In the field of history, the issue of ‘perception vs. reality’ is often critical to assessing a phenomenon’s magnitude, justifiability, reasonableness, etc. This brief article discusses that important dichotomy as it relates to the rhetoric of presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, and some common responses to that rhetoric.
Controversial Content? Typical Pro-Trump Responses
Without question, Donald Trump is a highly controversial figure. The man seemingly cannot get through a speech, debate, press conference, or Twitter post without saying something offensive, contentious, or questionable (often, all three labels may be applied to a single remark). He is a walking publicity stunt, and he knows it.
Trump’s rhetoric has its pros and cons. It certainly seems to be resonating with millions of Americans, which is undoubtedly a positive—for him. On the other hand, ‘the Donald’ also has a knack for making vulgar, anti-intellectual, inflammatory, insensitive, and even violent remarks.
Supporters of Trump tend to have two responses to his rhetoric and policy proposals. They either (1) insist that he ‘can’t possibly be completely serious about x,’ or (2) strongly agree, claiming to love how Trump is ‘not PC’ nor ‘part of the establishment,’ and insisting that his approach is what is needed to “Make American Great Again.” A third response (mostly to media coverage and/or bashing of Trump for his controversial rhetoric), similar to the first type, insists that the media is simply villainizing him by being highly selective in what they show.
Addressing the Responses
Regarding the third type of response (claiming a liberal media bias), there are two things to say. First, the media certainly does have the ability to misrepresent just about anyone or anything. Second, however, it should be noted that the amount of controversial content which Trump provides to the media is absolutely staggering. Quotations can be given entirely within context and not seem much (or any!) less problematic. Trump churns out headline-worthy quotes, whether he is completely serious about what he says or not. In this case, perception and reality are very similar. For this reason, the third response is invalid.
The second response is perhaps the most difficult to address. First, to address the factor of Trump being ‘non-PC’ in a vacuum, of sorts: If suggesting that the United States armed forces should kill terrorists’ families is how the Commander in Chief should act, Americans need to become re-acquainted with just war theory. If joking about Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle as it (somehow) related to her moderation of a debate is how a president should act, we might as well elect another Clinton, given their propensity for respecting women. If telling apocryphal and Islamophobic tales about Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing’s alleged handling of Muslim Filipino insurrectionists is attractive because it makes Trump look like a ‘tough guy,’ there is a larger problem at hand, and it relates directly to the ideas of common courtesy, respect, and having objective moral principles. Further, it seems that Trump takes cues from his supporters, trying to pander to their interests. Given the KKK’s endorsement of Trump, and his lack of a definite refutation of it, one may quickly infer the potential problems with such pandering.
Second, we must consider the implications of just how ‘great’ Trump would make America, but without weighing whether or not America’s former ‘greatness’ is historical fact or fiction. Of course, this ties in directly with the first point about the second response. What is best for America? Is it in fact this neo-nativist, xenophobic approach, in which we ‘otherize’ and damn those with whom we disagree? Is it this scapegoating of entire ethnic and religious groups?
Looking at the historical record, this is not what made America ‘great,’ ever. Nativism and xenophobia in any era—whether manifested as the Know-Nothing Party, the KKK, anti-Catholicism, the Chinese Exclusion Act, or “100% Americanism”—were always destructive to the maintenance of a strong, healthy, diverse and free society. Morally, to ‘otherize’ is to break the Golden Rule. Realistically, it is impractical and destructive, especially in this globalized world.
As for the first response (‘he can’t possibly be serious about x’), here are three questions worth considering:
- If Trump is not serious about some or all of the proposals and/or remarks he makes which also happen to offend people, then why trust him at all?
- What are these policies and positions which he has yet to reveal?
- How is voting for a leader who is allegedly only saying these things for media attention justifiable or responsible?
To excuse or endorse Trump’s rhetoric and the resulting image is irresponsible and ignores its very grave implications for this nation’s future. The time has come for GOP voters to reassess their reasons for supporting his candidacy.
 The fact that Trump is a ‘walking publicity stunt’ is neither here nor there as far as political ability or presidential qualifications go. I’m simply noting that the man is a magnet for media coverage.
 Articles on this topic are hardly lacking. A few examples include Philip Bump, “Donald Trump reverses course on paying legal fees for man who attacked protestor. But could he do it?”; Paul Kengor, “Talking Trump… Dealing with the Mouth of the Republican Front-Runner” and “Having a ‘Trump Talk’ With Your Kids.”
 To make my point clearer: these remarks are all horrifying, embarrassing, and absurd.