brucekluger.com

    USA Today, March 7, 2016

    I am turning off the TV: Tell me when the Trump circus
    has left town
    The Donald has lowered the Republican primary to his crass, tabloid brand
    of politics.

    By Bruce Kluger

    I’m done with the 2016 election.
    Donald Trump has already won.

    Like millions across America, I
    have spent the last nine months
    steeped in varying degrees of
    denial over what has become
    the most disturbing presidential
    sweepstakes in modern history.
    When Donald Trump first
    announced his candidacy last
    June, I barely shrugged,
    recalling an observation I saw
    a talking head make in 2011,
    when the hair-challenged narcissist-mogul flirted with a similar run for the White
    House.

    “This is what Donald Trump does every election cycle,” the pundit commented. “He
    brings attention to himself and his brand for a few months, then once he’s seen his
    name in the media enough, he calls it quits.”

    Yeah, right. Only this time, he didn’t quit.

    And so with each passing week of this self-serving, farcical, downright mortifying
    mockery of our elective process, I have become increasingly convinced that Trump
    has pulled off something of a miracle. Rather than adjust his crass tabloid persona
    to fit the more elevated forum of presidential politics, he has managed to bring the
    whole blooming process down to his demolition-derby level.

    For me, the final straw in this bizarre carnival was the torrent of post-debate
    headlines on Friday morning that talked about Donald Trump’s penis (I can’t
    believe I just typed those words). This is what happens when your nation laps at the
    trough of reality TV for too long. After a while, the conversation belongs to the
    lowest common denominator.

    Welcome to the United States of Dumb.

    I am quick to add that I don’t credit Trump with any sort of genius in having pulled
    this thing off. To the contrary, his strategy has been both opportunistic and craven;
    and he’s been aided in no small part by politicos on both sides of the aisle, who
    have happily accepted his campaign contributions in the past, lending him a false
    air of credibility.

    Still, the exit polls aren’t lying when they talk about the nation’s anger—there’s
    plenty to be mad about. But rather than address the true cause of that fury (a
    decline of the middle class, fueled by shocking economic disparity; a bitterly
    deadlocked congress, led by ideology rather than reason), Donald Trump has
    taken a much less nuanced tack: by vilifying anyone who doesn’t wear one of his
    signature Trump baseball caps—from the president to the pope—while summarily
    dismissing all those who don’t share his views with the same smug nonchalance
    with which he fired contestants on The Apprentice.

    And his fans are eating it up.

    Perhaps the saddest moment of the past few weeks occurred not on the stump, but
    in CNN studios, during the now famous debate between former Obama official Van
    Jones and former Reagan aide Jeffery Lord. “I have a kid, seven years old,” a
    clearly rattled Jones told Lord. “I used to tell him, ‘I don’t want you watching The
    Kardashians; I want you watching the news so you can learn something.’ ... Well,
    now we have him watching Nick Jr.—he can’t even learn civics!—because (there’s
    so much vitriol coming out of) the circus wing of your party.”

    Jones isn’t just speaking as a Democrat dad. Goodness and decency are
    bipartisan, and I would imagine that even the well-intentioned supporters of the man
    who would “make America great again” would be embarrassed to expose their kids
    to the kind of bottom-of-the-barrel discourse that’s now playing in dens across the
    country.

    And that’s the greatest irony of this whole mess. Candidates running for high
    office—particularly the presidency—frequently invoke “our nation’s children” as
    those who stand to gain or lose the most when voters head to the polls in
    November. But in some perverse plot twist in the great American story, elected
    officials are fast becoming the last place we should look to provide hope for our
    kids. The language is too coarse, the tactics are vile, and any sense of humanity is
    nowhere to be found.

    Think about it. In this debate season alone, we’ve heard a ton from GOP
    candidates about cancelling education programs, scrapping Obamacare’s family
    plans, and deporting kids whose parents are here illegally—but precious little about
    what we can do to lift our children up. Every day, more than 160,000 kids stay
    home from school for fear of being bullied, and 4,600 a year commit suicide. Why
    isn’t that being discussed at these debates?

    Because the process has gone to hell, and the real bully—the leading Republican
    candidate for the presidency of the United States—doesn’t have the time to look
    into the hearts of his fellow citizens because he’s too busy looking in his pants.

    So I’ll be turning off the TV now, thank you. Somebody call me in November and tell
    me how it all ended.


    (Photo: Joe Raedle, Getty Images)