Trump and a ‘thought criminal’

September 1, 2016

Much has been written about Hillary Clinton’s speech last week declaring that Donald Trump has built a campaign on “prejudice and paranoia.”

Her lengthy recitation of Trump comments included his statements regarding Blacks (“poverty, rejection, horrible education, no housing, no homes, no ownership”), Mexican immigrants (“rapists and criminals” that the Mexican government is sending across the border), a Federal District Court judge of Latino heritage (“he’s a Mexican”), and his delayed rejection of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. She could have added his bon mot about “little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day” who make good accountants.

Trump’s insults directed at various minority groups are offensive and reason enough to give one pause about a candidate who seems not to care about demeaning and stereotyping individuals and groups. His indifference runs counter to decades of political mores in our country that viewed stereotyping and bigotry as threshold disqualifiers for anyone running for higher elective office. An errant comment (no matter how dated) has usually been toxic to one’s career (political or otherwise)—ask Gen. Brown, Al Campanis, Donald Sterling, Mel Gibson or Michael Richards (Seinfeld’s “Cosmo”)—and makes one a pariah.

Trump managed to secure the Republican nomination for president despite repeated incendiary comments and manifest insensitivity—an issue that will likely challenge and test the party for a long time (see here as well).

But Trump isn’t only guilty of not quite “getting it” vis a vis what he says. What is equally disturbing (as Clinton pointed out in her speech) is that he has consorted with a political extremist who purveys the most absurd and dangerous messages of cynicism, hate and paranoia.

He has engaged with and expressed support for an extremist who tills the soil in which bigotry flourishes. An “internet” broadcaster named Alex Jones, who most mainstream Americans have never heard of, but who is known to millions of people who listen to his musings on the web. Jones promotes insidious, divisive, nutty conspiracy theories for which there is no evidence and which are the bread and butter of the worst extremists in our society. He describes himself as a “thought criminal against Big Brother.”

The New Yorker wrote of Jones’ rise to prominence,

Jones’s amazing reputation arises mainly from his high-volume insistence that national tragedies such as the September 11th terror attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Sandy Hook elementary-school shooting, and the Boston Marathon bombing were all inside jobs, “false flag” ops secretly perpetrated by the government to increase its tyrannical power (and, in some cases, seize guns). Jones believes that no one was actually hurt at Sandy Hook-those were actors-and that the Apollo 11 moon-landing footage was faked. [Emphasis added]

That is a recitation of a small portion of the nonsense he spouts. He is the kind of extremist and demagogue that any self-respecting individual (let alone a politician) avoids. Jones fuels the uninformed, the discontented and the “victims” who seek simplistic conspiracy notions to “explain” why life hasn’t gone their way. He exists in large measure because the Internet has no editors or filters—the floodgates of nuttiness are wide open.

Trump appeared on Jones’ radio program the day of the San Bernardino shootings last year. Jones introduced him and, predictably, praised him, claiming that 90% of his audience were supporters. Trump responded in kind, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”

The encounter was an answer to Jones’ prayers. For the most part, folks like Jones exist on the fringes of society—speaking to a relatively small segment of the public. They are, fortunately, ostracized from the major media and the legitimacy that the media can confer. Folks like Jones hope that a few, or even one, of their wackadoodle theories catches on and that supporters and funds will flow from that—if only they can gain the wider audience.

For Jones to have a presidential candidate on his air, and offering praise to boot, is the validation that he craves. He can use that “cache” to extend his reach to quasi-normal folks who might otherwise never give him a second look (“Donald Trump came on my show, I’m a serious player”).

For Trump, that decision to appear with Jones may tell us all we need to know about his views, his outlook and the folks around him. Trump made a conscious decision to lend his name, and such stature as he has, to a certified extremist who has no claim to legitimacy or to a place at the table of rational discourse.

Either Trump didn’t know who Jones was—-in which case his staff is guilty of malpractice—or he knew and didn’t care. In the latter case, he would be indifferent, maybe even sympathetic, to the bottom dwellers of the political world—a warning light to anyone who cares about civility and our future.

Mr. Trump has a serious problem with bigotry and extremism. Three centuries ago Edmund Burke warned of the dangers of tolerating, or turning a blind eye, to wickedness, “all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Tacitly endorsing a vile conspiracy theorist is worse than doing nothing.

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