Ali: Racism and bigotry get a pass in 2024 as Trump talk that once shocked is normalized

President Biden has “become like a Palestinian.” The comment from former President Trump at Thursday’s debate in Atlanta was meant to be an insult aimed at his opponent’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

Despite the implicit bigotry of the barb, Trump’s vilification of an entire people in the form of a crude jab barely made the news.

There is plenty of analysis coming out of the 90-minute live debate — Biden’s terrible performance, Trump’s fountain of lies — but what I find most heartbreaking is the quiet acceptance of casual racism as part of our political discourse.

The former president’s bigoted rhetoric onstage last night doesn’t even qualify as a minor talking point in today’s discussions about the CNN telecast.

When Trump descended from the escalator and into the campaign scene in 2015, numerous headlines and stories were generated in response to his race-baiting comments about Mexican “rapists” and a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Now, during one of the most-watched television events of the year, such ugliness has barely caused a ripple.

The stakes are much higher now than nine years ago, therefore we’re directing our energies elsewhere. This election is about upholding democracy and defeating fascism. But if we’re willing to accept derogatory remarks about race, faith or people as part of a campaign to win votes, we’ve given up.

During the debate, Trump claimed that Biden’s failed immigration policy resulted in millions of dangerous immigrants taking “Black jobs.” And if that weren’t xenophobic enough, Trump broadened his scare speak to include the loss of “Hispanic jobs” as well.

What exactly is a Black or Hispanic job? It’s hard to say because no one on the debate stage or behind the moderator desk bothered to ask. Co-anchors Dana Bash and Jake Tapper instead let the stunningly racist remarks glide through unchallenged, as if racial stereotyping were protected under CNN’s debate rules of no real-time fact-checking.

To be fair, the first debate of the 2024 presidential campaign was anything but business as usual.

Biden looked frail and bewildered. Trump was uncharacteristically controlled. And CNN served as a staging company rather than a news outlet. Post-debate discussions across multiple platforms have been dedicated to deconstructing the scene — the incumbent’s poor performance, his opponent’s avalanche of lies — yet they’ve largely overlooked the ugly leveraging of race and bigotry in their wider analysis of the event.

In short, there’s been little soul-searching about how such blatantly discriminatory statements were able to sail through undisputed.

The CNN broadcast revealed a sad truth about American politics in 2024: Xenophobic fear-mongering once relegated to the far-right fringe is now an acceptable starting point for mainstream dialogue about American politics and presidencies.

The conflation of Palestinians with the villainous dark side of a good vs. evil conflict is nothing new, especially from the MAGA-verse. Sadly, it’s not surprising that Trump’s Palestinian comment is being viewed as a bizarre and somewhat funny moment rather than a gross disparagement of an entire people.

Loaded slurs and statements about Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims are still an acceptable form of bigotry and hatred, even in these supposed “woke” times. I had hoped that dynamic might shift in my lifetime, but the media’s continued implied connections between Palestinians and Hamas, Muslims and terror, Arabs and spooky otherness, tells me not to keep my hopes up.

As for Black and Hispanic jobs, Thursday’s debate was more proof that we’re becoming inured to the racism of the right. The mainstream media — even left-leaning outlets — are so desensitized by MAGA’s repurposing of archaic stereotypes that they barely reacted to the association of Black and brown communities with crime, low-paying jobs, poverty, etc.

Hateful rhetoric has to be particularly egregious to trigger an outcry, and that’s a sign that intolerance is winning.

Pushing back against Trump’s demeaning commentary should have been Biden’s job on that debate stage, and he failed. CNN and the rest of the media also failed to highlight the danger of normalizing racism for votes.

If this approach wins the White House, we all lose.

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