This is Donald Trump’s America now. If Trump does not win the nomination, it no longer matters: He has moved the debate into an ugliness that gives cover to almost all bigotry.
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“I’m no racist, but I think the one bunch it’s okay to hate is those Muslims.”
I thought to myself, “Did I really just hear him say that?” I have replayed this moment in my mind every day in the six months since I heard the man, an acquaintance of mine, say this to me. Shocked into complacency, I did not speak up.
An elderly women was beside us. She is the sort of person who looks like the meanest thing she might say in her day is something like, “A dozen cookies! That’s too many! Have another.” She chimed in: “They believe in the devil. They lie when they say they pray to God.” Her eyes flared and she repeated herself. “They know it’s a lie, and they do it anyway.” I excused myself, shocked into a mortified silence, which was an inexcusable silence.
Others were nearby, and no one spoke up. I asked a couple people later about what they heard the man say, and each of them expressed surprise but offered some variation of the excuse, “I guess he needed to get that off his chest.”
This is Donald Trump’s America. My first-hand report. These voters may not have the opportunity to vote for Trump for President of the United States next November, as he may not win the Republican nomination, but whomever they vote for next year is being shown the blueprint detailing how to win their support. With his status as the front-runner for the Republican nomination and his open espousal of complete racism, his promises of policies of brutality towards American citizens of one religion, Donald Trump has moved the debate into a region where less ugly racism, less obvious brutality, appears acceptable, becomes accepted. It will still be brutal racism. The moment has arrived when we can not shrug it off and say to ourselves, “I guess he needed to get that off his chest.”
At its best, Donald Trump’s campaign for President has been ham-handed as the man lurches from barnyard epithet to schoolyard demagoguery. He is nothing if not socially awkward, but his brilliance in his 30 years as a public figure has been his masking of that awkward social incompetence behind an audacious, over-the-top self-confidence. Put that man behind a podium and run him for office and we have people applauding his audacious, refreshing, “truth-telling.”
He is the front-runner for the Republican nomination for President. The first votes that will officially be registered will come in Iowa on February 1. Even if his campaign somehow vanishes like a thin cloud in the jet stream, and it will not, his effect on Campaign 2016 is permanent, from the race for president down to the local races across the country.
At its worst, Donald Trump’s campaign has shifted the terms of rational, acceptable political debate smack into the middle of the darkest fever-dream imaginings of our current generation of racists.
There is a phenomenon in politics nicknamed the “Overton window,” a column in today’s Guardian reminds us. The Overton window is the window through which any policy, left or right, is viewed as “acceptable,” and anything outside it is viewed as “extreme.” The window can be pulled to the left or right, however, and policies that used to be outside the “acceptable” window will fall into that area when someone popular has started to push the envelope of the extreme.
We see it most frequently in American presidential politics; this year, progressives hoped that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren would run so that the presumed front-runner, Hillary Clinton, would see how popular the senator’s progressive stances are and would at least “move to the left.” It is possible that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is playing the Warren role instead. Donald Trump’s demagoguery is moving the Overton window into open hatred as political policy.
By now you have seen that yesterday Trump called for and pledged to pursue a “total and complete shutdown” (his words) of Muslims entering the United States of America. A “total ban,” he called it. His policy was not delivered in his usual fashion: off-the-cuff in front of a crowd of supporters egging him on, but in an official campaign document, a policy paper. “Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” it reads, so we must have a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
To their credit, many of his rivals for the Republican nomination disagreed with Trump’s possible anti-Muslim policy. Jeb Bush called Trump “unhinged.” Senator Ted Cruz said that he has more focused plans and wants to root out “radical Islamic terrorism.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney replied to a question about it with, “Well, I think this whole nation, that we can say, ‘No more Muslims,’ that we can just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in.” Senator Rand Paul said, “I think it’s a mistake to base immigration or moratoriums based on religion. But you know, I’ve called for something similar, which is a moratorium based on high risk.”
Senator Paul’s sentence is a pitch-perfect imitation of the sound of the Overton window being moved to the right.
