In an interview with Muslim Press, Professor Charles R. Larson discusses Donald Trump, American society and the future of the country.
Here's the full text of the interview:
Muslim Press: How do you analyze the rise of Donald Trump and its effect on American people? Especially the increase in violence?
Charles Larson: I'm sure that historians, looking back on this election cycle, will uncover a number of sources of Donald Trump's initially highly unlikely rise to his current position. I would cite three major influences on his rise: the financial collapse of 2008, the Internet, and his utter indifference to--even contempt for the usual "rules" of political campaigns.
Although millions of jobs have been created since the economic collapse of 2008, many of them are low paying, not adequate for supporting families decently. Simultaneously, as greed has increased on the part of those at the top (Donald Trump included), there has been an unwillingness to share that wealth with those who do not own stocks and work long hours to increase corporate profits. Thus, the money has flowed to the top because the tax code is rigged to favor the rich. The result: gross inequity in America as too many people struggle simply to get by while others become obscenely rich.
The Internet has become a dark, ugly place where any crackpot can express his opinion in what has, unfortunately, become our post-truth society. Worse, too many Americans do not recognize the lies they encounter on the Internet but believe that if something is stated as fact, it's true. It’s easy to believe that “Obama was not born in the United States” if you make no attempt to analyze the validity of that statement.
Violence always increases during times of economic uncertainty and inequity. With guns purchased as easily as candy, trigger-happy people are willing to take things into their own hands, settle scores with gunshots.
MP: What’s your take on his [Trump’s] rhetoric against Muslims? How has this changed the country?
Charles Larson: Does Donald Trump actually believe that Muslims, and other minorities, are ruining our country? It is impossible to know because he changes his opinions all the time. What Trump does know is that people need scapegoats for the focus of their blame and anger. Sadly, he is willing to use those scapegoats and to say derogatory and outrageous things that will win him followers. All Trump wants is for people to listen to him, and in the America that we have become, he can say anything he wants—sadly, with impunity. The media has permitted this because media companies (take Fox, for example) profit with higher viewer ratings if their audiences are glued to their TV sets, anticipating Trump’s next outrageous statement. Throughout this presidential campaign, the press has in effect played right into Trump's script. You could say that politics has become entertainment.
All of this has led to an environment in which a presidential candidate can say anything he wants with little fear of a backlash. Worse, people appear not to care.
MP: Do you think there’s a link between his [Trump’s] anti-Muslim remarks and a surge in ISIS recruitment?
Charles Larson: Trump's rhetoric may have contributed to the increase in ISIS recruits, but let’s admit: by invading Iraq in 2003, the United States destabilized the Middle East. This was George Bush’s colossal mistake, the worst foreign policy decision in our country’s history. The terrible consequences have been with us ever since.
MP: What do you think about the future of his [Trump’s] campaign? Is he likely to become the next president of the United States?
Charles Larson: I see little change during the coming weeks between now and Election Day. Donald Trump has uttered hundreds of lies during this campaign. If people believe that Hillary Clinton’s mistakes are worse than Trump’s lies--to say nothing of the things he refuses to reveal, such as whether he pays any taxes--then Trump will win the election. Clinton's errors are minor offenses compared to Trump’s wholesale distortions of virtually everything.
One problem with democracy is that we get the person we elect.
Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. He is the Book Critic for COUNTERPUNCH.