I’ve always had a special kind of contempt for the malefactors who try to turn their evil behavior against those who are resisting. It can get Orwellian. A good example would be the oligarchs in this country who hoard the wealth they’ve accumulated by hook and crook, and then accuse those who resist of waging class warfare. Never mind that by using their riches to stack the deck in their favor and by bribing the politicians with their campaign contributions, they’re the ones waging the class warfare.
And so it is with Donald Trump, who has taken to saying that when Hillary Clinton calls out his bigotry, she “relies on the tired tactic of smearing opponents who question her policies as racists.” “They talk all about racism, racism, racism,” he goes on, “It’s the only word they know.” He’s even accused the Democrats of bigotry.
Notwithstanding his complaint, Donald Trump is an out-and-out racist, but he’s trying to squirm out of that ugly reality, and so are his followers. They consistently have supported the “birther” slander that he and they embraced for years, calling into question the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency because he’s black. There it is. To make matters worse, now that it doesn’t serve his purposes to continue to express doubts about where President Obama was born, he lies to say that Hillary Clinton originated the charge. No, she did not. He also argues that somehow the “R” word doesn’t apply to anyone who has smeared a judge’s Mexican heritage — in fact, all Mexicans, Muslims, the disabled and women. He’s not only a racist but just about every kind of “ist” that there is.
He also constantly accuses Hillary Clinton of failed judgment and a grasp of policy even though his verbal blunders are such a constant embarrassment that his ignorance has stopped being newsworthy, just like his outrageous and dangerous statements. He has so numbed us in the media that we hardly notice when he pulls some stunt like the way he persuaded the TV networks to carry his lengthy self-serving speech live before he finally uttered the single-sentence admission that Barack Obama was in fact born in the United States. “Period.”
The distortion of the journalistic process has gotten so bad that even the most craven media boss has decided the time has come to fight back. I have one suggestion that I think would be a good place to start: For the remainder of this election period, TV news organizations should no longer carry any candidate’s event live, not the speeches, not any of the contrived photo ops, as they used to say where I grew up, “not nuthin’.” Not live. Instead, we should record the feed of the event, and when the various media decide that news has been made, the video can be turned around and aired. That would put the control of coverage where it belongs: in the hands of the editorial professionals at each network. More importantly, it would reduce the manipulative shenanigans of the political image-makers, particularly when they collude with the candidate to gloss over dishonesty or sleazy business dealings, blatant demagogic appeals to fear, ignorance and prejudice or dangerous statements meant to incite.
The attacks in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota demonstrate still again how irresponsible rhetoric can distract at a time when our leaders must be focused on problems that are deadly, complex and unpredictable. Bullying is not a solution. Nor is careless rhetoric. We need to somehow get back to being united at a time when both candidates are leading a lurch in the other direction. Hillary Clinton has been vapid, cautious to the point of choosing words that mislead. Donald Trump uses words that inspire hatred. Before he can change his ways, he must stop deflecting blame with his verbal deceptions. We are a confused nation. It’s easy to see why.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.