We have long-believed that we cannot afford to normalize Donald Trump and his dangerous vision for America, nor allow his noxious ideas and his fact-free style of campaigning to become mainstreamed or treated as part of politics-as-usual. Over Memorial Day weekend, Trump provided two new examples of his divisive and nativist vision for the country and, in the process, underscored why observers in the media and beyond should not default to the usual norms and conventions in covering Trump and his campaign.
Standing near the Lincoln Memorial and addressing a contingent from an annual Memorial Day biker rally, Trump said that “illegal immigrants are taken better care of than our veterans. We’re not going to allow that to happen.”
While Trump’s assertion is patently untrue, it is so purposeful in its falsehood that the usual political fact-checking in response is insufficient. As New York Timesreporter Nina Bernstein tweeted, “This is such an unvarnished lie. Not the normal politics of shading the truth or spin. Big Lie territory.” And veteran political commentator James Fallows stated in response:
“It’s kind of an insult to public intelligence to treat this as a serious claim. (‘Donald Trump said yesterday that two was a larger number than five. Let’s examine why this is not true….’) It was a pure statement of grievance, fitting Trump’s skillful-but-dangerous pattern of expertly reading, and then pandering to, the audience in his immediate range and in position to cheer in response.”
Additionally, at a Friday rally in San Diego, Trump downplayed the latest developments related to the class action lawsuit against Trump University by race-baiting and explicitly bringing up the Mexican-American heritage of the (American born) judge overseeing the case, saying: “The trial is going to take place sometime in November. There should be no trial. This should have been dismissed on summary judgment easily, everybody says it. But I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He’s a hater. His name is Gonzalo Curiel … The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great. I think that’s fine.”
In a recent segment titled, “How Not to Normalize Trump,” Bob Garfield, co-host of WNYC/NPR’s “On the Media,” captured why the media cannot be complicit in mainstreaming aspects of Trump’s ugly vision for America:
“The man is a menace of historic proportions, so who the Chuck Todd cares about his tax proposals? It’s like asking Charles Manson about his driving record. But here comes the political press, going into standard general election mode and treating a demagogue as a legitimate standard bearer, as if the only thing he has to answer for is the latest blip in the news cycle … in this case, being slave to the fresh angle is simple malpractice because every moment spent on Trump policy and process buries the lead. The lead is that a man who wants to build a wall, who wants to ban Muslims, who sees women only as potential vessels for his – ‘no problem there, I assure you’ – could be the president of the United States. It was the lead in July. It is the lead now. It will be the lead in November. Every interview with Donald Trump, every single one should hold him accountable for bigotry, incitement, juvenile conduct and blithe contempt for the Constitution.”
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Donald Trump is running a campaign built on nativism, mendacity and divisiveness. That he issued his latest audacious falsehood while standing at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial – a monument to a man whose guiding principles for America are the mirror opposite of Trump’s – remind us what’s at stake and why we cannot allow Trump’s vision for America to go unchallenged or become normalized.”