Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s appearance last month on “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” left many criticizing the show’s host and his friendly treatment toward his guest. A notable part of the interview included Fallon tousling Trump’s infamous blond hair.
At the core of the outrage was the notion that Fallon was too easy on Trump, softening the edges of a man whose proven track record of racism, sexism and fraud poses a real threat to the United States. As late night host Samantha Bee reflected in an interview, “If [Fallon] thinks that a race-baiting demagogue is OK, that gives permission to millions of Americans to also think that.”
Trump’s appearance on the “Tonight Show” may have helped him appear friendly and easygoing. However, last Monday’s debate helped him appear almost presidential. Despite soundly failing an unusually high number of fact-checkers and, by all accounts, losing to the more composed and well-prepared Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Trump’s appearance on the debate stage lent his campaign a dangerous new validity.
By allowing Trump to stand in the prime-time spotlight and promote his racism, sexism and fundamental bigotry with little interference, debate moderator Lester Holt, NBC and mainstream media gave millions of Americans permission to believe that this is what a president could look like.
Of course, bigotry is nothing new for Trump. Before it was revealed on Monday night that he referred to former Miss Universe Alicia Machado as “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping,” Trump was already on the record for calling Rosie O’Donnell a “pig” and a “slob” with a “fat ugly face” — comments that he defended during both the Republican primary debate and last week’s presidential debate. Trump has also been at the center of the birther movement for years, claiming President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. He has also repeatedly implied that Obama and Clinton have ties to radical Islamic terrorism, even so far as claiming Obama was “the founder of ISIS” during a rally.
Racist and sexist overtones appear not just in Trump’s campaign, but within his zealous voter base as well. In August, The New York Times posted a video of Trump supporters chanting violent and sometimes racist slurs at his rallies, including calls to “Trump that bitch!” in reference to Clinton. In past incidents documented on CNN and Al Jazeera, Trump supporters have also shouted “Build a wall, kill them all.” Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” aired footage from a Trump rally, which featured a Trump supporter wearing a t-shirt with the words “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica.”
Within the greater context of the Trump campaign, many of last Monday’s comments were neither new nor particularly shocking. Is it surprising that the self-proclaimed “king of debt” and businessman with a history of refusing to pay workers considered it good business to cheer for the 2008 housing crisis and, more recently, refuses to share his tax returns? Of course not. Every day, media outlets, from CNN to The New York Times to The Economist, are saturated with criticisms and revelations concerning Trump, to the extent that almost nothing is able to rise above the clamor.
As the election draws closer, citizens should be concerned not just with Trump’s deeply harmful ideologies, but also with the platform that is given to them. The more we see Trump standing proudly and authoritatively on the debate stage, the more opportunities he has to further normalize and validate the messages of bigotry and hate that have proved so central to his campaign.
Whether it is his attitudes of misogyny, racism or xenophobia, simply giving the candidate more opportunities to display his message for all to hear supports a notion that the things he says are acceptable. It is time we stop asking whether or not Trump belongs in the political spotlight and instead start questioning the implications of allowing him there in the first place.
Lydia Turnage is a junior in the College.
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