The world is up in arms about Donald Trump's proposal to bar all Muslims from entering the United States. His idea was so extreme that even Dick Cheney wasn't into it. The New York Times called it "an idea more typically associated with hate groups." None of Trump's fellow Republican presidential candidates endorsed it.
That Trump's plan is fascistic and flatly unconstitutional is obvious. And it's good that he is attracting near-universal condemnation. But you'll forgive me if I fail to be too impressed by all of the hand-wringing going on now.
It is, to put it mildly, easy to object when a man running for president says he wants to bar everyone from a specific religion from coming into the country. Did I mention that Dick Cheney, who has almost never met a civil right he didn't want to violate, pronounced himself offended? That's how easy it is.
What is not as easy is for the political and media establishment in the United States to acknowledge how much it has helped the Trumps of the world get where they are.
On Tuesday's "Morning Joe," Mika Brzezinski looked like someone had died as she talked about Trump. "For the first time, I'm sort of nervous about what I'm watching," she said shakily.
Apparently she wasn't paying much attention when Trump came on her own show again and again and again and again and again and again, often using the platform she was so willingly giving him to bash Muslims. Why did none of that make Brzezinski nervous? Why didn't Jeb Bush's call to only take Christian refugees from Syria? Or Marco Rubio's idea of shutting down "any place where [Muslim] radicals are being inspired”? Or Ben Carson's statement that Muslims shouldn't be allowed to be president?
The answer, of course, is that for years, Islamophobia has been treated as a legitimate part of the political debate in America. Spouting racist rhetoric about Muslims has not made Bill Maher or Richard Dawkins lose any of their mainstream credibility. It's just part of the rich tapestry of their beliefs! Turn on CNN any time over the past few years and you'll have seen Chris Cuomo warning Muslims not to get angry when their religion is vilified; or Don Lemon asking a Muslim human rights lawyer if he supports ISIS; or, more recently, Carol Costello asking the mayor of a Muslim-majority town if she felt afraid of her constituents. These people are not doing this out of nowhere. CNN anchors are not the boldest people around. They know that the notion that Muslims are inherently dangerous is part of the acceptable boundaries of discourse, and that gives them a license to ask those sorts of questions. (After Trump floated his proposal, Cuomo's initial reaction was to say that it wasn't the media's job to "strike him down making a suggestion that perhaps offends certain sensibilities.")
Hours before Trump's statement on Monday, liberal writer Michael Tomasky wrote a column about President Obama's call for Muslim-Americans to root out extremist ideology in their own communities (something I don't recall Obama telling white people to do after the Charleston shootings). He praised Obama for telling Muslims "that the rights you have as Americans have to be earned," saying that this was "ultimately a humane gesture to make toward a struggling immigrant group, to explain to them in ways they may not have thought about before what American citizenship means." Muslims everywhere will surely be grateful now that Michael Tomasky has elucidated for them what it means to be citizens of their own country. And Tomasky is no Fox News hack.
Donald Trump has done what he always does–taken this morass of mainstream bigotry to its logical endpoint. Maybe now, at long last, people in the media and elsewhere will stop pretending like this stuff is all part of the usual cacophony of debate, or that it's nothing to get too worried about. There's been a marked increase in Islamophobic incidents in the U.S. since the attacks in Paris. What do people expect will happen now? Perhaps CNN could, at long last, firmly come down on the side of religious and racial tolerance. Perhaps "Morning Joe" could rethink its policy of letting Trump on seemingly every day. Perhaps the Republican candidates who refused to condemn Trump's hatred of Muslims even as they distanced themselves from his plan could be held to account for that. Perhaps we can decide, once and for all, that we're no longer going to allow Muslims to be smeared and harassed and harmed in this way. What more do people need to wake up?