A political campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency that was first perceived as a lark and a publicity stunt by much of the public has become a national concern that speaks to the angry mood of the electorate and the violation of civil discourse on the part of Donald Trump.
We are not in the habit of endorsing or rejecting political candidates; rather, we write here about a worrisome trend brought to the fore by the brash, ballsy and bigoted campaign that Trump has conducted, one that threatens the fabric of American society as we know it.
Tapping into deep and legitimate fears about our country’s economic problems and perceived diminished stature on the world stage, the billionaire businessman has offered political promises and blustery bromides rather than detailed solutions to a host of issues, from illegal immigration to military engagement in the Middle East. In so doing he has lowered the level of serious discourse and defied the unwritten societal laws of personal decency in denouncing his opponents on a schoolyard level of taunts and name-calling. Equally disturbing, the more he defies conventional norms of debate the greater he is praised by supporters for his anti-Establishment, tell-it-like-it-is stance. The prospect of such anger on the part of the candidate and a wide swath of the electorate boiling over into an “us” vs. “them” conflict is all too possible a scenario.
None seem more appalled by this behavior than Republican leaders and conservative pundits who feel Trump is hijacking their party and political ideals. Bret Stephens, in his Wall Street Journal column on Tuesday, wrote that “the candidacy of Donald Trump is the open sewer of American conservatism.” Stephens asserted that “a Trump presidency … would mark the collapse of the entire architecture of the U.S.-led post-World War II global order.”
Until recently Trump’s bigotry has focused on his nativist solution and ugly language regarding illegal immigrants from Mexico and his call to ban all Muslims from entry to the U.S. Remarkably, and most disturbingly, such positions are discussed now as legitimate areas for debate, an indication of how low the bar has become for acceptable discussion in American society.
This past weekend Trump evaded prompts to condemn David Duke and his Ku Klux Klan, the symbol of racial and ethnic hatred in our country. The Anti-Defamation League, noting that Duke is “perhaps America’s best-known racist and anti-Semite,” was among the first to call on Trump to “distance himself from white supremacists … unequivocally.”
Only after a strong backlash did the candidate “disavow” such support. How sad. And worrisome.
Our concern, beyond the candidate himself, is the dark mood and deep frustration of so many Americans seeking a strong leader who may be willing to push against the Founding Fathers’ boundaries of democracy and decency. Now is the time for each of us to become engaged in the political process and assure that America remains a country of compassion as well as strength.