Reflections after the GOP debate
In his manifesto Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler states, “I was not in agreement with the sharp antiSemitic tone, but from time to time I read arguments which gave me some food for thought.” The arguments Hitler was referring to were published by Austrian newspapers and made by Karl Lueger (1844-1910), co-founder and leader of the anti-Semitic Christian Socialist Movement and mayor of Vienna until his death.
The Holocaust did not happen in a vacuum or overnight. It took years of unchallenged anti-Semitic propaganda and the overt vilification of Jews as a “problem” requiring a solution. They were blamed for Germany’s loss of World War I and the ensuing economic collapse. The fervent blind nationalism and promises of making Germany great again, combined with participation of mainstream media in spreading this hysteria culminated in a systematic extermination of millions of Jews, as well as other groups deemed of having “life unworthy of life.”
On Tuesday, December 15, CNN hosted the final GOP debate of 2015 featuring the Republican candidates for the 2016 election for president of the United States. The topic was National Security and Terrorism. The level to which the GOP base is out of touch with reality was demonstrated in two instances. The first was when Governor John Kasich of Ohio complained about how world leaders were in Paris to discuss climate change as opposed to figuring out how to destroy ISIS. Apparently ISIS is a bigger threat than the increasing natural disasters and rising global temperatures that will eventually, without a doubt, bring an end to humanity. The second was when Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey said that if he was elected president, he would stand in front of King Hussein of Jordan and tell him he has a friend again to fight terrorism. King Hussein died in 1999.
A rational expectation of CNN, given the topic, would be for the moderators to ask the candidates how they would address the pertinent and very current issues of gun violence in America, which is at high levels that have no equivalence anywhere in the world; attacks by right-wing terrorists who were shown to be twice as likely to kill Americans than Muslim terrorists; and the disproportionate police violence against African-Americans (in America, Blacks are three times more likely to be killed than whites are). Certainly these are perfect issues that fall under national security and terrorism. Instead, viewers watched more than two hours of candidates discussing how to “defeat Islamic terrorism,” quelling the “rise of radical Islam,” and how to “destroy ISIS.”
While the subsequent media analysis of the debate mainly focused on how each candidate performed and who emerged as the winner or loser, something much more sinister has transpired. When student Josh Jacob asked Donald Trump over Facebook how he could call for killing the families of ISIS members given that such an action violates international law, Trump replied with his usual baseless claims, implicating the families in terrorist attacks.
When Ben Carson was asked how he could go from being a pediatric neurosurgeon who saved lives to a president ordering military strikes that could kill innocent children and civilians, he compared the killing of innocent children and civilians to the removal of a brain tumor: It may appear horrible, but it is actually “merciful.”
Ted Cruz said America is at war with “radical Islamic terrorism” and said he wants to stop “admitting jihadists posing as refugees” into the United States. In effect, he was rejecting the quote on the Statute of Liberty upon which the spirit of America was built: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
What transpired at the CNN debate was not just fear mongering. It was a casual discussion by potential presidential candidates about killing millions of people and a total disregard for the lives and humanity of those fleeing brutal killings and torture in their home countries. The overarching theme was premised on the assumption that America must constantly be militarily involved in foreign countries, and where regime change abroad is debated in the same way domestic issues are.
The jingoistic discourse of CNN’s Republican debate is built upon a delusional belief in American exceptionalism combined with what can only be viewed as the deliberate and proud ignorance of facts about everything. While some may have found it entertaining and got a good laugh, this debate showed the trajectory of the GOP. Regardless of what one may say about the Republican candidates, a significant number of people in America support them. Trump grabbed the headlines with his bigoted proposal to ban all Muslims from entering America until the government figures out “what the hell is going on.” Less popular were the headlines that two-thirds of Republican primary voters support this plan. That is a lot of people supporting a racist proposal.
Hitler said about Lueger, “the man and the movement seemed reactionary in my eyes. But even an elementary sense of justice enforced me to change my opinion when I had the opportunity of knowing the man and his work, and slowly that opinion grew into outspoken admiration.” The rise of anti-Semitism in post-World War I Germany was not possible without mainstream media bombarding the public with anti-Semitic publications. The same can be said of Islamophobia today. The initial reaction that many observers had to Trump was dismissive. But his numbers rose as he continued to dominate the press, and through his discourse, he normalized racism initially against Latinos and now Muslims.
America is a country built on great principles and ideals. But it is quickly descending into an abyss of xenophobia and bigotry fully supported by pseudo-journalism that allows for farcical debates on national television serving as vehicles for the dehumanization of billions of people. Republican candidates are a symptom of a deeper problem, and it lies within mainstream media. The difficult question to answer is how can the shaper of public opinion itself be shaped?