It seems pointless to comment on Donald Trump or even Hillary Clinton but maybe I can move on with my next post. For now I just want to say that Trump is appealing to the modern-day Know Nothings. And I am referring to the so-called Know Nothings before Lincoln, who were anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic populists. Today’s crowd is primarily anti-immigrant and anti-intellectual and would rather know nothing. Sometimes it might be handy to be simplistic and not cloud your mind with complex thoughts — it really depends upon the task at hand. But being president of the United States, the beacon of freedom throughout the world and the super power of the world, and our own nation if all that is not enough, should require the ability to process complex thoughts and to convey them in speech.
(And I am not talking Adlai Stevenson or Jimmy Carter or Jeb Bush intellectual — I mean intellectualism can itself be problematic at times.)
It kind of reminds me of my own challenge in learning a foreign language (I have attempted three but have settled on Spanish). While I have learned enough to convey simple requests or thoughts when I want to go farther I frequently find myself at a loss for words and phrases and I end up working around it by using the simple ones I know. Works for ordering a beer, but not so good for explaining what I think about certain subjects and being able to back up what I think. And now I have to rob from a post I have not yet posted: I was in Spain and doing my best to converse in Spanish at a dinner at someone’s home, and most of the people there either did not speak English or only a little. Someone wondered aloud what the fascination with guns among those in the U.S. was all about. I tried to explain something about the Second Amendment using Spanish. I could not get much beyond the fact that we hang our right to keep and bear arms on that amendment in the constitution. Really all I said was that the right is in our constitution. But I could not give the theory behind it or even arguments as to the interpretation or even the ambiguity of the Second Amendment. Actually I don’t think I translated the word amendment. I just said constitution (constitución). So the point is, one needs to speak at a slightly higher level to discuss such matters intelligently.
In the last news cycle, Trump has made the simplistic (if absurd) claim that President Obama and Mrs. Clinton “created ISIS” (the terrorist group). I think it was reported this morning that he backed away a little and said he was being sarcastic. I guess the idea is that he meant through their policies they helped create the conditions for it to grow and thrive (even though I heard him stick to the original blunt statement with one sympathetic interviewer — and that is Trump’s method, keep everyone confused as to what he means so he cannot be pinned down). But for a whole news cycle he kept to the stark claim that they purposely created it (I actually don’t know at this time what his current line is). And this follows a pattern. Trump just utters absurd and simplistic statements without complexity and without nuance.
UPDATE: So after originally posting this, later in the day I run across the following, concerning the Trump ISIS accusation, in Politico:Hours after stating his claim of Obama as the founder of ISIL was “sarcasm,” Trump says maybe it wasn’t.
Another demagogic device he uses is to say things like: “I’ve heard it said”. In this way he does not obligate himself to back a statement up by citing any sources and even admits by inference or implication that it might or might not be true, with the implied emphasis on it is true — and he adds a shrug of the shoulders and a wink of the eye and a sardonic, lopsided smile.
For professional journalists who, despite what many people think, were schooled with the idea that one must be objective in straight news reporting (as opposed to commentary or editorializing), it is hard to impossible anymore to be objective when it comes to Mr. Trump. He just says absurd things or flat-out lies and the lies are so obvious. The rule in objective journalism (I took journalism in college) is to print what the man said but try to balance it with what the other side said. Sometimes it is legitimate to point out inconsistencies by putting in what is called background — in other words, facts that tend to point out discrepancies in what someone said — but that is full of peril because too much background is often interpreted by the reader or observers of your reporting as bias.
(It is somewhat difficult for me to comment on today’s journalism because my experience was in print — even as broadcast had really taken over — and before the introduction of the internet and social media. Methods have changed and the lines between straight reporting and commentary have blurred to the extent they are often not even visible.)
But when someone says something that is on its face a lie or outright crazy it seems absurd to just report it and let it stand. But in Trump’s case one would have to spend all of his time trying to explain what he might have meant or why he seems to be in error or why he might be spreading falsehoods. You would write more words in explanation than about what he really said. He does speak in choppy sentences void of various parts of speech, such as verbs.
And for balance, I have to say that Mrs. Clinton constantly couches her answers to questions in legalese like the lawyer she is. She would probably not think she was telling outright lies as much as simply not unnecessarily or unwisely admitting things — as in everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
Barring some unforeseen new scandal or new facts in her present scandals, Mrs. Clinton would seem the only clear choice for president, unless for whatever reason one just can’t stomach voting for her.
She is intellectual and knowledgeable about the nation and world, while Mr. Trump has constantly demonstrated he is not. His skills are more in entertaining (even if I personally don’t see it), questionable real estate deals, using the bankruptcy courts, and using other people’s money. He would flunk a class on civics or world affairs. More than that he would be dangerous as the leader of the world’s only super power.