(ABOVE: A group of Muslims enjoy a sunny afternoon walk along the Hudson River Waterfront in New Jersey on September 17, 2012.)
by Christopher M. Halleron
In the context of contemporary discourse, what is genuinely worrisome are the willfully ignorant—those who know the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong, and make a conscious choice to argue on behalf of the latter.
You’ll see a proliferation of willful ignorance in social media, where people post snippets or quotes that have a tangential connection to the heart of a topic—the purpose of which is to derail the conversation and obfuscate the focus of the larger issue.
It’s one thing when your misguided friend from high school spreads this nonsense around on his facebook page. It’s vastly more disconcerting when a leading candidate for President of the United States of America continues to take the unhinged rantings of the keyboard warrior and turn them into campaign fodder, which is then eaten up by insecure, ill-informed masses.
Recent statements by Donald Trump show the frightening application of willful ignorance.
Trump has made the now-infamous assertion that, as the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, 2001, he, “watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”
As someone who lives in neighboring Hoboken, I can tell you that a version of this rumor has in fact reverberated around Hudson County since that tragic day. It’s a story told in dark corners of quiet bars, typically, “heard from a guy, who knows a guy, who knows a cop.” It’s a ghastly version of the telephone game—an urban legend with little credibility and even less tangible evidence.
For the sake of argument, say something like this did happen—say a handful of warped souls did applaud the tragedies of that day. It certainly did not happen on the scale that Trump so casually suggests. It wouldn’t have happened, because it would have been met by a tremendous response from those in my part of the world who lost so much that day, and whose emotions remain painfully raw nearly 15 years later.
At this point, Donald Trump is a modern-day Joe McCarthy telling a second-hand fishing tale. And make no mistake, he has no sense of decency.
It’s a noble reaction to initially ignore the bloviating belligerence of a soap box bully—no one wants to get dragged down to his level, until he finally puts one across your nose. At that point, a reaction is more than called for.
Cue New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s woefully impotent response, as a national figure maligns his constituency:
“It was a pretty emotional time for me because, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s family involved, there were, you know, friends involved and so it was a pretty harrowing time,” he said. “I do not remember that and so it’s not something that was part of my recollection. I think if it had happened I would remember it, but, you know, there could be things I forget too.”
Chris Christie is a man who made his name by yelling at schoolteachers, yet when Trump accuses New Jerseyans of the wholesale celebration of treason, he gets all mush-mouthed and weak-kneed.
So far Trump’s own aesthetic buffoonery has made him an easy target for cheap laughs. But as comics take clichéd cracks at his signature clown coiffure, one can’t help but wonder if Weimar-era pundits were too focused on facial hair to comprehend the face of evil wearing it.
Scarier than these mythical masses hailing the fall of the World Trade Center are the wide-eyed throngs of “thousands cheering” their adulation whenever Trump speaks. Any student of history should shudder at the current vacuum of leadership within the GOP.
While the Republicans are a non-entity here in Hudson County, New Jersey, they remain a powerful force nationwide. I know this because I am a registered Republican. I’m what the far-right call a RINO (Republican In Name Only)—I refuse to adhere to the fringe hijacking of my party, yet I have no interest in being an obedient cog in the Hudson County Democratic machine. Nor do I have any political ambitions of my own—I’ve simply remained a registered Republican, in the vain hope that someone would come along to maintain a sane political balance to our society.
No matter how flawed the two-party system may be in this country, a one-party system is even more harrowing. There needs to be a VIABLE, cogent, effective form of political opposition in America. Cults of personality, special interest mouthpieces and circus-freak fringe candidates are of no use to a nation of 300+ million. There needs to be discussion rather than discourse, and there needs to be progression rather than aggression.
There needs to be decency.
With leadership like Donald Trump and Chris Christie, my party marches ever forward into the abyss. Meanwhile, I’m left to applaud leaders like Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who recognizes the need to take the willfully ignorant Donald Trump to task on the wildly exaggerated and dangerous claims hurled at his constituency.
These are precarious times. When you stop to ponder your own role in this era of American History, make sure you can look in the mirror when you’re done. Will you be among the willfully ignorant “thousands cheering,” or will you be someone who—in spite of some dogmatic notion of political affiliation—stayed true to your own sense of decency?