Want Kent State II? Then pander to Donald Trump. A few thoughts for the media.

KentStateSolomonOhio National Guardmen killed Bill Schroeder, an ex-Eagle Scout, 46 years ago today, at Kent State University. As a reporter for The Lorain Journal, his hometown daily, I covered the death of this ROTC cadet.

Do you realize what America was like back then?

People actually phoned up our factory-town newspaper and praised the guardsmen for killing young Schroeder.

The then-governor of Ohio, Jim Rhodes, might as well have pulled a trigger. It wasn’t just his mishandling of the Ohio National Guard.  “They’re worse than the Brownshirts, and the Communist element, and also the Night Riders, and the vigilantes,” Rhodes said of the Kent State anti-war protesters. “They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America.”

Rhodes himself is dead now, but Donald Trump is very much alive, and, in fact, yesterday, he won the Republican presidential primary in Indiana, causing Ted Cruz to drop out, and I can’t help but wonder about Kent State had The Donald been governor on May 4, 1970.

The death toll, for all we know, might have been 14 or even 40, not four. Before the killings, protesters had burned down the ROTC building. Bill Schroeder hadn’t a thing to do with this despicable act. Still, what of even the student who did? Of course arson deserves harsh punishment. But should property in this case—or at least the sentiments associated with its protection—have come before life?

I haven’t the slightest doubt that President Trump, the billionaire developer, would be a lot more trigger-happy in these situations than would President Clinton or President Sanders. What more need we know about Trump and his famous “toxic temperament”? Not to mention his offer to pay the legal bills of a thuggish supporter who sucker-punched a foe. If you love the image of wrestling fans smashing chairs over each other’s heads in a bloody free-for-all—I’m not the first to conjure this up—then Donald Trump is your man.

You can imagine, then, how I feel when I read of journalists and politicians pandering to Trump or even thinking about it. I can understand opportunistic politicians like New York Jersey Gov. Chris Christie doing so. But journalists, even ratings-fixated ones at TV networks?  How could you? I quote BuzzFeed’s Kyle Blaine:

“Staffers at the five major television networks are grappling with what role their organizations may have played in amplifying Donald Trump’s successful campaign of insults, generalizations about minority groups, and at times flat-out lies.

“Conversations with more than a dozen reporters, producers, and executives across the major networks reveal internal tensions about the wall-to-wall coverage Trump has received and the degree to which the Republican frontrunner has—or hasn’t—been challenged on their air.”

For now, it looks as if the Democrats will win in November, but who’d have thought Trump would get this far? We may yet see another Kent State—in fact, a slew of them. Elections don’t just have consequences. They can have lethal ones.

The word is that Trump is pretty chummy with regulars at Morning Joe. I won’t prejudge here, but perhaps Joe and Mika, whose interviewing skills I admire even if I don’t necessarily feel the same about all their guests, can ask The Donald for his take on Kent State. Trump may well go mainstream and try to ward off the critics with a bland answer. But just for the record, I’d love to know how he says he would have acted in Jim Rhodes’s place.

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David Rothman

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