Commentary: The danger of laughing at Donald Trump
It took Donald Trump's trashing of a war hero to finally inspire appropriate condemnation from both his fellow Republicans and the American news media. Because the candidate's racism and xenophobia apparently weren't harmful enough.
News editors everywhere will continue to struggle with the question of what to do with Trump. While he is certainly entertaining, demoting him to the entertainment pages was clearly a big mistake.
Instead of laughing at Trump’s buffoonery, news organizations need to hold him and the Republican Party accountable for the damage he does.
Trump’s racist views and his misinformation legitimize those same ideas among a swath of American citizens who fear the changing demographics of the country. Rather than rolling our eyes, let’s take Donald Trump seriously. Treating him as a clown rather than a candidate gives him permission spew hate.
Can Trump win? It seems unlikely, especially after this weekend. Of course that is what the media said about a funny-looking spewer of hate with an odd mustache who was dismissed as an awful public speaker and not a serious candidate in Germany in the 1930s. In the Reichstag elections of November 1932, held months before Hitler become Chancellor of Germany, there were 37 different political parties competing in a melee that bears some resemblance to today’s Republican primary. Given a long time to spread racist drivel to a public nervous about preserving their national identity from ‘non-Germans,’ Adolf Hitler won.
We certainly have a more robust political system than 1930s Germany. But Trump’s racist rhetoric should be viewed in the repugnant tradition of Hitler. When you call all Mexicans rapists, criminals, losers, and the source of disease (that last claim was an old Nazi favorite), when you disparage Mexican-Americans at every turn as the cause of all the country’s woes, and when you have the money to get you message out, journalists should take you seriously.
Such speech is a classic ploy to sow divisiveness and generate fear. That his message finds a home at all should be alarming. It's one thing argue about immigration policies. It's a completely different thing to condemn an entire ethnic group. (Imagine if Trump were saying these things about Jews?)
Comedians can and should play Trump for laughs. But serious news organizations will help the audience see that Trump isn't just amusing, he's dangerous.
Media ethicist Kelly McBride and medical ethicist Art Caplan collaborate on the Everyday Ethics Podcast.