The longer this goes on, the more I think that Donald Trump’s candidacy is designed specifically to wreck the Republican Party and get Hillary elected. Either that, or this is a big publicity game to him. Either way, I’m rapidly losing patience with it.
This week, fresh off saying that we should be surveilling mosques and maintaining a database on Muslims, Donald Trump made the assertion — one he has since repeated — that thousands of American Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the fall of the Twin Towers.
First things first. This claim is totally false. The Trumpeteers have fixated on a paragraph from an old WaPo story that described the FBI investigating reports of people celebrating 9/11. But nothing came of that and there certainly weren’t thousands of people dancing in the streets. And it certainly wasn’t on television. You can read Kessler’s long article where he responds to various conspiracy theorists and Trumpeteers claiming that no, this totally happened. But it didn’t. Had Americans been celebrating 9/11, it would have been front page news, not buried in some obscure MTV broadcast or the 15th paragraph of a WaPo story or whispered by someone who knows someone who saw it. The objections are rapidly settling into “no Jews were in the Twin Towers” territory.
But … that’s really beside the point. The point of Trump’s statement is not whether American Muslims celebrated 9/11 or not. The point is that Trump, since the Paris attacks, has been blowing a dog whistle.
Let’s take a step back…
In the 1960 Presidential race, John F. Kennedy was only the second Catholic to ever run for President and the first to be elected. During the campaign and after his election, there were people who openly said that being Catholic meant his loyalty was to the Vatican, not to the United States (this for a man who fought in World War II and acted with genuine valor when his torpedo boat was sunk). Numerous religious organizations opposed Kennedy for this reason and it probably cost him hundreds of thousands of votes. Nixon, to his credit, decided to leave the religious issue alone. But it was garbage. Catholics have long proven to be just as loyal to the United States as anyone else.
As a Jew, I grew up having my loyalty to the United States questioned. Jews, I was told, were loyal to Israel not the United States. People told me this to my face. People said this about my family (which included my father, an Air Force Colonel who stayed in the reserves until they tore the uniform off his back). This clamor grew loudest when the traitor Jonathan Pollard was caught. But it was still garbage.
Similar but less intense bigotry surfaced in 2008 when Mitt Romney looked like he might become the first Mormon presidential candidate. His loyalty wasn’t questioned, but people openly mocked his religion and questioned his sanity regarding the so-called “magic underwear”. Thankfully, by 2012, this has calmed down. But there were decades when Mormons were seen as “the other”, a crazy cult that would do God-knows-what if they ever got power.
Donald Trump is simply continuing this long and disgraceful legacy of questioning the loyalty of a religious minority. This isn’t about facts; it’s about saying, over and over again, that Muslims are fundamentally disloyal to the United States and can’t be trusted. In doing so, he is wading directly into racially charged waters and appealing to a very ugly element of our society. This manifested over the weekend when he retweeted bogus and racist crime stats sent to him by an admitted neoNazi.
It was not American Muslims who attacked us on 9/11 (in fact, a few dozen Muslims died when the towers fell). It was not an American Muslim who tried to detonate a bomb in his shoe or in his underwear. It was an American Muslims who definitively proved that Al-Qaeda has caused 9/11. And we have seen thousands of Muslims serve our country with honor and many die fighting the War on Terror.
Now, it was an American Muslim who murdered 13 people at Fort Hood. It was an American Muslims who tried to bomb Times Square (and it was also one who alerted the police to the danger). There’s certainly a case to be made for keeping an eye on radicals. But over the past 25 years, we have lost way more people to crazed “right wing” terrorists (Oklahoma City) or white supremacists (Charleston) or our own damned government (Waco) than we have to American Muslims.
— Tayyib M. Rashid (@MuslimMarine) November 19, 2015
As I noted in a previous post, George W. Bush was very careful, after 9/11, to walk the line of denouncing extremism while not casting aspersions upon American Muslims. It was walking that narrow line that allowed him to be as effective as he was in destroying radical terrorists. It’s a pity to see the Republican front-runner abandon this. Because, in the end, it’s not only bad for the War on Terror, it’s bad for the Republican Party. People won’t forget that, at a tense time, Donald Trump was perfectly willing to play to bigotry and prejudice.
But … if his goal is to pave the way for Clinton, it suddenly all makes sense, doesn’t it?