"The Donald," Attention-Seeker ExtraordinaireConspiracy theories and wacky ideologies that might have been considered outlandish and extreme a few decades ago seem to be gaining ground in the present political landscape. Case in point: buzz about Donald Trump's prospective candidacy has enveloped the GOP for the past few weeks. Apart from the cartoonish narcissism of the purported real estate maven, one of the most bizarre twists has been Trump's eagerness to promote birtherism and blather about forming a group to investigate Obama's origins. Now that the White House has released the President's long-form certificate, Trump claims credit for putting pressure on the administration. It's not buying him much traction in the polls - 64% of Americans said they would definitely not vote for him in a general election. That's after he led a crowd of Republican hopefuls with 26% support from likely primary voters the week before. Where did this interest arise? Although Trump's amount of maturity and good judgment is closer to, say, Charlie Sheen than to a serious potential candidate like Mitch Daniels (or even a Tea Party candidate such as Cain or Palin), he was able to ignite excitement with his exploration of the birther movement. Why?
When Obama took office, the Tea Party was considered the utmost fringe of conservative philosophy. Now, it's mainstream and accepted. FOX News retains strong viewership despite its shift farther to the right. Ayn Rand books are flying off the shelves; the film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged has an 85% audience rating here on Rotten Tomatoes. Throughout this process of national acclimation to far-right ideas, an even smaller subset of conservatives which holds that Obama is a Muslim, a Communist, and a Kenyan (He's actually Christian, Capitalist, and born in Hawaii.) has succeeded in making these "issues" a topic of debate among those on the right. A poll by CBS and the New York Times shows a whopping 47% of Republicans believe Obama was not born in the US, with only 32% sure he meets the qualifications for the presidency. For the party of legendary leaders such as Lincoln and Eisenhower, these misinformed masses represent a tragic fall from credibility. The attention whirring around Donald Trump isn't harmless cable hype; it represents a warning signal in what has become a societal shift towards the outward limits of political views, at the expense of political moderation and reasonable ideas. This polarization isn't necessary. How can it be quelled? I don't know if anyone remembers the civility pledges in the wake of the Giffords tragedy, but they could certainly be of use now. What we need is a moderated dialogue, one that's not steeped in extremism from the outset. Perhaps then, proponents of the middle ground can begin to flourish, just as the purveyors of extreme ideologies currently do.