In a serious political culture, long before the last three mass shootings (Gilroy, Calif., El Paso and Dayton, Ohio), the media would have been pressing Republicans at every turn to address President Trump’s blatant racism and efforts to stir up anger and fear of refugees fleeing for their lives. Republicans would be asked to denounce hate-filled language and be compelled to comment on whether, like those propounding radical Islamic ideology, Trump’s role as a megaphone for white nationalism puts Americans at risk.
Instead of a frenetic debate with more candidates and less useful information than any in recent memory, the candidates would ask the Anti-Defamation League to hold a roundtable with top candidates on the topic of combating white nationalism. There might actually be an informed discussion about how white nationalists get radicalized, what responsibility public figures have and how we deal with toxic online sites.
Instead of robotically repeating Republicans’ assertion that mass shooters are all mentally ill, media outlets might push them to opine on whether, in that case, Dylann Roof and the Oklahoma City bombing conspirators should have had an insanity defense and why mass murderers routinely cite Trump’s language and other acts of white nationalist terrorism.
Democrats, if grown-ups ruled the roost, would cease arguing with a candidate who barely registers in the polls (Julian Castro) about a politically dumb and utterly unnecessary plan to decriminalize illegal border crossings. Instead they’d be explaining how each would undo the damage of the Trump years — how they’d address the harm inflicted on small children ripped from their parents’ arms and how to process refugees swiftly and fairly.
Someone might even note that in a country of more than 320 million people we certainly can process and admit about 53,000 asylum and refugee applicants, the number admitted in 2017. (“A total of 53,691 persons were admitted to the United States as refugees during 2017. The leading countries of nationality for refugees admitted during this period were the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, and Syria. An additional 26,568 individuals were granted asylum during 2017,3 including 16,045 individuals who were granted asylum affirmatively by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security . . . and 10,523 individuals who were granted asylum defensively by the U.S. Department of Justice. . . . The leading countries of nationality for persons granted either affirmative or defensive asylum were China, El Salvador, and Guatemala.”)
And finally — in a world in which a trade war is spiraling out of control, Russia continues to seek to meddle in our elections, North Korea has resumed missile testing without complaint from Trump, backing out of the Iran nuclear deal accomplished nothing and Trump has cut off aid to countries from which refugees are fleeing — we might have more than 10 minutes of discussion of foreign policy at the end of each debate marathon.
One senses that many of the presidential candidates are more serious than the process and the political media covering them. If they can figure out how to improve or maneuver around this process and shame the press into doing a better job (as Beto O’Rourke has done brilliantly), then we might be on track for a post-Trump political era.