The Washington Post raised these questions: “Like most of the ideas Trump has floated, the proposal is both far-reaching and vague, raising numerous questions that his aides declined to answer Monday: Which Muslims would be included in the ban? How would they be identified? Would the U.S. bar American-born citizens who practice Islam and are returning from an overseas trip? What about holders of green cards visiting family overseas, or wealthy Middle Eastern businessmen journeying to the United States to finalize a deal?”
(For example, let’s say a Saudi businessman needs to meet with American businessman Donald J. Trump, Jr. in New York. What happens then?)
The Post reports that “Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, told the Associated Press that the ban would apply to ‘everybody’ but did not elaborate. Later, Trump said in an interview on Fox News that the ban would not apply to Muslim members of the military or ‘people living in the country.'”
The United States of America frequently, annually, adjusts its immigration policies. Most of the time, the basic regulations remain the same, but we adjust the numbers of people who can move into the country. We have quotas. Sometimes we overhaul our policies, and that is what Mr. Trump is demanding. Membership, active or passive, in a religion is not at present a part of the formula. In the past, specific groups that we have decided that we dislike have been banned. Further, in a move that is now almost universally decried as tragic, during World War II we arrested people who were born in Japan but had become citizens and those who were merely of Japanese descent and kept them in internment camps. Men and women, children and the elderly were forced to live (and many died) for several years in camps, which is a polite word for prisons.
Most people seem to understand the history of the Japanese internment camps as tragic. These people were citizens, many of whom were born here, and were imprisoned because their parents were Japanese. Trump and his supporters do not see this history as a tragic one, but view the camps as having been a sad necessity of the times and perhaps as a perfectly sound idea for today’s world.
NPR reports that “a co-chairman of Trump’s state veterans coalition in New Hampshire defended Trump’s statement, arguing that it’s the same policy used against Japanese-Americans during World War II. ‘What he’s saying is no different than the situation during World War II, when we put the Japanese in camps,’ New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro said. ‘The people who attacked innocent people in Paris came through open borders. From a military mind standpoint, all Donald Trump is saying is to do what needs to be done until we get a handle on how to do background checks.'”
On Good Morning America this morning, Trump was asked about the internment camps and replied, “Franklin D. Roosevelt created Japanese internment camps during World War II and they named highways after him!”
I opened with an anecdote about American anti-Muslim sentiment this year; it is just one anecdote but it reflects something that social researchers and pollsters are watching happen in real time across the country: American Muslims are a vulnerable group.
A Pew Research Center survey from 2014 asked Americans to rate members of eight religious groups from 0 to 100, where 0 reflects the coldest, most negative possible rating and 100 the warmest, most positive rating. “Overall, Americans rated Muslims rather coolly—an average of 40, the Pew Center reported. The survey was the result of interviews with 3217 Americans; Jews, Catholics, and evangelical Christians ranked above 60 each.
That “coolness” is being transformed into fire: violence in America against Muslims and against their homes and places of worship is increasing. There are incidents that show how the violence that is born of fear that is born of conscientious misunderstanding can claim other lives: people who “look Muslim” (not that there is such a “look”), such as Americans who are of Sikh heritage (who are Hindu but to an uneducated American “look Muslim”), have been murdered without cause.
That “coolness” felt toward Muslims is now a fire, and that fire is being perceived and used as a voting bloc. My anti-Muslim acquaintances whom I told you about at the top, they are in that voting bloc. What would my friends have done if a person of the Muslim faith was in the room with us and expressed his or her discomfort with their hate-filled words? I doubt my friends would have been violent, but I am confident they would have been violently cool towards the person.
Once upon a time, I worked for a weekly newspaper. Even though it was a small-circulation publication, the fact that we ran a Letters to the Editor page meant that we received letters. Lots and lots of letters. Our editorial policy was simple: no profanity or personal abuse. I, a young editor at the time, did not understand it. The letters were often awful, hate-filled documents, even when they were free of profanity and free of personal abuse. My boss, the editor, explained that these individuals wanted their thoughts exposed and we were helping to expose them. “Let them show the world what it looks like,” was her reply to me concerning ugly racism. “It is better when they are out in the open.”
Donald Trump is out in the open. His supporters are out in the open.
