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Donald Trump and the Crime of Passionate Politics


Call it "hubris" or the sin of pride, Donald Trump is a glaring example of what’s wrong with American politics.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Donald Trump is the kind of person who can’t just say, “this is a good sandwich.”

Instead, he has to say, “this is the greatest sandwich ever, built by a team of award-winning chefs using ingredients gathered from the farthest corners of the Earth.” Likewise, instead of saying a sandwich was “meh,” he’d likely accuse it of having a criminal record and question its citizenship.

Which is just to say that Trump exaggerates a lot. So, when responding to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) – who said Trump had “fired up the crazies” on the issue of illegal immigration – he derided McCain’s military service and the years he spent as a POW in Vietnam, saying:

He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.

That is, Trump again resorts to rhetorical excess, this time denigrating POWs in general.

Those who serve in the military risk their lives, typically as part of an armed squad. When a soldier is taken prisoner, they’re no longer armed or part of a cohesive unit, but their life is still at risk. They’re facing all the down side of begin a soldier with none of the military capability. That’s why POWs are considered heroic, rather than dismissed as failures.

Trump probably understands this, but his habit of exaggeration has veto power.

Despite a history of such hyperbole, Trump is garnering a lot of political support on the grounds that he has the courage to denounce illegal immigration, an issue that many people feel passionately about.

But, here again, Trump is guilty of overstatement and invective. Instead of simply sticking with the facts – there are immigrants crossing into the country illegally, before we have a chance to separate out any who might be criminals – Trump made it sound as if illegal immigrants from Mexico were mostly drug traffickers and rapists, with any good people being the exception.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

This is what too often passes for “passionate” politics. In the name of caring about an issue (or, at least, being very angry about it), candidates will say and voters will support outrageous behavior:

Because people are passionate about ending racism, they jump to the conclusion that Michael Brown was executed while surrendering (despite all the evidence to the contrary), and his death sparks riots that do still more damage to the community that our passion was supposed to be protecting.

Because people are passionate about stopping sexual assaults against women, they publish a claim about the rape of “Jackie” at University of Virginia, despite the unverified details of Jackie’s now de-published story, with the result that women who declare they are victims of rape will face greater skepticism.

Because people are passionate about supporting same-sex marriage, they distort the views of Supreme Court justices who disagree, going so far as to call Clarence Thomas “a clown in blackface” and a “disgrace to America.”

Likewise, because people are passionate about stopping illegal immigration, they support a candidate who resorts to ethnic slurs and who questions the honor and tenacity of prisoners of war.

We often say we want passion, boldness and “straight talk” from our politicians. But there are such things as crimes of passion, and what passes for “straight talk” is frequently crooked. Over and over, when Trump has been heralded for “telling it like it is,” he’s been describing things that aren’t.

And once he’s been caught boldly saying something false, he (along with his supporters) holds on to boldness rather than letting it go. Instead of correcting himself and apologizing, he doubles down, preferring the audacity of being wrong to the meekness of admitting error.

This is where too many of us have gotten to in politics. In our frustration with those who disagree with us, we resort to exaggeration and demonizing. Our opponents are racists, Marxists, Nazis, or somehow unpatriotic. And after using those words, we’re shocked to find that our opponents only disagree with us even more, using the same rhetoric against us. And then we’re too proud to admit that our “fearless straight-talk” has been a mistake.

As I’ve said before, Donald Trump won’t be president or the Republican presidential nominee, and I’m now even more confident that he won’t make it to the first GOP primary.

But let’s not pretend he’s uniquely abnormal. Getting Donald Trump out of the 2016 presidential election is going to be merely a small step in getting his misbehavior out of politics altogether.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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