The media has finally started to focus on its own role in the rise of Donald Trump. The focus is still not sharp though. The question should be not on whether the media made Trump but it should be on whether the media helped create a climate which made the rise of Trump probable. For, if the latter is true then there will be more Trumps. The Wisconsin primary has kept the hope that Trump could be prevented from the nomination but the alternatives are not better. The moderate majority in the GOP stand no chance in the primaries where mostly the diehard core care to vote. The core has now become Islamophobic and xenophobic.
Media helped Trump in two ways. It provided him with free publicity, 1.9 billion dollars worth of free publicity as Nicholas Kristoff pointed out in his self-flagellating article. More importantly it helped prepare the stage for the arrival of a Trumpeter, a demagogue such as Trump. The right ring media specially.
While Trump is a narcissistic megalomaniac with psychopathic traits, he is good for America because he has finally forced the mainstream media to focus on the climate of hatred and fear spreading all across the country. As long as Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and even Jeb Bush were saying hateful things about Muslims and not against the much larger vote bank of Hispanics, Blacks and women, they were getting a free pass from the media.
The mainstream media should have stood up to the Islamophobic rhetoric not only because it was their ethical duty to expose the demonization of the Muslim minority but also to douse the flame of hatred in its infancy. “ You cannot contain sectarian hatred against one group in a multiethnic country like the US; nor can the genie of hatred be put back into the bottle once it is out,’ I had told a reporter in 1993 when the Yusuf Bodansky led Republican Task Force on terrorism issued its report. The inflammatory and hysterical “report” stated that establishment of the Bosnian Republic is part of an Islamist conspiracy to conquer the West and that Bosnian forces themselves have massacred their Muslim civilians to gain world sympathy.
But unfortunately the media, including the liberal media, largely has maintained its failure. Worse, it has actually contributed even more to the spread of fear after the rise of DAESH (ISIS).
The brutality of DAESH and the implication of its rise are newsworthy events. But when the media does not give the context of its emergence or when it calls it The Islamic State, it helps foster a climate of fear against Muslims. When it does not cover the violence or the supremacist ideology of nonmuslim groups then it gives credence to the Islamophobic propaganda that there is something wrong with Islam itself. Religious extremism and the use of terrorism as a tactic are not limited to Muslim groups. The Buddhist 969 movement in Burma has been involved in ethnic cleansing and genocide and has widespread support. The Christian fringe Lord Resistance Army has kidnapped many times more people than Boko Haram. RSS, the Hindutva supremacist movement in India has been involved in anti Muslim pogroms as well as in the undermining of the secularism and rule of law in world’s largest democracy. Jewish terrorist groups led a successful campaign to establish Israel and even today the violent settler groups get millions of dollars from their supporters in the US every month. The secular Tamil Tigers who had mostly Hindu and Christian members were the most successful suicide bombers who killed Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa and India’s former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Yet only Muslim terrorist groups get overwhelmingly disproportionate coverage and many times it is provided without giving any context. Mainstream Muslims, who have been the primary victims of Muslim terrorist groups and thus both for moral as well as reasons of self defense, are fighting against these groups, are made out to be sympathetic to terrorism. When an insane woman chopped off the head of a child and walked around carrying the head, proclaiming to be a prophet, she got sensational coverage in the Western media as a “Muslim”.
It is therefore only natural that the number of Americans who fear Islam and their fellow Muslim citizens is growing every year as the yearly poll by the Pew Foundation shows.
When a country is going through a tectonic demographic shift its population gets insecure enough to yearn for a strong leader. Same phenomenon takes place when it is beset with economic uncertainty. When both these factors work together it becomes very easy for a demagogue to rise to power.
America has been in economic decline for years. The Middle class has been shrinking and the income gap is rising steadily. 2010 was the first year when more nonwhite children were born in the US than White babies, and this trend will only accelerate. The influx of immigrants especially Hispanics and the election of a black man as the President has stoked fears in the minds of White middle and lower classes which has seen their economic condition worsen. The conditions in the US were ripe for scapegoating. Muslims were made the main scapegoat.
