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Steinberg: Trump joke isn’t funny

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Conventional wisdom says that Donald Trump is going away.

Any minute now.

Cooler heads, supposedly still in charge of the Republican Party, hope that once a few of the crowded GOP field drop out, his popularity will plunge.

Those 7.8 percent of South Carolina voters who cast a ballot for Jeb Bush in South Carolina on Saturday will, now that he’s given up, embrace Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz or any of the remaining non-Trump candidates.

I sure hope so.

Because while I, like many Americans, at first smiled in fascinated horror at Trump walking, unscathed, through a succession of lion’s dens that would have shredded other candidates, his victory in South Carolina, and the vile hate-mongering he committed leading up to it, must make any patriotic American recoil in disgust and realize: this isn’t funny anymore.

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union. To this day, South Carolina nurtures its bigotry more openly than most places in 21st century America. It was only last year that its state government offices finally took down the Confederate battle flag, 150 years after Appomattox.

Demonizing black people, at least publicly, has fallen from acceptability, even in South Carolina, so those who try to comprehend a confusing world by hating others have turned their attention to Muslims, susceptible because some terrorists claim to be acting in the name of Islam.

OPINION

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On Friday in Charleston, Trump trotted out a story about General Black Jack Pershing in the Philippines.

“Early last century, General Pershing — rough guy — they had a terrorism problem,” Trump began. He never explicitly says Pershing was dealing with Muslims, but in the half-sly way that bigots have, sets it up this way: “They have a whole thing with swine, and animals, and pigs. You know the story.

“He caught 50 terrorists who caused tremendous damage and killed many people. … He took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pig’s blood. And he had his men load his rifles and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person he said ‘You go back to your people and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years there wasn’t a problem, OK?”

After the applause died down, Trump added, ”We better start getting tough and we better start getting vigilant and we better start using our heads or we’re not going to have a country.”

Trump told his audience they could read about it in their history books, though “not a lot of history books because they don’t like teaching this.”

Actually, not in any history books, because it isn’t true. The story is a lie.

But set aside its untruth — Ronald Reagan confused what happened in the movies with what happened in real life. Look at Trump’s intent in telling the untrue story. To direct hatred at Muslims and, in doing so, draw votes to himself.

Think about that.

I don’t understand how a candidate does that on Friday and on Saturday wins a statewide primary, even in South Carolina. Muslims are frightened and aghast, of course, but to anyone who belongs to any persecuted group, or simply cares about people, it should be a fire bell in the night. For Jews, it is the blood libel, given a slight twist. For blacks, it is the state that enslaved them, looking for a new victim to abuse. For Catholics, women, gays — anybody really, who belongs to a group that can be ostracized and maligned — to hear Trump say it, to see his opponents, maybe hoping for a VP spot, not call Trump out on it, it should grab our attention like a house ablaze next door.

“We better start getting tough and we better start getting vigilant and we better start using our heads or we’re not going to have a country.”

Because a country with Muslims in it isn’t America, I guess.

They said the same thing about Jews. They said the same thing about blacks. We didn’t belong either.

How can we let Trump do this?

Maybe Trump is a joke, maybe he’ll go away and just be a bad memory. Some blame the media for paying attention.

“Neil, I can’t believe you would give this a—– a minute of your time!” reader Glenn Hoffman wrote.

Here’s the deal, Glenn. I’ll stop listening to Donald Trump when Republicans stop voting for him. If he’s a joke, he’s a bad joke. If he’s a joke, it isn’t funny. If he’s a joke, too many people are laughing along. If he’s a joke, he’s a joke that has gone on far too long.

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