Op-ed: Our cheapened instincts

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, November 21, 2015 4:00pm
  • Opinion

What’s most pathetic about the presidential campaign is how it’s becoming little more than a battle between cheap-shot artists. Each day brings a new limbo contest, as they all compete to see how low they can go. Take, for instance, the ridiculous heckling by various Republicans because President Barack Obama and other Democrats don’t want to describe the brutal ISIS terrorists as manifestations of “radical Islam.”

The administration avoids the term because it casts the United States as an enemy of Muslims, which we make believe we are not. Many of the GOP candidates don’t even bother pretending. Donald Trump would shut down mosques and force Muslims to register; many of the others would block refugees fleeing the horrors in Syria from settling in the U.S., except maybe the Christian ones, a religious test that is particularly repulsive. After all, wasn’t our nation founded by those who were fleeing oppression and persecution? But here are our aspiring leaders, slamming the door.

Back to the term “radical Islam.” Logically, if we’re going to use that expression to cast aspersions on all people of that faith simply for the maniacal actions of its extremists, then we need to be consistent. For example: Should the Ku Klux Klan be cast as an example of “radical Christianity”? How about the bloody war in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics? Are those who practice violence against abortion clinics part of the “radical Catholicism” movement? How about those who insist on defying world condemnation to expand settlements in Israel? “Radical Judaism”?

Yes, that was all meant to offend. Imagine how Muslims are insulted by “radical Islam” — millions in this country and more than a billion and a half worldwide. They’re judging whether our nation’s claim to be a tolerant religious tapestry, welcoming all forms of belief and nonbelief, is for real. Quite frankly, it doesn’t look that way.

We have one candidate saying he couldn’t support a Muslim to be president. Another advocates keeping out all the refugees from Syria, even the babies. It’s easy to say that’s disgraceful. There, I’ve said it. It’s disgraceful. But even worse, it’s designed to get votes. Somebody has calculated that this extreme bigotry will appeal to enough Americans to guarantee political success.

Being afraid of violence here is no excuse, not if you look at it rationally, which too many are not. The usual patter goes that terrorists will blend in with the refugees. That’s the excuse around 30 governors have for declaring that all would be unwelcome in their states. After all, look what happened in Paris.

Well, let’s look at what happened in Paris. What happened was gruesome violence at the hands of homicidal crazies, all of whom grew up in Europe. That’s right, these were all home-grown lunatics, raised in Europe. It’s the same reality here. Our country is crawling with sociopaths, who can easily get their guns and live out their gruesome fantasies. Time and again, we’ve mourned those lost to a freak firing indiscriminately, in a black church, movie theaters, college campuses or elementary schools — even on live TV. All of those are obviously representatives of radical gun ownership.

But we don’t do anything. No GOP candidate is about to recommend sanity on guns. Instead, they’re more than willing to pander to a base whose main purpose seems to be paranoid hate. Whether they’re fearful of gays or people of color, Mexicans and now Muslims, these are people whose worst instincts are right out there to be exploited. And exploit the candidates do.

It would be easy to say that the politicians should be ashamed of themselves, but these are not people who can be shamed. We should be embarrassed by them, but some of us are too ignorant and the rest fed up. We are not a safe haven for anybody but the cheap-shot artists.

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

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