Yesterday I wrote a very long article about Donald Trump's escalating demented rhetoric. I quoted him at length from his early insistence that undocumented immigrants are rapists and murderers to his promise to deport all 12 million of them along with their American children. He has since then added Syrian refugees who are already in the country to that deportation list along with an endorsement of torture as well as making the wives and children of suspected terrorists "suffer."
And those particular demagogic atrocities are on top of daily degrading commentary on the stump talking about women, his rivals and even people with disabilities. It's all out there, documented for everyone to see. His often vague "oh, we're gonna be so tough, so nasty it'll make their heads spin" sounds like a typical rightwing loudmouth, to be sure. But when he gets specific about what that means, there can be no doubt: he is proposing to use government police and military power to ruthlessly and violently oppress minorities in this country and kill foreigners around the world. That is what he's saying, full stop.
So, when he came out with his big "statement" yesterday proposing to deny Muslims entry to the U.S. for any reason, it should not have been the earthquake that it was, at least among the chattering class. It's very much in keeping with his earlier comments tacitly endorsing the registration, profiling and surveillance of American Muslims. He's made it quite clear that he's more than willing to go the extra mile.
Some of the more cynical of the commentators said this latest was in reaction to Cruz's rise in the polls in Iowa and they pointed to other instances where he has said something outrageous to bring the attention back to himself. That's certainly possible but he indicated last week that he was planning to unveil a new anti-terrorism policy and it seems likely this was what he was talking about. So, I'm not sure this is just a reaction to polls.
His national security argument is that Obama isn't doing anything and that his Republican rivals have nothing new to offer either. And despite their vociferous denunciations of his policies, aside from chest-beating and fulminating, he's right. Islamic extremist violence and terrorism is a very tough challenge and nobody has a magic bullet. For all the GOP pearl clutching there is little daylight between their policies and Obama's.
So Trump is saying: "This isn't a tough problem. I'll solve it. I'll get rid of the Muslims." And it's powerful. Robert Costa on "Hardball" yesterday put it this way:
"Trump is speaking to the Republican party, he is contrasting with what the president said about being welcome to Muslims in this country. Trump is doing the exact opposite. The problem for the Republican Party at this moment is is that no one is making ads against Trump, there is no plan against Trump. They may have chastising tweets, they may have statements against Trump. But is that enough?"
Here's an example of a "chastising tweet":
Ted Cruz, on the other hand, remains very careful about taking on Trump:
"That is not my policy. I believe the focus should focus on radical Islamic terrorism, and we need to be directly focused on threats to the United States. We need a commander in chief that perceives what the threat is and that targets all of our resources to protecting this nation against radical Islamic terrorist."
Trump has them right where he wants them. And his supporters have his back. The reaction he got when he read his statement to the crowd at yesterday's rally was very enthusiastic:
When he finished the entire statement he got a sustained standing ovation.
On MSNBC last night, one Trump supporter at his South Carolina rally told the reporter that we shouldn't stop with keeping Muslims out of the country, he also said "we ought to ship 'em back."
He evidently believed the bogus poll results Trump referenced in the speech which have been circulated by the Islamophobic Center for Security Policy. (It's so fringe that its chairman, Frank Gaffney was banned from CPAC, the right wing's most important conference, after he accused its organizers of being members of the Muslim brotherhood.) These phony polling numbers assert that a quarter of American Muslims condone violence and a majority believe the country should be allowed to choose Sharia law. You can certainly understand why Trump's supporters might be confused thinking he's for "shipping them back." (And anyway, he's said it dozens of times about Mexicans and Syrian refugees, why not Muslims in general?)
Is this the final straw? Who knows? But the sad fact is that Trump isn't just shooting from the hip on this. There's some pretty good evidence that he's channeling the feelings of a large number of Americans. This piece by sociologist Christopher Bail in last week's Washington Post explores the rise of Islamophobia in America since 9/11 and it's chilling:
Over the past decade, 32 states proposed shariah law bans, controversies about the construction of mosques have increased by more than 800 percent, and the number of Americans with negative opinions of Islam has more than doubled, as my research shows.
Bail's new book used some sophisticated techniques to show that this happened in large part because media outlets were under the influence of groups like Gaffney's and the Middle East Forum which pushed the idea of a clash of civilizations. And the media also ignored the mainstream Islamic organizations which set out to show that the extremists like al Qaeda were small fringe groups. Those groups complained it had the perverse effect of drawing more attention to the Islamophobes. And then Islamophobia became a wingnut welfare scam:
By 2008, I show that groups arguing for Islam’s threat had amassed more than $240 million and forged ties to elite conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation.
Recent polling shows that Americans at large think Muslims are only slightly less reprehensible than atheists. Republicans think atheists are actually better. And Trump supporters are especially hostile to Islam:
According to a Public Religion Research Institute poll conducted earlier this year, 77 percent of Trump supporters believe “the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life,” versus 72 percent of other Republicans (43 percent of Democrats said the same). Class and education make a big difference too: Two-thirds of white working-class Americans said Islam was incompatible with American values, compared to about half of white Americans with a college degree.
There has not been a lot of polling on Trump's proposal since that really is a new idea in America. We have had a lot of racist and nativist policies in our checkered history but even back in the days when there was widespread animosity toward Catholics and Jews there were no laws banning them from entry. But that's the danger of Donald Trump: He's changing assumptions about American values and he's changing them very quickly.
It may be true that Americans are becoming more anti-Muslim. And Trump didn't invent the notion that undocumented workers are tearing this country apart. This fear and loathing of Muslims and Mexicans has been simmering on the right for years. But Trump is the first to come along and propose that the government should deny them entry by all means at its disposal and remove those who are already here.
And now that these "solutions" are on the table we will never be able to go back to a time when such a thing was unthinkable. Trump's brought these radical eliminationist ideas fully into the mainstream of American political life. Whatever else happens with this campaign that's his legacy -- and it's already secure.