The grim coincidence of a major terrorist attack occurring just as the 2016 general election lurches to life has provided Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, the opportunity he needed to define the campaign he intends to run: a campaign that casts the Muslim faith and its practitioners – both inside and outside the U.S. – as antagonistic to American interests. The speech he gave on Monday in response to the Orlando terrorist shooting was a relentlessly ugly diatribe that unambiguously embraced the pernicious and anti-American idea that a person’s religious faith makes them a threat to national security.
I suppose I should get into the parts of Trump’s proposed policies that either don’t make logical sense or are at war with each other. Referring to the man who murdered 49 people in Orlando, Trump said that he “was born to Afghan parents who immigrated to the United States” and “the only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here.” That led Trump to segue into a denunciation of the “dysfunctional immigration system which does not permit us to know who we let into our country.” Those two thing aren’t actually related, unless you believe (as Trump seems to) that the immigration screening process should weed out those people who are likely to give birth to people who will one day become terrorists.
Of course, the way Trump squares this circle is by arguing that literally every single person emigrating from a Muslim country has to be treated as a potential terrorist, which is why he expanded his proposed ban on Muslim immigration. “When I am elected,” Trump said in his speech, “I will suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we understand how to end these threats.” That would obviously include certain Middle Eastern countries, but given how general his proposed immigration ban is, for the sake of consistency it would also have to include Spain, the United Kingdom, Colombia, Peru, India, Canada, Greece, and countless other non-Muslim countries where Donald Trump would quite happily build one of his tacky golf resorts.
But Trump’s focus is on Muslims exclusively – not radicalized Muslims, but every Muslim person outside the U.S. He referred to the expanded admittance of refugees from Syria as potentially “a better, bigger version of the legendary Trojan Horse.” Per Trump, Hillary Clinton, as president, would “be admitting hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East with no system to vet them, or to prevent the radicalization of their children.” It’s all fearmongering based on lies and prejudice. “We have to stop the tremendous flow of Syrian refugees into the United States,” he warned, even though the actual number of admitted Syrian refugees is shamefully low compared to European countries and far behind the administration’s already modest proposed goal. The vetting process for Syrian refugees is rigorous and lengthy, consisting of background checks, multiple interviews, and hundreds of questions, to say nothing of the separate United Nations screening process they have to go through before the U.S. will even consider their cases.
After devoting the meat of his speech to demonizing the world’s global population and treating every living Muslim as a terrorist waiting to happen, Trump demanded that the Muslim population inside the U.S. get on board with his root-em-out-and-round-em-up program. But, of course, Trump’s “partnership” with American Muslims consists of threats and still more anti-Muslim incitement, portraying U.S. Muslims as members of a Fifth Column who need to be cajoled into cooperating with the authorities instead of terrorists. Muslims “must cooperate with law enforcement,” Trump said, “and turn in the people who they know are bad – and they know it.”
He kept piling on, growling into the microphone. “They know what’s going on, they know that [the Orlando shooter] was bad, they knew the people in San Bernardino were bad, but you know what? They didn’t turn them in. And we had death and destruction.” So Trump just fingered over 3 million Americans as knowing accomplices to acts of terrorism.
It’s reprehensible, and it’s the kind of language that results in people getting hurt. As a matter of policy, his plan for thwarting radicalization of U.S. Muslims is completely backwards and counterproductive. Rhetoric like Trump’s fuels prejudice among non-Muslims and fosters alienation as Muslims start to feel unwelcome in their own country. If your goal is to promote the radicalization of a population within your own borders, having a major party presidential candidate talk about them all as if they’re criminals is an excellent way to go about it.