Op-Ed: Saying no to Trump

Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 11:49am

It mystifies me how despite nearly 24-hour coverage by every major media organization, there are still people surprised that Donald Trump is the front-runner for the Republican nomination. Sure, there are plenty of Americans whom Trump’s bigotry and slogan of “Make America Great Again” speak to, but that’s nothing new in American politics. What’s new is the entertainment value. A candidate running on a platform of building a wall that Mexico will pay for, and banning an entire religion from entering the United States looks more like someone running to be a Saturday Night Live caricature than president of the United States.

The media, however, began this race as if Trump was a serious candidate, and the effect has been like a snowball ever since. Trump gets more TV time, meaning more people see him, meaning the media feels the demand to focus on him. While The Huffington Post may add an editor’s note to all Trump articles reminding their readers he is a racist and xenophobe among other things, no serious organization has had the common decency to say they won’t be drawn into this madness. News organizations around the country long ago abandoned their need to cover what’s truly important for what will bring in revenue, but this is one of the first times this choice has serious repercussions.

It’s this legitimization of Trump’s bigotry by the media that has led voters to support him in droves, but there is a way to end this. It’s as simple as saying no.

This past weekend, I attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's Policy Conference in Washington D.C. As a bipartisan organization, AIPAC invited all active presidential candidates to address the more than 18,000 delegates about their views on the American-Israel relationship. All but Sen. Bernie Sanders accepted the invitation. There was immediate outcry from the Jewish and pro-Israel communities that allowing Donald Trump to speak would legitimize his bigotry and send the message to the world that AIPAC condones these beliefs. AIPAC clarified their position, saying they weren’t endorsing Trump, but that given Trump has a significant chance of becoming president, it is important to build a relationship with him. Given how legitimized Trump has become, it’s tough to see the error in this.

Yet while AIPAC may have felt the need to hear from the likely nominee, I and many others did not. Most of the conference was a bastion where pro-Israel supporters from all walks of life came together for a common purpose. But when Trump took the stage, a community that had talked for two days about the need for peace applauded a candidate who has called for banning Muslims, the group so vital to a productive peace in the Middle East, from entering the United States.

So, I and hundreds of delegates in the arena stood up and quietly walked out. I joined a group of about 30 rabbis, students and activists in a protest titled Come Together Against Hate. While attendees inside the arena applauded Trump’s pander and bigotry, we joined together in a sports bar just outside to learn from the Jewish texts about the need to educate those who stray from the path of decency. We learned, we sung and we were respectful. 

While responding to Trump with loud protests may seem natural given his vitriolic behavior, so far it only empowers him. Stopping Trump doesn’t require posters, signs and screaming, it requires turning off your TV. It may be impossible to stop Trump’s road to the nomination now, but it isn’t too late to stop our national embarrassment.

Jeremy Kaplan is a senior editorial page editor and can be reached at jeremybk@umich.edu.