The documentary Blackfish on the mistreatment of Orcas had a disastrous effect on the marine amusement park, revealing a long-standing and widely-accepted SeaWorld lie that the whales were being treated well. Following the release of Blackfish, attendance at the park fell by about 50%, with bleeding losses of revenue and about a 60% decline in stock value. Blackfish was like a light suddenly flipped on in the kitchen, revealing the roaches everybody knew were there but chose to ignore until the obvious was simply too overwhelming.
With Donald Trump's campaign we can no longer ignore the intolerance and hate that has so thoroughly infected the Republican Party pantry. With Trump front and center in the Republican primary season, the spotlight is now shining brightly on the ugly truth that was, pre-Trump, so conveniently swept under the counter. Trump's brazen and popular foray into the realm of vile rhetoric has revealed a long-standing but well-hidden truth about the GOP and conservativism in the United States: right-wing thought has devolved into a disease of ignorance and hate.
A New Low
While Republican presidential hopefuls descend down to historic and frightening lows of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, the rest of us must pause to take stock of why we have reached this horrible nadir in public discourse.
We have all heard the sentiment that, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." Mahatma Gandhi is often and widely cited as the author of this phrase, but he apparently never uttered the words. Nevertheless, no matter who first noted this truth, the idea is sound and a viable guide to our humanness. Others have gone further, again with hazy attribution to Gandhi, with the notion that, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated. I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man."
Many of us would agree with these aphorisms. But the Republican field is hastily veering ever far away from this ideal, taking the opposite position that attacking those most in need is a moral imperative. This inversion of reason can be seen with the extraordinary extremism espoused by those representing the GOP. Trump is a deep well of such ugly sentiment, which has disturbingly resonated with a large swath of our population. His popularity is what is most frightening of all. That a demagogue will come along is no surprise, but that his despicable views will find resonance with so many of our voters is as shocking as it is disappointing. Trump is the lump in our collective breast, an ominous warning of a more virulent disease about to attack our body politic. Trumps ascendancy proves we are sick, that the cancer on our society is metastasizing.
Trump is no outlier or anomaly, but instead broadly representative of the growing radicalization of conservative thought - one reason other candidates vying for the Oval Office have not dared to criticize Trump. There is much to choose from, but let's look at just a few of the more drastic notions that have become mainstream, ideas that would have resulted in instant political death just a decade ago.
Trump proposes that the U.S. Government should shut down mosques, you know, like Nazi Germany closed synagogues. Should we have our own version of Kristallnacht now? Worse, if there can be a worse, pining for the good old days of internment camps for the Japanese during World War II, Trump suggests that the government create a database to track Muslims -like the Nazis tracked Jews. Perhaps we should require that all Muslims wear yellow crescent moons to make them easier to identify. If it was good enough for the Nazis, it is good enough for us, no?
Trump describes immigrants as rapists and criminals. "But you have people coming in and I'm not just saying Mexicans, I'm talking about people that are from all over that are killers and rapists and they're coming into this country." Never mind the pesky fact that there is no evidence that immigrants commit more crimes than people born in the country. Here is the conclusion from a Congressional Research Service report from 2012: "The overall proportion of noncitizens in federal and state prisons and local jails corresponds closely to the proportion of noncitizens in the total U.S. population."
With this dark but factually incorrect perspective on the influx of criminals, Trump not surprisingly has a solution when he says all undocumented workers "have to go." This means that a candidate for the presidency of our country is proposing, seriously, that we locate, round up, arrest and then forcibly deport a population of 11 million people. To find we find these undesirables in our midst, would we create a secret police like the Stasi in East Germany, so neighbors would rat on neighbors? Who would take care of the children left behind? Does this not give you the creeps?
According to Trump, poor people are poor because they do not work hard enough. His solution is to "leave the minimum wage the way it is." If only the poor would find jobs all would be grand.
The list of bizarre policy proposals goes on and on, but Trump's assault on reason and civility does not end there. He openly mocked a New York Times reporter by imitating his spastic movements. He dismissed John McCain's service to his country proclaiming that "I don't like losers." Trump went on to say that, "He is a war hero (only) because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured." Trump believes the normal act of going to the bathroom is too gross to be mentionable. He has denigrated Hillary Clinton for taking a bathroom break during a debate saying that "I know where she went. It's disgusting." There has likely never been a more misogynist candidate; he constantly degrades women. He said that Arianna Huffington, "...is unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man - he made a good decision." If he does not like a question from a female reporter he will dismiss her as menstruating. Trump has called women "pigs", "dogs", and "disgusting animals."
To put all of this in perspective, let us pause here, contemplate, and do a brief exercise. Go back and substitute "Obama" everywhere we have "Trump." Now re-read this and consider even for a brief moment the holy hell that would ensue if Obama did anything remotely close to anything Trump has done. Really, do that, and then weep for your country, for its double standard, for its descent into a new era of madness.
We are plumbing new depths of depravity here; previously any one of these proclamations would have knocked a candidate out of the race within a few hours of being verbalized. Now, the crazier the talk the more traction the candidate gains. The cancer is spreading.
On the bright side, Trump's blazing ignorance is shining a light on right-wing thought so that, finally, the ugly truth, so long suppressed, is revealing itself in ways that can no longer be ignored. We have before us now a world clearly divided between two opposing world views.
We are witnessing the clash of reason and faith, between science and religion, between truth and the big lie, between demagoguery and sane debate. Nowhere is that made clearer than in the rush toward willful ignorance seen in the Republican debates. Disdain for science and the scientific method is front and center in the field of candidates on stage with Trump. With the big lie and faith-based reasoning politicians are not constrained by the annoying shackles of reality. Denying the truth of climate change is now mandatory for any Republican; the GOP is one of the world's few remaining political organizations that reject the obvious certainty of human-caused climate change. False statements about Planned Parenthood are taken at face value by party sympathizers even when easily shown to be fantasy. Fighting evolution is part of the GOP fabric, a modern day version of the Church's attacks on Galileo. Never mind that we can demonstrate evolution in a Petri dish; it has been proven across multiple fields of science including genetics, biogeography, and paleontology. Even the Pope in 1996 grudgingly admitted that evolution is "more than just a theory." But the GOP hangs on to the fifteenth century.
Trump's campaign highlights like few others could that we are in a race for the bottom, in which the candidate who best embraces ignorance and hate wins. When beliefs are divorced from reality, a hallmark of the Trump's outrageous claims, anything goes. With no common understanding of even baseline truths, we lose the ability to have any meaningful discourse to solve our very real problems. We can magically deport 11 million people. We can identify Muslims and track their movements. We can close mosques. All without consequence. Sure, why not, because reality and objective truths are no constraint.
The slogan and its many variations of "make American great again" often show up in conservative circles. To what age are we harking back to exactly? Make no mistake; this is war, a fight for the soul of our nation. Making America great means, to the extreme right, dragging us back into another Dark Ages just as the rest of the world is embracing the knowledge and new technologies of the 21st century. Trump and his ilk are a pathological infection of, consuming us from within. Trump is no joke, his candidacy is not funny. His colleagues on stage are just as frightening. This is deadly serious. Our only hope is that like with Blackfish, the shocking truth about the GOP as revealed by Trump's candidacy, will bring the American electorate to its senses. To survive we must reject the lies from the right so long hidden in the national basement like a crazy uncle nobody wants to acknowledge. Trump brings the crazy to light; now we can see what our real choices are for the future.