We have to do this again.
Whenever extremists blurt out extreme things online or elsewhere, there’s always a concurrent sub-debate about whether we should pay attention to these people. In the past, this question has circulated around side-show figures like Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Ted Nugent, but now, with the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the status of GOP presidential frontrunner, the debate has inexplicably expanded to presidential politics with an entire secondary Trump debate over whether we should cover Trump’s kneejerk blurting.
The short answer is yes, we absolutely should. Duh. The fact that he’s reached a station this close to becoming our next president ought to be evidence enough that he shouldn’t be ignored.
Anyone who goes around in public saying the roster of horseshit Trump blurts several times a day deserves to be swiftly and publicly marginalized, delegitimized and exposed as hateful trash. The more effective the marginalization is, the less influence Trump will have among the voters who will ultimately decide the 2016 election. As the number of undecided voters who take Trump seriously goes down, the seriousness of the discourse will eventually go up — or at least stabilize in the face of an increasingly clownish GOP. Who knows whether this works in every case, but shaping public perception is certainly more effective than blindly ignoring an overzealous kook.
For its part, the traditional press is only doing half its job, so I understand the frustration with the Trump coverage. Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable for print and cable news to relentlessly highlight all of Trump’s nincompoopery. He’s dangerous in so many ways, with long-term repercussions that could irreversibly poison the discourse. So the coverage is mandatory.
What the press isn’t doing, however, is putting the nincompoopery into the proper context. Simply reporting on Trump’s horrendous comments and substance-free exclamatory remarks about how much “winning” he’ll be responsible for is only half the story. At the risk of inciting cries of “liberal media bias,” the press has a responsibility to underscore that presidential-level politicians shouldn’t behave like this — that Trump is nothing more than a well-paid YouTube commenter who’s been thrust into a position that’s too damn close to the Oval Office. We’re often told what he says, but we’re rarely told there’s literally no substance to anything of it. Telling us that he’ll be “so good at the military” or that there’ll be “so much winning” is completely meaningless. By merely reporting what he says without highlighting how it’s all just hollow bluster is, as Jon Stewart once said, hurting America.
The lack of critical Trump coverage will only metastasize Trump’s behavior in the bloodstream of the discourse. And, before we realize what’s happened, our presidential politics will have mutated from a mud-slinging, corporate-driven but still somewhat civilized operation into being nothing more than a contest over who can blurt the most obnoxiously ridiculous statements most often.
As I’ve said on the Bob & Chez Show, it’s perfectly necessary to pay attention to Trump. But there should be rules. Ignoring the broader context of what’s happening is not unlike getting a Mogwai wet then feeding him after midnight. Suddenly more Trumps pop out of his wig and transform into blurting gremlins, wreaking havoc. It’s at that precise moment when the American experiment will fail — when our presidential candidates are more like Celebrity Apprentice castmembers than serious candidates.
Indeed, ignoring Trump and the other crazies is not unlike ignoring a suspicious mole. It might make you feel better to not worry about it for a while, but it won’t keep it from ballooning into something serious. And yes, I just compared Donald Trump to skin cancer. With apologies to skin cancer.