Any student of history could have predicted the rise of White insecurity but the media bosses did not see the impending perfect storm or they did not care. The fears of the White middle and lower classes are natural instincts that are hardwired in the social DNA of human beings.
While the media cannot be held responsible for the population shift or the economic stagnation, it must be blamed for not anticipating the rise of demagoguery. If it had then it would have been more careful in not contributing to the xenophobia. The media has an obligation to practice overcaution if and when needed.
What was needed at this critical time was a visionary and pragmatic political leadership. Instead we got a partisan and dogmatic one from the Republican side and a timid one from the Democratic side. Since the time of Bill Clinton, when he put his party on the path towards the center, the party had lost its appeal for the blue collar segment. Consequently, there were no visionary consensus plans to set the national priorities right by focusing on building infrastructure, supporting education and reforming healthcare. Educating the masses that immigration is an engine for the economy in an aging population and not a siphon draining the resources, was not attempted. Concrete measures to cap corporate greed were never undertaken.
The fear mongering by the corporate media, especially the Right wing radio talk shows and tabloids as well as Fox News added sensationalism to this volatile mix. This started a vicious cycle. The fear level kept increasing as did the mistrust of the liberals by the blue collar Whites. It became impossible to build national consensus to take some tough political decisions.
The fears of the lower middle income White male were soon to be directed towards another other- the Moslems. Terrorism and not economy was soon to made the most important election campaign issue in the Republican side. The security establishment and the neoconservatives made this happen with ample help from Muslim terrorists.
Even as the tolerance level continued to dip to critically low levels, the military industrial complex kept up its efforts to preserve its share of the national budget and national power. After the fall of the “evil empire”, the Soviet Union, it needed a new super threat. AlQaeda, Iran and ISIS obliged them. Never mind the fact it was the American policy failures that led to the rise of Khomeini and Bin Laden. But the logical solution -policy correction to solve the problem – was made out to be a weakness of the spineless liberal mind.
It was here that the political leadership and the institution whose job was to keep the political leadership accountable- the media- that failed the nation again.
American political system in which lobbying plays such a dominant role has inherent flaws. Many of the special interests that have tremendous influence in Washington had developed a concordance of their interests – over blowing the threat to the US from ISIS.
The military industrial establishment was joined by the neoconservatives who considered that after the fall of the Soviet Union, time was ripe to annex the West Bank and send the Palestinians to Jordan. The neoconservatives are not religious fanatics but supporters of secular ultranationalist parties like the Likud which believed that for security reasons and for the future growth of the nation, Israel needs the West Bank. The neoconservatives even prepared a position paper, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” to help Netanyahu in his election campaign in the late 1990s. They were the one who pushed Bush 43rd into invading Iraq, promising him that the Iraqis will welcome the troops with flowers and Bush would go down in history or rather live forever in history as the father of a democratic Middle East.
While the neocons are secular, the evangelical Zionists are religious fanatics who needed a greater Israel for Jesus to return and eradicate both Jews and Muslims along with the “pagans.”
A climate of economic and ethnic insecurity was deliberately transferred into a climate of Islamophobia by the multimillion dollar Islamophobia industry as shown in the report, “Fear, Inc. 2.0” by the American Center for Progress. Islam was first equated to Salafism after Salafism was branded by the derogatory term of Wahabism and Wahabism was equated to terror. Then all Muslims were equated to terrorists. Even thousands of terrified refugees fleeing genocide in Syria were projected as the vanguard of an Islamic army or members of sleeping cells
In November 2010, an anti-war conference had pointed out that hatred is being converted into fear. Fear is a primordial instinct that can evoke a self preservation reflex and lead to the eradication of the threat. In the past Irish, Italian and Jews had faced hatred but Native American “savages” resisting colonization were feared. President Andrew Jackson proclaimed that the only dead Indian is a good Indian. Native Americans were almost wiped off. Sadly, six years later it can be said that while the fear of Muslims by White America is unfounded in its level, the fears of Muslim Americans are well founded thanks to the efforts of the Islamophobia industry and the Republican leadership. This did not have to happen if the mainstream media had done its job.
