Jussie Smollett, Donald Trump, and the Exploitation of Political Divisions.

Jason Fehrnstrom, Opinions Editor

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The elaborate schemes of Jussie Smollett, a prominent actor arrested this past Thursday on Felony accounts of orchestrating a hate crime, are emblematic of a larger tendency, possessed by Donald Trump himself, that is pervasive on both sides of the political spectrum.

A comprehensive examination of these behavioral tendencies and their threat to American democracy necessitates a brief analysis of Smollett’s downfall.

On January, 29th, 2019, Smollett claimed that he was brutally attacked by two men wearing Ski Masks 300 block of East Lower North Water Street in Chicago’s Streeterville Neighborhood. The details Smollett provided to law enforcement rendered the attack classifiable as a hate crime.

Smollett, who is part of the LGBT community and has African origins, claims that the two men shouted obscene racial and homophobic slurs as they attacked him in a variety of ways. Smollett claims that the two Trump-supporting assailants tied a noose around his neck and poured dangerous liquids upon him as they carried out the attack.

On January 30th, and for weeks thereafter, Smollett’s story became a rallying cry for democratic presidential candidates. Political commentators rightfully situated this incident within a larger trend of hate crimes in this country, which have been on the rise since Trump took office.

This past week, Smollett’s elaborate scheme backfired. Investigators discovered the Smollett recruited two colleagues, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, to orchestrate the horrific attack. Investigators have reported that Smollett was disappointed with his salary for his role on Empire, and wanted to garner fame and attention from the attack to render himself more valuable to television executives.

There is no obvious commonality between Smollett’s hoax and Donald Trump’s political techniques. Ostensibly, the rift between these characters couldn’t be larger. Donald Trump panders to a base that would reject Smollett’s ostensible image as a honest proponent of LGBT rights, racial justice, and progressive ideals.

However, the ways in which these two men operate, that is, how they achieve their strategic goals, are remarkably similar. They both have an intuitive understanding of the political, racial, and cultural divisions which imperil our country and choose to exploit, rather than heal, those divisions for their own personal gain.

Smollett watched the regrettable rise of racist, homophobic, and anti-semitic attacks in the past few years. Moments such as Pittsburgh Tree of Life, Charlottesville, the Charleston Church Shooting. There are too many to count. These moments are not the best of what our country has to offer. They represent division, strife, distrust, and hatred.

Smollett decided to exploit these socio-political maladies to benefit his own finances, career, and image. This is behavior of the lowest common denominator. It is selfish at its best and manipulative and harmful at its worst.

There are some apologists who claim that although Smollett lied, his elaborate scheme called attention to real issues with hate crimes in our country. Certainly, there has been a rise to hate crimes since the ascendancy of Donald Trump, many of which are racially and homophobically motivated.

However, falsifying these incidents only provides political ammunition to political adversaries who seek to minimize hate crimes and undermine their validity. Moreover, lying about a crime is simply wrong. There is no circumstance or cause that can justify the fabrication of a crime.

Smollett’s scheme diverted resources from Chicago’s police department, which is burdened with one of the highest murder rates in the country, to a fake crime with no real perpetrators. Also, It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to assume that Smollett would have positively identified assailants if he had been given the opportunity. Smollett would have been perfectly content seeing innocent people serve prison time.

Donald Trump operates in precisely the same manner. Trump would be nothing without his falsehoods and distortions. His entire political strategy is predicated upon spreading paranoia, fears, and lies for his own political gain.

It started during his announcement speech, where he made reductive, sweeping generalizations about Hispanic immigrants, referring to them as “murderers and rapists.” Trump has decried that “Islam hates us,” knowing full well that there are Muslim Veterans who have died for the country. Trump’s signature move is making conspiratorial statements about the “fake news media,”  which degrades civil discourse and threatens notions of objective truth.

Trump and Smollett look for aspects of the political landscape that divide Americans. Subsequently, they spread patent lies in order to come out on top in their respective field.

The last thing this country needs at this moment are provocateurs and tricksters who have no regard for well-being of our democracy. Anyone wrongfully spreading fear, lies, paranoia, distortion, and division ought to be unequivocally condemned, irrespective of their ideological background.