Media moral posing and the unasked Trump question
I wrote about Trump and the media today for Salon. Here's an excerpt in which I discuss his long phone interview yesterday on Morning Joe:
Mark Halperin seemed to think he came loaded with questions so potent it would put Trump in his place once and for all. He repeated abstract questions designed to show that Trump does not believe in American values. It was so abstract in fact, and offered in such an obsequious tone, that it ended up meaning nothing because Halperin’s robotic questioning simply gave Trump the opportunity to spew more of his bigoted nonsense.
There was one moment in the exchange in particular worth highlighting:
HALPERIN: Did the Japanese internment camps go against American values?
TRUMP: We have to be smart, Mark. And we have to be vigilant. And honestly we also have to be tough.And if we’re not going to be those things we’re not going to have a country left.
HALPERIN: Did the internment of the Japanese violate American values ?
TRUMP: We’re not talking about internment, this is a whole different thing.
HALPERIN: I understand that but I’m just asking you to weigh in.
TRUMP: No, no you’re asking me a different question.
HALPERIN: Did the japanese internment question violate American values?
TRUMP: Mark, what about Franklin Roosevelt’s presidential proclamations 2525, 2526 and 27. Take a look at it Mark.
HALPERIN: Just asking one more time, did the internment if the Japanese Americans violate our sense of American values?
TRUMP: I don ‘t want to respond to it, you know why? That’s not what we’re doing.
HALPERIN: But for some people the same values are at stake.
TRUMP: It’s wonderful that you asked me that, it’s an entirely different question. Has no relationship to what I’m talking about.
From the discussion by various network personalities over the course of the day, they all thought Halperin was very clever by asking Trump about the Japanese internment and “American values.” But in reality it was just useless moral posing by Halperin, who could have used his time much more effectively. (Later in the program he got back to his happy place by asking Trump about his political prospects.)
It was left to Willie Geist to ask Trump how he would to make his plan work. It was an interesting exchange that left Trump looking flustered and confused as he tried to explain how the government could possibly know the religion of people trying to come into the country. (He wound up saying that a customs official would just ask people trying to enter if they were Muslim.)
But through all the interviews Trump gave yesterday nobody bothered to ask him the most obvious questions. He cited those statistics about American Muslim’s attitudes in Gaffney’s bogus polls in his official statement and in every media interview about it. He is clearly very frustrated with the American Muslim community:
“The Muslim community is not reporting what’s going on. They should be reporting that their next-door neighbor is making pipe bombs and they’ve got them all over the place. The mother’s in the apartment, other people, his friend was buying him rifles. Nobody was reporting that. The Muslim community has to help us, because without the Muslim community, we would have to get very tough and much tougher, and I don’t want to do that. But the Muslim community is not a one-way street. The Muslim community knew that this guy, what he was doing, and his wife, his very heavily radicalized wife, they knew what they were doing was wrong. Nobody called the police. Nobody said this is what happened.”
He brought this up over and over again throughout the day, along with his suspicions that the family as well as neighbors and other “members of the community” were co-conspirators. Indeed, he seemed to be obsessed with the idea, working himself into a fine frenzy over it. And not one reporter quizzed him as to why he thinks any of that’s relevant to his proposed policy of blocking foreign Muslims from coming into the country.
But he did offer up some hints about what he would do about this alleged problem. He repeatedly stressed that he didn’t want to be forced to take draconian steps if the Muslim community refused to step up, which he insisted they have not done. It’s quite clear that Trump is working himself up to some kind of action against American Muslims and others who are already in the country. He hinted at it all day long as he fulminated over the reports that the Farooks got money transfers and the idea that the mother and sister are lying. Despite their obsession with Japanese internment camps and “American values,” nobody asked him specifically what he meant when he said “we will have to get much tougher.”