The mainstream Salafi groups focus on having a Salafi government such as the Saudi government in place to have a source of funding and security for their efforts to peacefully purify Islam from what they consider as “corrupt practices of worshipping dead and living saints”. The Salafi militant extremists on the other hand have completely different aims – liberate, liberate and liberate: to liberate the Holy land from the “corrupt and immoral rule of the House of Saud”, to liberate the holy land of the “distant mosque” from the “Zionist colonizers” and to liberate the Muslim countries from their current rulers the “corrupt stooges” of the West or the East (Earlier USSR and now Russia). They made an alliance with Islamic nationalists like the Taliban and the fringe Islamists like the Hizbut Tahrir (HT). HT which is the main source of the English recruits for Daesh, believes that democracy is evil and the panacea for the ills of the ummah (Muslim nation) which is suffering humiliation, is in the reconstruction of a strong Caliphate which will liberate and protect the Muslim lands. All three groups do not care about the West and its “immodest lifestyle,” contrary to the pronouncements by right wing pundits in the US. These three groups are the constituents of the Sunni militants who employ terrorism as a tactic of shock and awe.
Then there are the Shia nationalists/ expansionists who are led by the messianic ayatollahs of Iran who try their best to create conditions conducive for their hidden Imam to reappear and lead the world in its final days. They too care nothing for the” immodest” lifestyle of the Western world
Yet even the liberal media, in the name of fairness, gave ample opportunity to the Islamophobes to brainwash American people . Bigots kept chanting “Muslims attacked us because they hate our lifestyle” “They are after the 72 houris in Paradise”. “Quran teaches its followers to kill all the infidels.” Even liberal comedians like Bill Mahr joined in this crusade to demonize Islam. Hardly anyone in the mainstream media pointed out that there are female suicide bombers and no, they are not lesbians who fantasize about houris. Hardly anyone raised the question that when the Muslims were the sole super power and were ruling by the Sharia law in the medieval times and could have eradicated Jews and Christians and later Hindus from the lands they were ruling, they did no such thing. So why would they want to do it now? No one pointed out that fringe violent extremism is not a new phenomenon, that it is present in all religions. No one point out the reassuring fact that throughout history the Muslim mainstream had defeated their violent fringe every time it appeared.
In this three way mêlée between the unholy triumvirate of the Sunni extremists; the Shia messianic forces; and the Western triumvirate of the military industrial complex, the neoconservatives and the evangelical fundamentalists; and their allies the opportunist politicians; the media did not do its investigative reporting as well as it should have.
This was the biggest failure of the media. It is where the media helped Trump the most by contributing to a climate where the birth of a Trump was made probable.
It is high time that the moral leaders of the US, both faith based and non-faith based, launch a movement to save America from the fear peddlers who have taken over the Republican Party and not just from Donald Trump. Trump is a lesser evil when compared to another politician with psychopathic tendencies – Ted Cruz – because Cruz is a religious fanatic. The fanatics are much more dangerous than megalomaniacs who are just out to brand the world with their name. The fanatics work to force the change they want. It is high time that the mainstream media start to report fairly and responsibly. Expose not just Trump but Cruz and other bigots.
Let the media treat Trump not as a disease but as a symptom. He can be useful. He can be used as a trumpet to wake the sleeping nation to the threat of rising bigotry. He should also be used as a thermometer to measure the fever of fratricidal hatred. His own tactic of branding must be used against him and he should be branded as the rectal thermometer; for this type of thermometer may be disgusting but is more accurate. Calling the purveyor of insults by such a name will be an appropriate and effective way of defeating bigotry and divisiveness in this war where manipulation of images and perception are being used as effective tactics.
By Shaik Ubaid