Earlier today, an evangelical Christian writer named Rachel Held Evans published a brief essay on Facebook that led me to confront the incident I opened with at the top. She wrote,
Time for all of us to speak up. This isn’t a joke anymore. To the cheers of thousands, Donald Trump has called for committing war crimes against women and children, for banning Muslims (including U.S. citizens) from entering the U.S., for shutting down mosques, and for tracking religious minorities with a database and possible ID badges. (In addition, he shared false information from a white supremacist Web site to spread lies about African Americans and crime, and has called for the deportation of millions of immigrants.) We’ve seen a Christian college president urge his students to take up arms and “end those Muslims before they get here.” And across the country, Muslims report that their mosques are being vandalized, that they are receiving death threats by the hour, and that women in head coverings are being harassed when they go out in public. Needy families fleeing terrorism in their own countries, who have spent years being vetted to receive refugee status and a safe home, are arriving to the U.S. only to be turned away by state governors. The hysteria and xenophobia has gotten completely out of control, and it runs totally contrary to our country’s commitment to religious freedom and especially to the teachings of Jesus. If a pastor, family member, friend, or acquaintance expresses support for violent rhetoric against minorities, speak up. Call it out. It’s not okay.
We can stop wondering if we would have protested the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust. This is exactly how it begins. Now’s the time to speak up and to act.
It was shared 50,000 times in 17 hours. One person disagreed vehemently and wrote that this is a false analogy, because, “During the years before WWII and the holocaust (sic), Jews did not commit acts of terrorism or rebellion in Europe or the US. They simply lived their lives and conducted peaceful business. It is not accurate to compare then with now. They were hated for who they were and not their actions. Hate mongering is never right. It is very different with the threat we have today. We are experiencing actions that are killing innocent people. This threat must be stopped now to insure the safety of our society.”
“Hate mongering is never right,” so he hates, but without the mongering, I suppose. Hatred can sometimes sound educated. The writer is justifying his own hatred of Islam behind the screen of condemning (unnamed) specific acts of violence.
It is the sound of the Overton window being shifted into open, brutal ugliness.
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It’s not as if it’s a clear cut case of unbased prejudice that is applauding Trump. I’m sure much of it stems from fear. Muslims (perhaps it’s an ideological branch of the Islamic religion, like Jews who “don’t observe”?), are also responsible for how they are seen. If they do not condemn (and only recently has any condemnation reached MSM) militant butchery (terrorism) in their original nationality’s peers, then what is anyone to think? When an imam wants to build a mosque near the 9/11 site, what are we to think? When Obama’s greatest plan of help and protection begins and ends in insulting taxpayers and acting as if we’re all dipsticks, there is actually no one to turn to — which increases the fear and perhaps personal profiling and vigilantism. Maybe Trump is merely riding along on a missing president’s coattail wind. I don’t know whether Trump got too deeply into a joke of running for the Presidency and can’t get out and save face, or if he’s serious. That people are taking him seriously is scary indeed, but who else is doing what else?
There is no mosque near the 9/11 Memorial, and no “imam” was urging for one to be built there, either in America or abroad. One was rumored, origin of the rumor unknown, but it certainly was rumored, especially in parts of the news media. The source of the rumor remains unknown.
How is a population “responsible for how they are seen” by others? I am not responsible for how you see me. You are not responsible for how I see you.
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I’ll see if I can find the entire article by the Imam and his family — the effort went on for months a few years ago, I’m surprised you didn’t see it.
I am quite familiar with this tale: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuFUCW4qrL0
It wasn’t a YouTube or any video at all and it wasn’t any rumor. It was pages and pages I read, followed by updates. I’m just glad it got stopped. I didn’t come here to hurt the feelings of non-radicalized Muslims — only to blog — so I’m done with this subject.
The hate is scary, people haven’t learned and history repeats itself. I am waiting for Trump to get up and forbid women’s the right to vote. I bet many would still be cheering for him, some women included.
He attracts a part of our society that cannot be reached, mainly because they aren’t very well educated. Hate is easy…to easy.
