Journalists breathlessly report every new hateful, racist, xenophobic, misogynist, or simply stupid statement made by Donald Trump. That is not surprising. As Les Moonves, Chairman of CBS, said recently, "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS...Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going."
While it is sadly true that hate and provocation are attractive to many in the media and their markets, we need to stop treating each new Trump pronouncement as if it were an isolated revelation regarding Trump's character.
We have more than sufficient evidence about Donald Trump's nature and character from even a quick review of his greatest hits. Speaking about John McCain at a "Family Leadership Summit" in Iowa in July 2015, Trump said, "He's not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured." In other words, Donald Trump, who got four military deferments because of student status and some injury to his foot that he now cannot even remember, said that he likes better veterans who were not captured. Presumably, he also likes better veterans who were not killed. In short, Trump disrespects veterans who made the ultimate sacrifices, but he aspires to be Commander-in-Chief.
As if that were not enough, Trump has expressly encouraged illegal, violent assaults against protesters at his events. Trump told a Cedar Rapids crowd to "... knock the crap out of 'em, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell -- I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise." After a Trump supporter punched and choked a protester at a rally in Birmingham, Trump said: "maybe he deserved to get roughed up." In Las Vegas, Trump noticed a protester being escorted away peacefully and said: "The guards are being very gentle with him," Trump said. "I'd like to punch him in the face, I'll tell you that." Trump continued his tirade: "I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that in a place like this? They'd be carried out on a stretcher, folks." This is a United States presidential candidate who has repeatedly encouraged vigilantism.
When Donald Trump was asked by Jake Tapper on State of the Union to disavow David Duke, the KKK and white supremacists, he said, "I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don't know. I don't know -- did he endorse me, or what's going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists." We cannot have a president who, at best, knows "nothing" about "white supremacy" or "white supremacists" and at worst, embraces them as supporters. There are many other examples, including about Mexicans and Muslims, but who needs to look further? Trump does not feel comfortable disavowing "white supremacists."
With respect to women, in August 2015, speaking about Megyn Kelly, a widely respected journalist who had the temerity to ask a tough question in a Republican debate about how Trump relates to women, Tump said "[y]ou could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her... wherever." There's a Super PAC ad out (from Our Principles PAC) that collects Trump's many similar comments about women.
Finally, in the opening moments of a recent Republican presidential debate, Trump said "And, [Marco Rubio] referred to my hands -- 'if they're small, something else must be small.' I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee." Yes, indeed, in the presidential debate, Trump assured America that his penis was not small. Of course, he already made this known. Trump called in to TMZ in 2012 after Gloria Allred questioned the size of his penis and said "I think Gloria would be very very impressed with me [referring to his penis]."
It should be noted that except for the comments about his penis size, Donald Trump has attempted to disavow his own comments noted above. Despite the unequivocal recorded quotes, he has: a) denied he said them; b) alleged that he was misinterpreted or didn't hear the question; or c) simply said the opposite the next day ("captured or not, all our soldiers are heroes"). Like PT Barnum, Donald Trump relies on there being a sucker born every minute.
Sadly, despite this great weight of cumulative evidence about Trump's nature, we will continue to be "shocked" and "stunned" in the moment about each new story. But they will yield no further insight about his character. We have more than enough evidence that Trump is a carnival barker, an extreme narcissist, a demagogue, and a hothead. We need no further proof that he has continually made profoundly racist and misogynist comments, as well as many other crude, stupid, and offensive statements. But we live in the moment, comment to comment. Many of us pursue that elusive state of "mindfulness" as a spiritual path. Yet, we are all masters at living only in the present moment with respect to the news cycle.
We already know plenty about Trump. But what about these questions: Why does Donald Trump have a substantial lead in virtually every Republican primary? How has the Republican Party created and fostered the conditions that give rise to Donald Trump's candidacy and success? What and who are responsible for the anti-government sentiment that drives a significant part of Trump's support? Why are messages of racism and misogyny resonating to a large portion of Republican primary voters? What explains the timing of the late-breaking criticisms of Trump and why, only weeks ago, did all of the remaining Republican candidates say that would support Trump in the general election if he were their candidate?
And perhaps most importantly, how do journalists keep their independence and pursue these important questions when people at the top, like Les Moonves of CBS, make clear that they value ratings over "what is good for America"?