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Oppenheim: Campaign Hysteria

Let’s face it. Even before the most recent shootings, long before Paris and San Bernardino; before attacks that revealed the power of ISIS and its ability to plot, recruit and spread fear - Donald Trump was calling for mass deportations of undocumented immigrants; and that we establish a registry of all Muslims in this country and shut down mosques.

He rejected being politically correct, code for telling voters it’s OK to say pretty much whatever you want.

For a while, he seemed like a reality TV star who’d fade quickly. But he’s been at the top of the polls for about 6 months now – and the first caucuses and primaries are just around the corner.

Trump doesn’t necessarily represent a majority of Americans. Only about a third of voters identify as republican – and he’s got only a third of GOP support. But in our system, a fraction of a fraction can be enough to propel a candidate to a nomination – whether advocating extreme positions or not.

Other candidates are also sounding increasingly bellicose, beating the drums for a broader military intervention against ISIS, calling this a world war, and mocking any advocacy for stronger gun control as weak. Ted Cruz appeared at a shooting range and said “We need to target the bad guys,” emphasizing the need for Americans to arm themselves.

And while Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are calling for gun control, they may find themselves on the defensive when the mood of the country is apprehensive.

To be sure, the idea that just one married couple with jihadist intentions can affect our safety and psychological well-being is appalling.

But it’s exactly at times like this, when we’re scared, that it’s most important to be rational.

What we need in response to extremism – isn’t more extremism.

And this is a lesson we should have learned by now. If the war in Iraq meant anything, it’s that we should be supremely suspicious of politicians and media who insist that war is the only answer.

We should be wary of the idea that it’s ok to lump Muslim Americans who have nothing to do with terror – with those who do – when it’s imperative to be able to know the difference.

Candidates cashing in on this hysteria are symbols for what could go wrong – would-be leaders scoring points by encouraging us give in to our worst instincts.

Instead, we have to speak up, and refuse to be manipulated into making regrettable decisions - yet again.

Keith Oppenheim, Associate Professor in Broadcast Media Production at Champlain College, has been with the college since 2014. Prior to that, he coordinated the broadcasting program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan (near Grand Rapids). Keith was a correspondent for CNN for 11 years and worked as a television news reporter in Providence, Scranton, Sacramento and Detroit. He produces documentaries, and his latest project, Noyana - Singing at the end of life, tells the story of a Vermont choir that sings to hospice patients.
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