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Tolerating the Tolerance of Intolerance

July 3, 2016

Trump Rally

We’ve become a community of voyeurs, titillating in the humiliation, pain and travesties experienced by others. The media, omnipresent in this voyeuristic universe, has become a master in the art of instantly capturing and reporting on the salient details of a smorgasbord of lurid events.

Canadians have become among the world’s most capable voyeurs. As the political train wreck unfolds south of the border, Canada’s mere population of some 35 million is soaking up the entrails of Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions, which no doubt began as a half-hearted effort to gain access to the keys to the highest office in the land, but more certainly as a concerted attempt to further build his Trump brand and buff his over-sized ego.

And here we are now, entering the dog days of July, where in a matter of a few months either the despised Hilary Clinton, spouse to serial philanderer Bill Clinton, becomes president, or Donald Trump wins the biggest reality show of all time.

Along the way, the public (around the globe) has witnessed some of the most vitriolic comments coming from one politician’s mouth in particular. There’s no point in repeating any of them since the internet, including the accomplices of print media, TV and radio, has made them routine daily rantings.

Members of the media interview residents of the neighbourhood near the secondary crime scene following an elementary school shooting, in Sandy Hook

However, it’s not just the nasty and underhanded remarks by Trump and company that has helped refine the nation of voyeurs but also the violence perpetrated on a daily basis against a wide range of society’s demographics. Whether it’s sexual assault against women on college campuses, harassment of female RCMP members, mass shootings such as in Orlando and Sandy Hook, or racial stereotyping of people from the Middle East, plus much more, we’ve become numb to it collectively as a society. To put it another way, we’re learning to tolerate the tolerance that the media is showing towards the subject of intolerance, in all its sordid forms.

To the media at large, it’s all about ratings and bringing in revenue projections. The media has played a major role in promoting the pornography of violence and racial intolerance, spawning a new class of thirsty voyeurs. On a recent edition of CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition with host Michael Enwright, one of the guests was a 24 year-old female journalist who had worked for Newsweek covering crime and events involving violence. She burnt out from that gig due to the never-ending onslaught of violence.

She explained how the media has templates laid out that are quickly put into place when an act of violence occurs. For example, call lists to law enforcement people are activated, profiles of the victims are drawn up, including the perpetrators. Everything has a sort of cookie cutter recipe; just fill in the blanks.

During her time as a crime beat reporter, she avoided watching fiction TV, especially shows involving gratuitous violence. Since leaving this role, she has been working on covering business and culture news and events. What was striking in listening to her talk about her previous work was how young she was, yet wise to the world.


Before you feel downbeat about how low society has descended when it comes to intolerance, specifically the venal barbs uttered by politicians at others, take a moment to read the following passage from James Tobin’s excellent book The Man he Became, a biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s difficult years after he contracted polio. The dateline is just before FDR was re-elected governor of New York in 1930. The delegates to the Democratic national convention had just received an anonymous circular in the mail. It read, in part:

In the home office of every life insurance company in the United States, there is on file the health examination report of every person holding a life insurance policy….If you will examine the health examination report of Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, you will find that he is suffering from locomotor ataxia produced by syphilis. For almost ten years, however, Governor Roosevelt has been parading himself before the public as a victim of infantile paralysis in order to gain sympathy and to hide his real affliction. Carrying on the deception further, Governor Roosevelt has induced some men of wealth to establish at Warm Springs, Georgia, a sanitarium for the treatment of the real victims of infantile paralysis. The most disgusting, vicious and really dangerous thing about this matter is the fact that Governor Roosevelt (with his loathsome and infectious venereal disease) bathes in the same pool with these poor innocent children.

Donald Trump, as vile as he may be, has spewed forth a lot of nonsense and vindictive comments, whether at Hilary Clinton, President Obama, the heads of other countries, or his Republican opponents during the primaries. But it would be hard to argue persuasively that whatever Trump has said to date could match what was aimed at FDR 86 years ago, one of the lowest points in American politics.


We, as a supposed civilized society, can continue down the path towards innuendo, character assassination and hate-filled intolerance to those “different” from us (whatever that means in a globalized community), or we can push back against the perpetrators who financially benefit from its exploitation. If there’s one individual who amply demonstrated that he could rise to the occasion and shove aside the vitriol that was shovelled at him it was FDR, who became one of America’s greatest presidents.

Stop tolerating the tolerance of intolerance that the media has skillfully manipulated to great success. The reporting of such tragic events as the Orlando nightclub murders of 49 people in June or the slaughter of 20 little children and six school staff in December 2012 at Sandy Hook elementary school is necessary to a point. However, long before the media’s saturation point is reached the message has gone out to other mentally unbalanced people that a new goal needs to be reached. It’s time to stop being a nation of voyeurs.

If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships – the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt

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