photo by Gage Skidmore
Instead of offering a workable strategy to cut off the threat of jihadist terrorism at its source, President Obama took to the Oval Office stage this week to caution Americans against pointless discrimination against Muslims in the wake of the shooting in San Bernardino, California.
Nobody is talking about broad-based discrimination against Muslims, though. Well, nobody except Donald J. Trump.
Trump answered the president’s empty rhetoric a day later with an equally empty, but much more destructive, proposal to simply bar all Muslims from entering the United States.
Does he mean Muslim American citizens returning from travels abroad? Muslim doctors, returning to their jobs in American emergency rooms after visiting family? Muslim diplomats attending the United Nations in Trump’s own hometown? Who knows? Such details as law, constitutionality and treaty obligations just aren’t “the Donald’s” thing.
Neither is practicality. Unless Trump proposes to make all inbound travelers draw a picture of the prophet Muhammad on their immigration forms - an act many Muslims would find blasphemous and deeply offensive - I do not see how Trump expects us to know who exactly is Muslim in the first place.
Not that any rational person would actually try to implement such a plan, regardless of practical concerns. It serves no purpose other than to make Obama’s hollow statements seem to hold more weight than they actually do.
Most of the other GOP presidential candidates were quick to condemn Trump’s bigoted comments. Jeb Bush went so far as to call him “unhinged” in a tweet on Monday. And a variety of other prominent Republicans have denounced the idea too, including GOP chairmen in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Iowa and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. Yet the GOP itself has created this mess by not swiftly condemning other bigoted comments, from Trump and from others, in the past.
The Republican establishment is naturally appalled that Trump continues to do well in pre-primary GOP polling, even though he would have no chance of winning a general election if nominated. Yet this is the party’s comeuppance for having provided an ideological home for many flavors of intolerance over the past 50 years. As social issues have lost their political bite, what is left is a contingent of GOP-leaning voters - not a majority, but enough to keep Trump in the nomination hunt - who are far outside the mainstream of American political thought and equally removed from practical political ideas.
A practical geopolitical answer is one that our current president refuses to see. You cannot stop terrorism at home unless you eliminate it at its source. This would mean depriving its sponsors of control over territory, money and populations, almost certainly by force. This is exactly the step that Obama has refused to take for the past five years, with results that speak for themselves.
Republicans, on the other hand, clearly see the strategic answer but have not embraced the obvious political solution: Get Donald Trump to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Let him and his cohort of followers be Hillary Clinton’s problem. His ideas owe just as much (or as little) to Democratic principles as to those of the GOP anyway.
Rather than distancing itself from Trump’s run, however, the Republican Party took pains to ensure Trump would not run as anything other than a Republican, going so far as to have him sign a “loyalty pledge” to avoid his running as an independent candidate should he lose the primary. So for now, they are stuck with him, and the damage he continues to do to the party’s reputation.
Without Trump around to besmirch the Republican brand, the party could have actually led a discussion on how to address the problems that have festered and been fostered by the current president’s chain of disastrous foreign policy decisions. Yet at a time when leading Republicans should be responding to the president’s specious argument that anti-Muslim sentiment is the most pressing and dangerous threat to our nation (apart from climate change, which he sees as the most pressing threat in this galaxy), they are stuck cleaning up the Donald’s hateful mess instead.
As they like to say in some of those early-primary and early-caucus states: If you lie down with dogs, you are apt to get up with fleas.