We are reaching new lows here. The journalists who cover presidential candidates have decided their job is not done until they have asked as many candidates as possible whether they would support a Muslim for president. I want to know, how is that even a question? It’s like asking, would you support the numeral four for president? “No, I could never support the numeral four, but I could support the numeral eight.” Now I’ve got him, the reporter thinks. He doesn’t support the numeral four. When this news hits the streets, he’ll have to apologize, or we’ll run him out of the race.
I cannot figure out where the reporters get this mentality. First of all, a person’s religion is just not related to qualifications for president. Perhaps the reporters would like to try again, play their game with a question like, “Would you support a Muslim for pope?” Let’s see how the presidential candidates handle that one. We keep asking absurd questions, and see which ones go nuts first. It’s like little boys poking caged hamsters with sticks, except the boys know that tormenting fellow creatures is wrong.
Even if you do think a person’s religion qualifies or disqualifies you for the White House, how can you pose a question about a Muslim? A number is an abstraction, and so is a Muslim. No one would make judgments about leadership based on an abstraction like that. People follow individuals, not abstractions. You want to attach a religious label to someone who doesn’t exist, then go around asking people whether they can support the labelled non-entity for president?
Reporters have incredibly strange ways of dealing with religion. Back in 1960, reporters asked about candidate Jack Kennedy, “What if he wants to do one thing as president, and the pope tells him to do something else? What then?” Well that’s a great question to ask if you don’t like Catholics to begin with. You might as well ask whether a Jewish president would take orders from Moses, to see if you can get the anti-Semites stirred up.
The reporters know how to play the game, and the candidates have to learn fast. Reporters think they are clever. They think when they ask Ben Carson their question about a Muslim, they have him trapped. If he says yes, he would indeed support a Muslim for president, he loses votes from the know-nothings who think Barack Obama is a Muslim. “We already have a Muslim president,” they say, “and we don’t want another one!” Moreover, reporters in that case have enforced their norm. If the candidate replies no, he does not think he could support a Muslim for president, then the sorry fellow is demonstrably unqualified, as pitiably low as the know-nothings who show up with their preposterous Islamophobic arguments at Trump’s town halls.
You don’t see the reporters asking Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders stupid questions like that. Trump keeps them too busy. One week they’re asking candidates whether we should build a wall along the entire Canadian border. Another week Trump says so many outlandish things they don’t know where to start. Then Trump fails to correct a voter who thinks our president is a terrorist, and the reporters are off again. Their aim is to show up Republicans as whacko or just plain dumb, using Donald Trump as a foil. Their enthusiasm goes way down at the thought of playing the gotcha game with Democrats.
In trying to make Republicans look stupid, or trap them into saying things they don’t want to say, reporters make themselves look, if not stupid, then unprofessional. You cannot report on a presidential campaign if you participate in it. Reporters long ago became willing spokespersons for people in power. They apparently do not see, when they try to enforce their own norms of mainstream belief, that they have jumped up on the stage they are supposed to watch. What are the candidates supposed to do with people like that?
Suppose you are watching a football game on Sunday afternoon, and random people from the sidelines keep running onto the field. Even more incomprehensible, suppose the sportscasters and commentators run onto the field. Sometimes they snatch the ball from the line of scrimmage just before it’s snapped, or they tackle a ball carrier, jump a referee, or dash in to intercept a pass. What kind of game would that be? Who would want to watch it? The game would be boring, the competition meaningless, and the crowd would want the interlopers out of there, now. Only the jerks running onto the field would fail to see how stupid their antics are.
The reporters say they are the only people who can call the candidates out for their unacceptable beliefs. Really? We live in the days of the Internet, folks. What the self-important reporters actually suggest is that they think they are uniquely placed to trap people, take them to task, show them up, call them to account. They think they have a uniquely large audience, too, with accolades and qualifications that accompany such a large number of attentive folks. They think too well of themselves. They puff themselves up until they can’t even see their own jobs clearly. When that happens, no misconception or practice is too foolish to adopt. You wind up doing things you would never do if you possess even a pinch of humility.
So the next time reporters try to set themselves up as Pharisees in the temple, playing opportunistic games of gotcha with politicians who – they think – need to be kept in their place, don’t join in. Find a way to put the Pharisees in their place. Wave them off, and don’t listen to them. If they run out onto the football field again, see if you can’t put them in the equipment closet down in the basement, where they can no longer practice their pretentious, inane disruption.