One of the most discouraging aspects of politics is its knee-jerk tribalism. While it’s natural for people to “pick sides” and find an identity in doing so, this tendency gets ugly when it devolves into hateful collectivism. Unfortunately, the left and right are equally guilty of this. Just read any comment section on an ideologically driven news site or blog. Peruse the vaguely political drivel posted on innocuous YouTube videos and Reddit threads. The internet is rife with screenshot-ready, equal-opportunity displays of ignorance.
Yet there’s something particularly irking about seeing that ugliness crop up with guns blazing on what you generally defend as “your side.” We all know hateful rhetoric bubbles through the fringes of any politically charged movement. It becomes a problem worthy of denouncing, however, when someone treated as an authority figure and acting as a member of your political party leads the charge.
Enter Donald Trump. The sometimes bankrupt, longtime Democratic donor, real-estate mogul reality-TV star hybrid who loves a good controversy. The logical next branding step in the contemporary world of infotainment politics of course, is a presidential campaign. Trump is an out-of-central-casting addition to the “I can scream louder therefore I’m right” cable news caucus. And there’s no better topic for stoking fear and heated rhetoric like his cause du jour.
Launching his campaign with an alarmingly ignorant false premise last month, Trump stated: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
Insensitive at best, racist at worst, Donald Trump knows how to create a long-lasting media firestorm. Of course, his commentary linking Mexican immigration and increased crime is questionable at best. Reason, National Review, and Washington Post explain why, if you want to get into the policy weeds. But pay no mind to the facts; he has us talking. And that’s exactly the intended result.
Trump’s behavior is so extreme in both its ignorance and anger, that it’s hard not to entertain columnist George Will’s only somewhat tongue-in-cheek contention that he might as well be a Democratic operative. As Will stated:
“If Donald Trump were a Democratic mole placed in the Republican Party to disrupt things, how would his behavior be any different? I don’t think it would be. There’s all this loose talk, there’s something to it about the Republican brand. Put him on stage in at the first GOP debate. He says something hideously inflammatory, which is all he knows how to say, and then what do the other nine people on stage do? Do they either become complicit in what he said by their silence, or do they have to attack him? The debate gets hijacked, the process gets hijacked, and at the end of the day he is a one-man Todd Akin.”
Of course, the likely answer is that Trump is, as always, engaged in self-promotion and doesn’t care about how his behavior impacts either Republicans or Democrats. This comes with several unfortunate side effects. Naturally, Trump’s irrationality is being pinned on the GOP broadly, with the help of an all-too-eager media that doesn’t seem to treat the Democratic fringe as similarly relevant to their party as a whole. When faced with such media inquiries, most Republican presidential candidates have rightfully denounced Trump’s racially charged commentary, though there have been some disappointments, Ted Cruz’s “salute” to him, most notably.
Another problem lies with Trump’s defenders, who seem to take his signature crassness to an alarmingly higher level in their own attempts at discourse. To be clear, these people are a vocal minority, particularly within the GOP itself. But when you stir the hornet’s nest, they reveal themselves. The results are, to put it charitably, unflattering.
In general, I ascribe to a “Don’t Feed the Trolls” theory of politics. We all know there’s a healthy supply of crazy lurking in all ideological corners, especially on social media. Without self-restraint, you’ll get pulled into the quicksand. Suddenly, the sun starts setting and you realize you’ve wasted your day arguing with two racists and a gender-fluid social justice warrior with a combined IQ equal to that of your dog (who, incidentally, is crying because her food bowl hasn’t been replenished in several hours).
Despite my usual rule, I’ve found myself in the Trump weeds recently. “YOU’RE ONLY ENABLING THE POLITICALLY CORRECT LEFT!” his churlish band of followers bellow at any suggestion that perhaps, racially charged rhetoric actually hurts the cause of border security advocates. Never mind that Trump has materially enabled the much maligned liberal elite, particularly of the Clinton and Schumer variety, with Democratic contributions totaling in the millions. But he’s yelling about the illegals on TV now, so we must defend him at all costs!
As a person invariably “on the right” myself, I do understand the impulse that leads people to reject the left’s authoritarian attempts at shutting down discussion. I agree, however, with the refreshingly optimistic take put forth by Benjamin Domenech and Robert Tracinski that Americans dislike bullies, and the left’s ascendant neo-puritanical crusade will backfire. As they wrote at The Federalist:
“History teaches us two clear lessons about the ebb and flow of the Culture War: first, that whichever side believes it is winning will tend to overreach, pushing too far, too fast, and in the process alienating the public. The second is that the American people tend to oppose whoever they see as the aggressor in the Culture Wars—whoever they see as trying to intrusively impose their values on other people and bullying everyone who disagrees.”
This is why it’s important for conservatives not to be the insensitive aggressors ourselves. Lining up behind someone like Trump (whose love for high taxes, eminent domain, and crony capitalism would make even his alleged rival Mrs. Clinton blush – but dammit he yells the loudest) will backfire. Even if you believe he’s making a valid if inarticulate point about immigration, he’s the absolute last man you should tap as your spokesperson.
If your goal is to stick it to the PC crowd, sending in The Donald is a disastrously bad idea. This is a man who apparently can’t express his concerns about illegal immigration without producing soundbites that appear to malign all Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers. That’s not a compelling border security public relations campaign. It’s more like a financial contribution to Hillary’s campaign. Maybe not one as high as Trump’s six-figure donation to the Clinton Foundation, but a contribution she plans to make use of nonetheless.
Reacting to the left’s tyrannical attempts to shut down all debate with equally hateful collectivism only adds fuel to the roaring fire of politically correct overreach. Conservatives must reject the xenophobia our ideological rivals want to pin on us. Don’t allow your valid anger at the left’s totalitarian tendencies lead you to follow an equally authoritarian con-man like Trump to the slaughter.
Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images
Corie Whalen Stephens is a libertarian-conservative activist and writer based in Houston, Texas
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