The American moral emergency that is Donald Trump

Can’t look away.
Can’t look away.
Image: Reuters/Brian Snyder
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What would doom ordinary women and men only makes the Donald stronger. When Megyn Kelly called him out for describing women in vulgar language, Trump implied she was menstruating. He kicked Jorge Ramos out of a press conference, who was upset Trump had called Mexicans “rapists” and “drug dealers.” (Some of them, he condescendingly suggested, might be good people.) He’s casually discussed deporting millions of people, ripping apart families or kicking people out who’ve lived here all their lives.

This week might be notable, however, for the sheer concentration of outrageousness. But while the brazenness of Trump’s falsehoods are noteworthy, he’s more than just a media wizard and blowhard. His willingness to spread racially-motivated lies—coupled with both the media’s inability to stop him and the voting bloc who believes him—represents something far more ominous about the state of our union.

At a weekend rally in Alabama, a protester wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt was accosted and beaten by attendees while others chanted “all lives matter.” When asked about it afterward, Trump suggested the man deserved it.

Pivoting effortlessly from anti-black racism to Islamophobia, Trump flatly refused to (hypothetically) accept any Syrian refugees, and suggested the US had no vetting system for them, which is untrue. He declared that we should close American mosques, perhaps all of them—the specifics were left unspecified. He proposed Muslims be surveilled, implied he could support a database for all Muslims, wouldn’t shoot down the need for special Muslim IDs (here are some suggestions), and, for added measure, said it was time to bring back waterboarding.

Given his and his party’s “cesspool” rhetoric, the slippery slope is getting very slippery, very fast. Does Trump, for example, support waterboarding American Muslims who are suspected of terrorism? And if so, does this mean constitutional protections may no longer apply to Muslims? The general tone of the conversation these days–at least when the conservative frontrunner is involved—suggests they might not, at least not in the near future.

Trump—and his base—seem to think American Muslims and their mosques are forward operating bases for ISIL, if Islam itself is not ISIL. Indeed, Trump stated over the weekend that he saw “thousands and thousands” of Arabs celebrating in Jersey City as the World Trade Center towers went down. Though Jersey City’s mayor himself refuted the claim, Trump insisted it had happened.

Having lived through that day in Manhattan, serving then as president of my school’s Muslim students club, I must add, too, that no such thing ever occurred in my community, and none of the many Muslims I encountered that day were in an a celebratory mood. Like all other New Yorkers, our city and our country was under attack; we were terrified, fearful, and confused.

Many reporters have challenged Trump on his claims, but none have had much luck in the moment, as this transcript of George Stephanopoulos pressing Trump on his Jersey City claims shows. While the Washington Post and others have since proved the claim to be false, such challenges also mean the fabrication remains in circulation. Ergo Trump wins–and America loses.

Consider what Trump’s statements reveal about what his supporters believe: If mosques are hubs for radicalization, and American Muslims are breeding ISIL recruits in their community institutions, this means the federal government is either powerless to stop them, uninterested, or complicit. From here we tilt fairly easily into conspiracy theory (Obama is a Muslim), paranoia (they’re all out to get us), and skepticism (everyone else’s facts aren’t facts.) Over at RedState this weekend, one commentator claimed Hillary Clinton subscribes to “an Islamic belief system.”

Is it any surprise that armed gunmen showed up outside an Irving, Texas, mosque this weekend?

Having lived in and studied Muslim communities for much of my life, I know what the tilt towards extremism looks like, and how difficult it is to stop it once you give in to it. People ask Muslims all the time to condemn the extremism in their midst; I wonder when Republicans will. Or if they even have the spine to. But perhaps many of them do not yet realize they have a problem.

Over the past decade—for the sake of profit, attention, or out of genuine conviction—Fox News and the right-wing media establishment have helped create a climate of incitement, hostility to the truth (whether that be climate science or radicalization), and alarm. Donald Trump did not create that wave, but he rides it better than anyone.

Incidentally, researcher Charles Johnson found, also this weekend, that a graphic Trump’s been tweeting about race and crime comes directly from a neo-Nazi, but that’s just par for the classy, whites-only golf course Trump wants to turn our country into.

Welcome to our moral emergency, America.