On Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. met with the joint Deseret News-KSL Editorial Board to discuss a range of topics from the public lands debate and refugees to, you guessed it, Skittles.
You can listen to the full discussion at DeseretNews.com.
Our conversation with Donald Trump Jr. comes in the wake of substantial national media attention on the Republican candidate's son for his controversial tweet that featured a bowl of Skittles and the words: "If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you that just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That's our Syrian refugee problem."
Critics of the Trump campaign say the tweet represents yet another instance of insensitivity; a tone-deaf comparison of Skittles to refugees suffering from the ravages of war.
Those wishing to chide Donald Trump Jr. for insensitivity, however, should respond not with feigned outrage over Skittles, but with substantive ideas about how America might synthesize our countervailing values of national security and humanitarian outreach. Only then will we move past the sugar-coated discussions to the constructive political dialogue many Americans crave.
In an attempt at levity during Donald Trump Jr.'s visit on Wednesday, I asked him: "In retrospect, would you have chosen M&Ms as a metaphor?"
His response offers an interesting commentary on what many increasingly regard as a media culture that cares more about faux political correctness than substantive conversations.
"That’s the world in which we live. A metaphor, you know, basically about saying statistics, becomes, 'Oh, you’re likening humans to candy.'" He continued: "You’re not allowed to have an opinion anymore, so long as it’s not with them, without being attacked. And I think that goes to general freedom as well."
Comparing war-ravaged refugees to candy Skittles is certainly not a substantive policy discussion. It's unquestionably insensitive. Yet Mr. Trump's passing sentiments about political correctness reflect an increasingly common refrain among Trump supporters and others that the commentary class is contributing to a corrosive culture of social media outrage that strains over gnats — or Skittles — but swallows political camels.
According to The New York Times, a 2013 study from Beihang University in Beijing studied a Twitter-esque social media site called Weibo and concluded that "anger is the emotion that spreads the most easily over social media. Joy came in a distant second." In the Times' article, Ryan Martin, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, indicated that, "although we tend to share the happiness only of people we are close to, we are willing to join in the rage of strangers."
Whether deliberately or not, journalists sometimes spark this anger contagion on social media. To be fair, candidates who purposefully use provocative rhetoric deserve criticism. Yet when the criticism itself turns angry and provocative — as has happened this election cycle — there are too few voices that call for more substance and less unhelpful outrage.
Although I don't support rash rhetoric, and I certainly don't believe Donald Trump Jr. deserves a pass for his tweet about Skittles, the outrage culture is corroding the national conversation, not to mention our national unity. And with regard to those in the media, we might consider looking at ourselves before we impulsively blame politicians.
My colleagues Lisa Riley Roche and Doug Wilks of the news room are to be commended for taking the journalistic high road - focusing on the need for specifics relative to Trump's plan for addressing the pressing refugee situation, rather than focusing on the easier rage trigger surrounding the Skittles analogy. Sadly few specifics were forthcoming from Donald Trump Jr. other than to enhance the vetting process.
Indeed, before we go straight to Skittles, let's acknowledge that impactful discussions surround how best to balance national security and humanitarian impulses. The right way to respond to Donald Trump Jr.'s tweet is not with more hyperbole — which tends to only polarize — but with policy ideas and questions that grapple with substance rather than sugar.
Hal Boyd is the opinion editor of the Deseret News. Email: email@example.com, Twitter: Halrboyd