On his show tonight, Chris Hayes asked Al Franken if Donald Trump’s campaign made him wish that he were still writing comic sketches and doing stand-up comedy. Franken, of course, said that he was very absorbed in doing his work as a U.S. Senator and that there are countless comedians taking full advantage of Trump’s antics as a candidate.
As I have indicated in previous posts, I think that Trump’s candidacy has raised at least as many intriguing rhetorical issues as it has created openings for comedians.
If one runs for president, not just one’s entire personal history, but one’s entire family history may sooner or later be made very public. In most instances, we feel compelled to bemoan this development and to wring our hands over the possibility that all but those candidates with the most unassailable egos and the thickest hides are being dissuaded from running for major offices.
Writing for AlterNet, Kali Halloway points to evidence unearthed in a New York Times article that Donald Trump’s father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan:
Halaway’s complete article parsing the evidence is available at: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/surprise-donald-trumps-father-was-probably-ku-klux-klan?
This sort of news item opens all sorts of possibilities for discussion.
On the one hand, no person, including political candidates, should be held personally accountable for things that his parents, siblings, other relatives, personal friends and acquaintances, and professional associates have said or done. Guilt by association is a very basic logical fallacy, and each person should be held accountable for only his or her own statements and actions.
On the other hand, political candidates are almost always running as representatives of political parties, and so their insulation from any backlash provoked by the statements and actions of others in their parties is much mitigated—unless the candidate very pointedly condemns those statements and actions. Indeed, it is usually not enough to try simply to disassociate oneself from very controversial actions and statements made by others in one’s party while stopping short of any outright criticism of those actions and statements. This liability holds especially true for presidential candidates because they are expressly claiming leadership of their parties.
Moreover, a candidate’s own positions on issues generally determine, rightly or wrongly, which stories about their family members, etc., get traction in the media. In this instance, Donald Trump has surged to the front of the very crowded Republican field by appealing to the most nativist and xenophobic wing of the GOP. So, the fact that his father seems to have been a member of the Ku Klux Klan is going to have much more traction than, say, a story that one of his direct ancestors was a known associate of organized crime figures (unless, perhaps, his own wealth were largely inherited and directly traceable to those criminal activities–the sort of accusation that followed Joseph Kennedy and, for a long time, his sons because of his supposedly very profitable associations with rum runners and other bootleggers during Prohibition).
On the other hand, if Trump’s direct ancestors included any evangelists, suffragettes, or Hispanics, one could be fairly certain that he would be exploiting those associations in an effort to defuse, or at least to deflect, some of the criticism of his seemingly convenient religiosity, his unflinching misogyny, and his demonization of illegal immigrants.
Indeed, Trump’s whole abrasive, contentious persona as a candidate—and especially his penchant for directing very personalized insults at his opponents—seemingly mitigates against any argument that almost any story related to him is somehow out of bounds. His opponents may not want to engage in a gutter fight with him, but in the current media environment, there are so many ways to disseminate damaging stories that no one who wishes to avoid doing so has to get his or her own hands dirty—or, to continue with the metaphor of the gutter fight, to get his or her own knuckles bloodied.
A major part of Trump’s appeal seems to be that he seemingly disdains hiding behind anyone or anything. But there is a very thin line between a brawler and a bully, and when either one finally meets up with someone who knocks him on his ass, almost no one is ever troubled by the turnabout–and almost everyone will sneer at his then crying foul.