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I have an opinion about these matters. I’m sure almost everyone has an opinion about these, and as well as other matters. Blogs and Comments and other social media platforms aren’t the forum I choose to express my opinions on politics (well, OK, I did publish one post), but I wanted to pop in to thank you for expressing yours and providing a forum for your readers to reply. These issues are important. Discussion is important.
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Thanks for the thank you.
I am mindful, regarding The Gad About Town, that I have two readerships: a group of fellow WordPressers who make their faces/gravatars known and hit the like button and encourage my attempts at memoir and humor, and people who have been reading what I have been doing as I dip my toes back into journalism for the first time in two decades, most of whom make their support of me or disagreement with me known elsewhere. This is a bifurcated website right now. I do not know if this is something that needs “solving” or if my wondering that is just my tendency to look for a solution in need of a problem. All I can be is me.
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Rock on birfurcatedly my friend
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The sad truth is that, despite all the rage in the press, on tv and on the part of other Republican candidates, there are too many people who agree with his statement. And Trump knows it.
It’s ignorance. Most Americans don’t know that the Quran is the Bible with the addition of Mohammed, really and truly the Bible, or that Islam reveres Christ as a prophet equal to Mohammed or that Muslims celebrate Christmas. They have no fucking clue. They lack the imagination to understand that the word “God” is just English and other languages have other words. Most Americans have never had a Muslim friend or investigated any of this — and I don’t think this started with Trump. 9/11/2001 was the beginning of the end of American culture and civilization and the death of the Constitution. I had lunch with a couple of women yesterday who were really shocked into silence when I said, “ISIS is not Islam.” Trump is just the (just????) fulfillment of the Cult of Ignorance and Fear.
Besides the existence of peer pressure and speaking out being difficult (“rocking the boat”), I wonder if there’s a “Kitty” Genovese bystander effect in play in some of these circumstances, Mark. People might not feel comfortable speaking up in a crowded room, public forum, gymnasium, etc., but take their concerns to a smaller group–and still others think ‘oh, somebody else is going to do something’ (i.e., the ‘right’ thing), whether it be to confront racism, xenophobia, and bigotry or crimes such as rape, murder, assault, and so on. I have an acquaintance on Facebook who’s like this (as well as some family), and I’m sure many others do, too. They support people like Trump or policies of that nature. In other ways (at least the ones I ‘know’) express liberal or even progressive ideas. I don’t know. I’m just fearful for this country right now; I’m not a big fan of Hillary and none of the Republican candidates are viable. Frankly, my last, best hope right now is that Bernie Sanders picks Elizabeth Warren or an African-American or Latina (or Latino) running mate.
Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.
Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
The cat’s out of the bag …. No matter what, it is Trump’s America now. Sad to watch … a slippery slope indeed!
Reblogged this on IdealisticRebel's Daily View of Favorites.
And all sorts of ugliness can be justified with the excuse: “Hey, I’m just not politically correct!”
Fantastic post Mark. I shared it on FB, Twitter and reposted on my own blog. I share the same opinions about Trump. My wife and I are dead serious about moving to Canada if that mad man is elected. We already have jobs available to us and I won’t hesitate to go. Same holds true if Bernie wins!
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That is enormously generous of you. Thank you!
I really ought to emend my post: I wrote that Rand Paul’s comments sounded like the “Overton window” shifting to the right. While true, I know now that every spoken utterance, every gesture, every silent exhalation, every sigh, every throat-clearing from Senator Ted Cruz is the sound of the Overton window shifting to the right, thanks to the endless efforts of Mr. Trump and his bullet-wearing aides.
Ted Cruz scares me. I have run away from the far right of the Republican Party because I just don’t buy into all of their rhetoric any more. I’m a solid independent that is fiscally right of center but still believing in needs for social reform. I believe we need national health care but I believe Obamacare is a wretched mess. I would love to see student loans forgiven as I am carrying a lot paying my own and my sons’ loans too. I am a firm 2nd Amendment supporter but the NRA scares me. I think we need strict immigration reform and strict vetting of refugees while at the same time having compassion on them. Still, I think the other Muslim countries should be taking in at least some of the refugees. I have a hard time expressing my views sometimes, especially on Facebook because I have so many friends who are extreme on both ends of the political spectrum.
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