How did we reach the point at which Donald Trump is leading the Republican presidential primary campaign? Everyone was just doing his or her job.
- The MSM, along with Fox hosts such as Sean Hannity and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” were just getting ratings when they put him on 24/7 and tossed softballs his way. (Don’t grill him, or he might not come back!)
- Right-wing talk-radio hosts and right-wing blogs were just getting ratings when they flogged the anti-immigration issue for years, whipped up resentment in the GOP ranks and touted Trump for months.
- The MSM, in refusing to dig deep into Trump’s record as they did Mitt Romney’s, were just surfing the ratings wave by giving Trump free rein.
- Flagship conservative journals were just boosting readership and garnering attention when they spewed out the same anti-immigration drivel as talk-radio hosts and included propaganda straight from anti-immigrant groups with dubious backgrounds. They were just intensifying the ardor of “true believers” by excommunicating insufficiently stringent Republicans.
- Groups such as Heritage Action and gatherings such as CPAC who seethed hatred for the “establishment,” cheered the shutdown, convinced Republicans they sold out and eliminated all but the most strident from the “real Republican” club were just raising money and building membership.
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was just enhancing his own prospects (he thought) by fawning over Trump for months and refusing to denounce Trump’s bigotry and misogyny.
- The Republican National Committee was just trying to keep Trump in the tent by treating him like any other legitimate candidate and refusing to criticize him.
- Evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. were just promoting themselves and trying to be kingmakers when they endorsed someone so ethically deficient as Trump.
- The president was just trying to help the Democrats win in 2016 by lifting Trump’s profile in the State of the Union address and other speeches.
- Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Ben Carson (and the consultants who feed off losing campaigns) were just trying to stay relevant or snag a VP spot by staying in the race.
- Anti-immigrant extremists like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) were just gaining visibility by mainstreaming anti-immigrant venom.
- Freedom Caucus members (and their predecessors before they had a moniker) were just getting attention by creating such dissension that dysfunction became the norm and then hollering that the “establishment” had sold them out.
- Conservative pundits who knew better but did not condemn Trump back when he was calling Mexicans “rapists” and who found something attractive in Trump — even egging on other Republicans to follow his lead — were just trying to stay relevant or being provocative.
You see, when all parties are simply doing their jobs, promoting themselves in a way that might entail (or rely on) playing on the public’s fears, ignorance and anger, their actions have larger consequences. Without stopping to think — dare I say! — in ethical terms (e.g., Is this right? Is this good for the country? Is this true?) and in putting self-interest above the national interest, they all did their part in creating the Trump phenomenon.
Now, ultimately, Trump and the people who work for him and vote for him are responsible for the elevation of a vulgar, know-nothing bigot. But they had plenty of help along the way. Hey, not my job! Sure, we get it. But then don’t ask: How did Trump come to dominate the political landscape?