At last night’s GOP debate– safe for work edition — Donald Trump excused the violence at his campaign rallies by saying that some of the protestors were “bad, bad dudes.” He repeated his claim that “Islam hates us,” and he managed to avoid uttering a single paragraph that could properly be called policy. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the hatred, CNN’s post-debate commentary lauded the “substantive debate” and gave Trump a nearly complete pass on his obvious lack of even the most rudimentary knowledge of how our government works. In so doing, CNN joined almost every single major news source in enabling Trump’s self-marketing as a qualified candidate for President of the United States. When and if he wins, we will all have been failed by our media. First Amendment notwithstanding, the press has largely failed to inform the voters of either the degree of Trump’s deceit, or his sheer lack of knowledge of policy. Trump is a dangerous man, and the fact that he drives ratings should not prevent the press from letting the people know that there is real cause for concern.
Facts, for example, are stubborn things. There is an audio tape capturing Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s assault of Michelle Fields. Here. A Washington Post reporter witnessed the altercation. Nevertheless, Donald Trump denies that it happened. And CNN, and other news outlets, report the denial as news, suggesting that there is some question as to the underlying truth of the matter. Here. There is not. Similarly, Trump’s comment that “Islam hates us” is not a subject for debate. It goes beyond Islamaphobia, and genuinely resembles the anti-semitism that propelled Hitler’s rise in Germany. Nevertheless, the media reports on a debate in which he repeats that claim as a substantive discussion in which Trump did well. Here. In so doing, the reporting minimizes the danger Trump presents and, instead, suggests that he did well in a battle among equals last night. From where I sit, I find it hard to think that there is any real news from last night other than the Trump’s view that one of the world’s largest religions, of which 3.3 million adherents live in the United States, hates our country.
Here’s another fact — Donald Trump did not do well in last night’s substantive discussion. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich all demonstrated far superior command of policy and detail than he did. The discussion of the looming Social Security crisis demonstrates this point. Rubio, Cruz and Kasich each acknowledged the need for change and each presented a slightly different substantive approach to the problem. Trump suggested, repeatedly, that by making America Great Again, and by cutting unspecified waste — through open bidding, there would somehow be enough money to solve the looming crisis. His answer wasn’t substantive; it was nonsense. But the reporters covering the campaign focused not on the substance but on his bearing — he kept his cool!! Similarly, in a back and forth about tariffs with Cruz, Trump seemed genuinely not to appreciate the impact of tariffs on consumers, let alone to know what the Smoot-Hawley Tariff was or why it is a negative precedent.
The evidence that Donald Trump is not qualified to be President is everywhere but in the polls. It’s in the steaks that aren’t ‘Trump Steaks”; it’s in Trump University, which wasn’t a University at all; it’s in the violence at the rallies; it’s in the utter emptiness of his rhetoric. Years ago in Massachusetts, Ed King explained that he beat Mike Dukakis by putting “all the hate groups in a pot and letting them boil.” You can see the hate boiling in the crowds around Donald Trump. Indeed, last night he literally bragged about how angry his supporters are. It is the news media’s responsibility to tell us about it, and to tell us about it again and again until we listen.
On the Democratic side of this race, Bernie Sanders keeps saying that there must be a reason that Wall Street gives so much money to political candidates. Last night, Donald Trump essentially confirmed it, suggesting that his political donations to candidates had allowed him to “own” politicians. The coverage of the Republican race teaches another lesson — ratings can allow a candidate to own a news organization. No network has the courage to take Donald Trump down. Instead, they sit in the gold plated rooms at Mar-A-Lago and ask sycophantic questions. And then, most glaringly, many of them watch a debate in which an ill-prepared, racist liar fails to engage meaningfully with a single issue of policy and report that he prevailed. Here. The essential failure to report the truth about Trump makes much of the media complicit in whatever havoc he ultimately wreaks on his party and our republic.