August 24, 2016

KOWALEWSKI | Trumpfortably Numb

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I hate that I have to write yet another article about Donald Trump. I hate every time I see him on my TV, phone or computer. I hate that I’m so used to it.

Maybe this isn’t the most profound article. But I just want to think out loud about how we’ve gotten to this point. Somehow, Trump is a real thing we need to worry about. That’s not to say he came out of nowhere. The wave of resentment he rode has been building and building for the entirety of the Obama presidency. But we should still be shocked that someone as dangerous as Trump commandeered the political system of our country.

Of course, he holds no office or actual power, and hopefully he never will. Yet, through his consistent machinations of the media, his incitement of hate and his obfuscation of critical policy issues, Trump has already done a good deal of damage to our country. He has shown that blind outrage can be an effective substitute for a vision; that ignorance is no obstacle to the highest office in the land. Trump has fanned the flames of xenophobia and racism, burning down the norms of tolerance that have dominated for the past several decades.

I cannot pretend that racist attitudes have not percolated within the GOP for many years. Indeed, the success of Trump has proved to be a vindication of those who have long asserted that racial politics play a major role in the American right wing. However, these racist elements have always been denied, viewed with the degree of shame they properly deserves. No more. It is now okay to call for the prohibition of an entire religion and to attack federal judges on the basis of ethnicity. Republican officials may have condemned Trump’s most overtly bigoted statements, but when they continue to endorse him, what else does it signal other than tacit acceptance of his ideas?

Look beyond the ideological nativism that drives his campaign, and Trump’s personal characteristics serve as a repulsive supplement. Trump has criticized Obama as a “divider,” but whenever possible, he has chosen to rip the nation apart for his own political advantage. For example, the tragedy in Orlando, when he attempted to exploit the tragic murder of 49 people at a gay nightclub. Before the names of the victims were even released, he was boasting on Twitter that he was right about terrorism. Few other statements could have revealed such a callous disregard for human life. Cynically, he would soon start using the LGBTQ community as another arrow in his quiver of Islamophobic attacks.

When certain members of the Republican Party continually expressed hope that Trump would pivot to being a more tolerable candidate, nothing of the sort ever happened. Throughout the summer, Trump remained embroiled in sophomoric feuds and unacceptably offensive scandals. The Republican National Convention, his opportunity to reintroduce himself to the public, descended into a uniquely dystopian view of America. “I alone can fix it,” bellowed Trump, once again pulling away the veil on his darkest tendencies. His authoritarian pledge of unilateral action should’ve been a scandal, but his supporters loved it.

Frankly, I could go on and on. There’s his deep indulgence of the racist alt-right, and his repetition of nonsensical conspiracies about Hillary Clinton’s personal health. Indeed, his overall view of the world is best defined as conspiratorial. Trump has frequently claimed that the election will be rigged, setting the stage for a constitutional crisis following his loss in November. This type of basic challenge to his opponent’s legitimacy would be unprecedented. It appears likely to happen. It appears that no one particularly cares right now.

And that is the problem. His flaws are so great, and are so many, that they are actually diminished. With a handful of exceptions, most notably his racist attacks against the Khan family, Trump’s flagrant misconduct all blends together. Supported by cowardly members of his own party and a media that has frequently failed to challenge him, Trump remains in contention as a major party candidate. Sure, Trump will say something offensive today, and we will be offended. The same will be true tomorrow. But even Democrats will let it fade away. We are comfortable with how uncomfortable he makes us.

Despite the tone of this column, I am still optimistic about this election. Hillary Clinton may not be entirely perfect, but no candidate is. Building on her decades in public service, she has put together a plan that would move our country in a much better direction. And I’m nearly certain that Hillary Clinton will win, and that Democrats will make gains in our dysfunctional Congress. Nearly, however, isn’t good enough. No matter how small the chance is, none of us can risk handing the Oval Office to a racist buffoon who has no understanding of the things that make America great.

Yes, Trump does still hurt to watch. Such an assault on everything we stand for should be painful. But through our slow-exposure, and normalization to this hateful man, we are becoming numb. And that numbness is the false relief that this country can never succumb to.

Kevin Kowalewski is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Democratic Dialogue appears alternate Thursdays this semester.