Trump, Fiorina, and the epidemic of ignorance

     At a rally in New Hampshire on Thursday, an audience member stated that President Obama is a Muslim and is not an American, both of which are untrue. Trump did not correct him.

    At a rally in New Hampshire on Thursday, an audience member stated that President Obama is a Muslim and is not an American, both of which are untrue. Trump did not correct him.

    There is, alas, a subspecies of citizen that can best be called boobus Americanus. On occasion, these pitiable souls come out of the woodwork to spin their pinwheel hats, prompting the rest of us to ponder — yet again, and with great distaste — the epidemic of abject ignorance.

    One specimen surfaced yesterday at a Donald Trump event (natch), and duly fouled the air by serenading the Republican frontrunner with a scholary query that began this way:

    “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one.”

    Trump interjected, “Right.”

    The guy continued, pointing at Trump, “You know he’s not even an American. Birth certificate, man.” (That’s Trump’s kind of guy; he still remembers The Donald’s 2011 innuendos.)

    “But anyway,” the guy persisted, “we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question — when can we get rid of them?”

    It wasn’t clear whether the guy was talking about terrorist camps abroad, or secret cells in the homeland, or whether he was talking about getting “rid” of all Muslims in America. But hey, no problem. Because the candidate had no interest in seeking clarity. Trump simply served up one of his trademark nutrition-free word salads:

    “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things. And you know, a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”

    But the main point is, Trump didn’t even try to correct this guy’s Obama-Muslim lie. Better to let the guy marinate in his ignorance — either because Trump lacks the grace and gravitas to rebut a dolt, or because he knows that boobus Americanus is fertile electoral turf. An epidemic of ignorance indeed: According to the latest CNN/ORC poll, a whopping 43 percent of Republicans still believe, even now, that Obama is a Muslim. And rest assured, they don’t see what they want to see as being a plus.

    One might have thought — if one was inclined to be optimistic about human nature — that such mindlessness would’ve dissipated by now. One might have hoped that there was a statute of limitations on ignorance. Seven years is a long time, after all. I remember watching a focus group in the spring of ’08, and when the 12 participants were asked whether they thought Obama was a Muslim, seven raised their hands. One of them — her name was Dorita — said: “I don’t know enough about his Muslim background and their beliefs and how he views everything.  I need to check his background.” (Go for it, Dorita.)

    And people like that surfaced on the campaign trail that year. At a John McCain event, a woman authoritatively informed the candidate that Obama was “an Arab” — but, unlike yesterday, McCain gently took her microphone and swiftly corrected her: “No, ma’am, he’s a decent family man, a citizen who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”

    But that was then, and this is now: After nearly eight years of mounting right-wing anger, after nearly eight years of major policy defeats, the conservative wing of boobus Americanus is primed to believe the worst of anything, regardless of whether it’s true. And barring a welcome implosion, demagogues like Trump seem primed to reap the bounty. 

    At the GOP debate on Wednesday night, Carly Fiorinia also did her best to feed ignorance, to encourage the ill-informed to believe the worst. If one were foolish enough to take Fiornia’s rhetoric on faith, one would really, really, believe that Planned Parenthood has been busted on a video “with a fully formed fetus on the table, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.'”

    As I wrote yesterday, those were Fiorina’s words. But as I pointed out — and as a slew of fact-checkers and health care analysts have rushed to point out — there is no such video. The anti-abortion sting team that invaded PP’s clinics never filmed “a fully formed fetus on the table, its legs kicking.” Nor did it ever film any PP person saying “We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.”

    But in her quest to nurture ignorance, Fiorina has allies. They’re called trolls. All over the Internet yesterday, trolls reportedly insisted that one of the sting videos depicts exactly what Fiorina described. That spin turned out to be a crock (big surprise). There is indeed imagery of a “fully formed fetus on the table,” but that didn’t happen at Planned Parenthood. Turns out, that was stock footage pulled from an anti-abortion website called the Grantham Collection. The stingers simply inserted it into the video for dramatic effect.

    Will the ignorant now be enlightened by this news? Nah. As Paul Simon sang nearly a half century ago:

    All lies and jest

    Still, a man hears what he wants to hear

    And disregards the rest.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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