The amazing thing about Donald Trump is that he is the man best known for his ability to shock us. Yet he has now gotten so good at doing this that this ability has in fact become self-defeating. Indeed, we’re no longer shocked by anything he’s capable of.
In fact, when he appeared in a recent Al-Shabaab recruitment video, frightening though this was, there seemed to be little by way of a reaction from mainstream media or political figures. Many spoke as though there was little to be surprised by in this. Instead, it was simply expressed that this was a confirmation of an already prominent fear, a fear that his aggressive and divisive language would ultimately become a tool to be used as a recruitment device for gathering disaffected youths into extremist causes.
This was indeed foreshadowed. Speaking shortly after Trump had called for a ban on all Muslim immigration into America, Hilary Clinton warned that such divisive language could wreak havoc upon society.
“When America should be doing everything we can do lead the fight to defeat ISIS and other radical jihadists, Donald Trump is playing right into their hands” warned Clinton.
Despite the penetrating accuracy of this forecast, all that Trump could manage in response was “they use other people, too… I have to say what I have to say. And you know what I have to say? There’s a problem. We have to find out what is a problem. And we have to solve that problem.”
This justification, the Presidential equivalent of “yeah but other people are doing it too” reveals the true depth of Trump’s consideration for the impact of his statements. The hotel mogul and social media activist has thought so little of the consequences of his words, that in defending his incendiary comments he simply argued that he would say what he chooses to say.
A quick look at the 3,000+ tweets that Trump has written since the commencement of his campaign further reveals this to be true. Of his 3,000 or so tweets, the greatest number of these have focused on polls, heaping praise on those that release polls with him in the lead, and dumping disapproval on those that choose to publish other results.
And the next most frequent use of this social media channel? For Trump, Twitter is a tool to be used to take down his opponents. With over 90 tweets attacking candidate Jeb Bush, and another 50 or so apiece attacking Clinton and Rubio, Trump has attempted to employ Twitter as an avenue for unleashing his aggression on Presidential opponents.
That is not to say that this is all that Trump sees Twitter as useful for. He also consistently employs it to retweet supporters, praise crowds at rallies and reach out to the broader public.
But regardless of his choice of subject, what Trump’s appearances across media and social media share in common, is his fundamental disregard for the ramifications of his words.
Since his appearance in the Al-Shabaab recruitment video, Trump has not seen fit to apologise. He has not seen fit to recant. What he has seen fit to do, is to move beyond this, and onto new, inflammatory issues.
Whether it be his criticism of Obama for his latest executive action on guns, or his suggestion that Clinton and Obama supported ISIS by failing to seize their oil assets in the Middle East, these statements reveal a fundamental lack of nuance across key issues.
His words show that Trump does not understand just how damaging his statements have been in the past, or how damaging they may still well prove to be. By refusing to move to more conciliatory tones, by failing to reach out to people other than those who support him ardently or see the world exactly as he does, he fails to provide America with the intelligent level of debate that it deserves.
This won’t be the last time that Trump says something insane. It probably won’t be the last time he says something like that this week. What is clear however is that if he continues to say such damaging things, there’s unfortunately a real risk that America will suffer as a result.
The country should reclaim the presidential debates. Failure to do so could mean more than we’re willing to imagine.