Trump, Bundy and poisoned water represent a fundamental unraveling of American values

I finally got contact lenses the other day, which is really cool because I can actually read small and medium-size print without holding the publication up to my nose, so I was psyched to sit down in a coffee shop and read a hard copy of the Denver Post. Yes, I know, that newspaper is now a mere shadow of itself, but still …

But I have to report that, despite the rediscovered pleasure of reading print, I didn’t like what I saw — and it didn’t have anything to do with the font. On the back page of the main section were three continued stories; one about the poisoned water in Flint, the second about Donald Trump’s presidential bid and the third about the bizarre illegal occupation of public lands in Oregon.

Taken alone, any of these stories would be frightening. To me, seeing them all juxtaposed on the same page (there’s the difference between reading online and reading a print edition), they seem to represent a fundamental unraveling of America that, if not stopped, is really going to turn us into a second-rate country.

Let’s start with Flint. The basic functions and values of government and civic society are in question when utility can’t provide safe drinking water to the citizens it serves. When elected officials are complicit in poisoning citizens, it represents a complete disregard for the values that hold a society together, and if those officials aren’t held accountable, then it means we’ve abdicated our responsibility to use our given powers to maintain order.

In Oregon, a lawless band of outlaws — almost a caricature of America’s Wild West days — lay claim to publicly owned lands based on what can really only be called a bizarre interpretation of the constitution. At first, I wanted to give the Bundy gang the benefit of the doubt. After all, our country is based on revolutionary principles. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that their method of expressing dissatisfaction is completely lacking in political, social and civic legitimacy.

The revolutionaries who created the United States of America were a thoughtful, literate crew, and used well-reasoned arguments, based on meaningful ideas. By their actions, Buddy and his cronies showed utter disrespect for 200-plus years of political evolution, and it’s disturbing that similar sentiments appear to be spreading. But for all the finger-pointing at the Bundy gang, let’s not forget that governments have to earn respect and trust, and in this regard, our government is failing us. That doesn’t excuse the disgraceful occupation and misguided ideological rhetoric one bit; there are better ways to express disagreement, via the ballot box and the courts, for example.

But the fact remains that state governments and the federal government have, of late, shown a callous disregard toward the will of the people in many areas. That has created a fertile breeding ground for extremism, which if left unchecked, will tear apart the country.

Which brings us to Donald Trump. When he first announced his candidacy, I chuckled along with everyone else, thinking that it would liven up what looked to be a long and tedious campaign, filled with simplistic slogans, soundbites and flag-waving rhetoric. In retrospect, I realized that was the wrong attitude. Trump was dangerous and scary right from the beginning because he truly represents the very worst of America — greed, cynicism, manipulation, racism and xenophobia.

Trump’s rise shows the failure of several American institutions — our educational system and the media. I remember watching the early CNN news reports on his campaign. Half smirking, anchors like Anderson Cooper played up the oddity of this millionaire savant blowhard entering the political arena, primarily for the sake of ratings. From the beginning, much of the mainstream media treated Trump as a serious candidate.

Just because someone declares himself a candidate doesn’t mean the media should take that person seriously. The press failed the American people by not calling Trump out for what he is, namely a buffoon who doesn’t have a shred of qualification for the job he’s trying to win. Reporting on all the completely disgusting, false and hateful things he says is not enough. Quoting critics who disparage Trump is not enough.

Instead, the media has an obligation to state clearly at the start of any news story about Trump that the man is completely unfit to be president and that he is a threat to the very democracy that he wants to be part of. I don’t believe in censorship, but I do believe in media restraint. Along those lines, TV networks need to think long and hard before they show footage of a candidate whose very words undermine the values of our society. Instead of showing clips of a Trump speech on the evening news report, the anchors should be willing and able to say something like this: “Once again, Donald Trump made hateful and dangerous comments at a campaign rally in Iowa that threaten our fundamental democratic values. We are not going to show you his speech because it’s demagoguery at its worst.”

Finally, the fact that Trump got to where he is shows clearly that the American educational system has failed when it comes to teaching civics. We may still be turning out fine engineers, doctors and lawyers, but we’ve created several generations of idiots when it comes to social and political awareness. That a near majority of Republican primary voters truly believes that Trump could somehow lead this country means that we have lost the ability to have a meaningful political discourse. When politics happens at Trump’s sewer pit level, upheaval can’t be far behind.

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