I had no intention of writing another post about Donald Trump, who gets way too much attention as it is. But over the past few weeks, I've become increasingly nervous about the political climate he has created-- a climate where protesters are beaten up at his rallies, reporters covering the rallies are threatened, and the candidate himself seems at times to be egging the crowd on. And worst of all, Mr. Trump's fellow candidates (along with most other Republicans) seem to feel no need to denounce him for any of this. After all, outraged partisans are more likely to come out and vote, am I right? All that matters is winning, by any means necessary.
But believe me, this sort of campaigning has consequences, although some of my Republican friends may not want to admit it. Whether my friends decide to vote for him or not, Mr. Trump has changed the tone of our politics. It is now acceptable to mock people with disabilities, or show contempt for a former Prisoner-of-War like John McCain, or even talk about the size of one's package on national TV. Mr. Trump claims he doesn't want to be "politically correct," and he also says he misses the days when you could punch a protester in the face. His apologists say that's just rhetoric, but then yesterday, a Trump proponent actually did punch a protester in the face, and bragged about it. Protesters have also been treated harshly at other rallies, while Mr. Trump reminisced about the good old days when it was okay to treat protesters that way.
Sometimes I feel as if I'm in a bad movie, or perhaps a bad TV reality show. I understand that "politics ain't bean-bag," as the fictional pundit Mr. Dooley used to say, but this campaign seems more like professional wrestling than politics. Mr. Trump thinks it's okay to encourage the crowds at his events to help eject protesters; he thinks it's okay to keep reporters and photographers in a pen, and has no problem when one is violently pushed to the ground for daring to step outside to try to get a better view; and he thinks it's okay to call journalists covering his events "scum" and encourage attendees to hurl insults in their direction. And through it all, I hear few Republican voices saying enough is enough. Even John Kasich, who (to his credit) has generally avoided mudslinging and name-calling, has not denounced the violent rhetoric at Trump rallies. I wish he, or one of his colleagues, would. But so far, nothing.
Maybe I'm asking for too much, but I miss the days when candidates could be passionate without exhorting their supporters to be violent. I miss heated debates where actual issues were discussed, rather then an endless array of schoolyard insults. No, I am not asking for sunshine and rainbows, and I don't even mind harsh political rhetoric. I know it's all part of the game, and to some degree, both sides do it. For example, I understand that Republican candidates want to blame President Obama for anything and everything; and even when fact-checkers point out that many of their assertions are demonstrably false, the candidates keep repeating them, and their voters keep applauding. (And yes, in fairness, Democratic candidates have applause lines too, although I have never heard Hillary or Bernie express a wish to punch a protester, nor make threats against journalists.)
I keep hoping that somehow, sanity will be restored to the Republican presidential race. I know how easy it is to stir up anger and rage at some enemy, real or imagined (we've seen demagogues do it throughout history); but again, it's the consequences that worry me. For far too long in this campaign, a rhetoric that promotes hatred of various people (including the president) has been allowed to flourish, often with the complicity of other politicians who felt no need to speak out. Yes, this strategy may work well in the short-term, guaranteeing that the Republican base will come out to vote. But what about the long-term effects? People who have been repeatedly told they have every right to be furious are not likely to suddenly calm down. And what none of his fellow candidates seem willing to discuss is what worries me the most: even if Mr. Trump is somehow denied the nomination, the anger he has unleashed in his supporters will be very difficult to contain.