Op-ed: Hateful words trump smart debate

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, July 7, 2015 1:20pm
  • Opinion

This is a real dilemma for many of us in punditbiz: Do we ignore Donald Trump’s noxious publicity-mongering and his obvious attempts to advance his candidacy with mindless and hateful demagoguery, or are we obligated to dive into his excrement, particularly since the polls show that Republicans consider him a significant candidate? I’m afraid the answer is a no-brainer, just like his rhetoric. He can’t be swept under the rug, and no, that is not a joke about his hair.

Much already has been said about his racist remark concerning Mexican immigrants “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Never mind that he knows plenty about unsavory people, given his ownership of casinos. He’s still lost millions upon millions of dollars, a reaction from other business connections who have severed their dealings with him, saying they don’t want anything to do with that kind of bigoted rhetoric — meaning that they had calculated they’d lose business and profits themselves.

Trump has accomplished what he set out to do, which is to ignite the passions of that big chunk of the GOP base that shares that sentiment about immigrants. The Donald is No. 2 in the polls taken in Iowa and New Hampshire, which are the ones that matter right now. That means he’ll be part of the gang that takes part in the early campaign debates, and that means they’ll definitely be worth watching. It’ll be hard to enjoy the entertainment value.

So, yes, the quandary is always whether to address his cleverly buffoonish comments, knowing that doing so means being used. But hey, it won’t be the first time. Maybe, however, some context might be appropriate, because Donald Trump is certainly not the only practitioner of shock-jock rhetoric. The political atmosphere is totally polluted by it, to the saturation point.

By now, we’re pretty much numbed by the constant stream on inanities that spew from the Sarah Palins and Louie Gohmerts of this world, and all the others who have built their careers on them, to say nothing of the Rush Limbaughs. They flourish in a social-media universe that celebrates immoderation and ignorance.

It lights up with grossly intemperate remarks, like the criticism by actor George Takei (remember him from “Star Trek”?) of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in a radio interview. Thomas dissented from the ruling legalizing the right to same-sex marriage everywhere. Takei, who is openly gay, referred to him as “a clown in blackface sitting on the Supreme Court.” Typically, he semiapologized, but it overshadowed the absurdity of Justice Thomas’ dissent. Thomas, who is black, wrote: “Human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them.”

Takei had been held in one of the internment camps as a child, but still, even he was forced to recognize that his outrage was expressed inartfully. Probably, both of them were over their heads.

Unfortunately, most of our leaders also are over their heads, and too often what they say is beneath contempt or just buffoonish. It’s also fascinating to watch the other candidates parse their words when they’re forced to react to some incendiary language. To his credit, Chris Christie, who is no stranger to controversy himself, makes it clear that he disapproves of Donald Trump’s comment, but added he considers Trump to be “a good guy.”

Actually, it will be fun to watch Christie and Trump try to outdo each other in the game of ugly confrontation. Fun, unless you’re someone who cares about the country and who might be its next president.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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