump proved to my satisfaction long before he even announced his candidacy that he is neither ideologically nor temperamentally fit to be President of the United States. Nothing he has said in any speech, debate or interview I have seen (why, for goodness sake, does he seem to be the only one to conduct most of his TV interviews by phone rather than face-to-face?) has disabused me of my impression (gathered during his birtherism period) that he is little more than a pompous, narcissistic, blustering fraud devoid of good ideas to aid in the restoration of this country’s greatness and improving the conditions of our lives.
That being said, all this media attention on Trump and his campaign of free-association of cockamamie catch phrases design to bedazzle and bamboozle enough people into thinking he knows what he’s talking about and will actually fix what is broken in the system is drowning out the concrete policy proposals of some of the other candidates. More importantly, his media-enabled dominance over the entire campaign atmosphere threatens to hide the fact that the alternatives to him among the announced GOP candidates are not likely to be much better. Putting forth an alternative to Trump because he or she is the most acceptable non-Donald available does the GOP voters almost as much of a disservice as it does the American people as a whole.
Trump should leave the race. Rather than being a unifying force for the Republican Party, he seeks to further divide it with veiled threats of an Independent candidacy. Barring that, the media needs to put more balance into its coverage of his antics. The neglect of most issues of importance to the average American needs to stop. Debates should address substantive issues rather than mere personality clashes.
The Democrats are not doing much to alter this state of affairs, as Clinton isn’t saying much these days and her opponents face limited opportunity to share a stage with her that will be seen by a sizable audience. The information and proposals being put forth from that side of the race is definitely of a higher quality than the tried-and-failed ideas on the GOP side, but how well is the word getting out? In the interests of most the American people, we must not only make sure none of the fear-mongering proponents of policies that benefit the economic elites to the exclusion and even the detriment of the vast majority of us is elected President.
We must also remember that any President faced with a Congress as unwilling to enact any programs she or he proposes as the ones which have been in place for the past six years will be similarly hindered in achieving them in the future. A campaign must be waged to elect people at all levels of government to enact the sorts of progressive initiatives that the Presidential candidates publicly espouse. We need a new Administration and Congress that furthers the interests of the American people as a whole, not one that continues to exacerbate the economic and opportunity inequalities that have plagued us for the past several decades.
Further Suggested Readings: