(WASHINGTON POST) — Over the past weeks we have used some sharp words in our editorials about the race for the Republican nomination — words such as bigot, bully and buffoon. Some readers have asked whether by so doing we undermine our own calls for civil discourse. The answer has a lot to do with this moment in American history — a dangerous moment when something ugly is taking place in the political arena. It’s a time that demands a sharp and clear response from everyone who cares about fairness and decency, democracy and tolerance.
Generally the system works best when people assume that their political opponents are acting in good faith. We may feel strongly about gun laws, campaign finance or free trade, but we recognize that there are defensible arguments on the other side. In the heat of the debate, we sometimes fall short of our aspirations, but as U.S. politics become ever more partisan, it becomes ever more important to give opposing views a fair hearing. That’s one reason we publish a range of opinions on the facing page, especially ones that differ from our own.
But Donald Trump and his imitators present a different kind of challenge to democratic discourse, in at least three ways. Mr. Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, seeks to make his political fortune not by staking out and defending positions but by fanning and exploiting hatred and fear. He says and repeats things that are demonstrably false, which makes a mockery of legitimate debate. He prefers to insult, demean and ridicule anyone who challenges him rather than to engage meaningfully with their arguments.
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The essence of his campaign has been to portray those who are different from him and his supporters as unworthy, less than human and so deserving of abuse. His incendiary language associates Mexicans with rapists and Muslims with terrorists. The demonization then is used to justify the unjustifiable: mass deportations for undocumented immigrants, torture for suspected terrorists, bombing enemies’ innocent relatives, barring all Muslims, beating up an African American protester.