The road to self-awareness is long and twisting and has more than a few dead ends.
This week Republicans looked deep into their souls in search of the reason for their party’s descent into a frothing mixture of xenophobia and nativism that, to paraphrase Kyle Reese, cannot be bargained with, reasoned with, and will never stop, ever. And there, deep within their hearts, they found the answer: It’s all Barack Obama’s fault.
This is to be expected, since everything has been Obama’s fault to the Party of Personal Responsibility for the past seven years. Still, it’s more than a little depressing to contemplate what Donald Trump would need to do to earn more than the tepid condemnations from party leaders and his fellow candidates that followed his suggestion that America bar Muslims from entering the country for an indefinite period of time. Perhaps, in the candidates’ cases, it was because some of them have proposed similar plans. Which doesn’t make it any less depressing.
Faced with this morally and possibly constitutionally indefensible plan (surprisingly, there is some debate about the latter), conservatives did what they always do. They blamed Obama for provoking them.
Here, for example, is Noah Rothman at Commentary, who writes (emphasis mine),
The president sought to stave off a backlash against Muslim Americans, which has never materialized on a grand scale over the course of the 14 years that elapsed since 9/11. That does not mean it never will, and it is the president who is inviting such a backlash by allowing the terrorist threat overseas to metastasize and erode Americans’ sense of security at home.
Here is Ben Domenech at The Federalist, writing something that I’ll be generous and assume he didn’t plagiarize:
President Obama was supposed to be someone who unified us as a nation; whose eloquence brought us together in harmony and dialogue; he was supposed to be not just smart, but wise and capable. In all these aspects, the professor in chief has failed[…]
There is a marked frustration in the president’s lectures of the American people, an undercurrent that has only grown over the course of his tenure. At first he was frustrated with politicians in Washington not listening to him. Now he seems more frustrated with the American people for not listening, either.
And just for the heck of it, here is Elizabeth Hasselbeck complaining that people are going to such extremes of fear because he hasn’t said or done anything to make her feel safe. (Which she would not have listened to anyway, because her paycheck depends on her not listening to it.)
A few points here. First, I don’t know what Rothman considers a “grand scale,” but in the first year after 9/11 the FBI reported that hate crimes against Muslims went up by 1,600 percent. They dropped significantly the next year but still remain elevated well above pre-9/11 levels. Such upticks in hate crimes against minorities always happen during and after periods of upheaval (think Japanese-Americans in World War II or the Vietnamese refugees who flooded into America in the early 1980s), and Muslims in the age of the War on Terror have been no exception.
Second, in the specific case of ISIS, there is some argument that to the extent the threat is metastasizing outside of the organization’s home territory in Iraq and Syria, it is precisely because Obama’s strategy of a bombing campaign combined with using Kurds and other locals to fight the caliphate is working. Though the president was derided for his comment just before the Paris attacks that ISIS is “contained,” geographically speaking that is somewhat true. The occasional attacks inside the U.S. like the one in San Bernardino or the shooting at a Navy recruiting station in Chattanooga, TN, in July, terrible as they are, seem to have been committed by people inspired by ISIS, but with no formal connection to or support from the group.
Now, short of shutting down the Internet (also suggested by Trump) to choke off the flow of information and propaganda from jihadi websites, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages, it’s hard to see how the president can stop the spread of ideology any more than he could stop, say, the spread of lies about Obamacare or his multiple secret plans to seize all of America’s guns.
Third, and most importantly, is the lack of self-awareness of just how much the bile spewed by the conservative media that pays the rent of these three commentators and many others has contributed to the situation we now find ourselves in. The tendency of the right-wing noise machine to brand the president with every overheated slur it can think of – tyrant, socialist, America-hater, weak, apologist – without any connection to reality has resulted in a GOP base convinced it is living in a dystopian novel where the end of America is imminent and only they, this plucky band of armed, mobility-scooter-riding freedom fighters, can save it.
They just need the right leader. And as a result of such excesses, along with the long-standing strain of paranoia and nativism that has infected conservatism for at least 50 years or so, Republican voters are primed to listen to a demagogue like Trump propose stopping an entire class of people (even Muslim Americans traveling abroad) from entering the country. If they weren’t, other GOP candidates would not have offered similar proposals.
To blame Obama or “the left” for this state of affairs is disingenuous in the extreme. Remember, it was partly due to his cerebral, no-panicking affect, in contrast to noted cowboy John McCain, that Obama was elected in 2008. The fact that his calm and collected demeanor staying steady through many of the crises he has faced has not calmed down people who wouldn’t be caught dead voting for him in the first place is not his fault. It is theirs for refusing to listen.