Cue the outrage. Donald Trump has once again said something offensive and indefensible regarding Islam. The man who called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on” is now waxing not-so-philosophical about the essence of Islam: “I think Islam hates us.”
Trump’s statement was made during an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN on Wednesday.
Cooper: “Do you think Islam is at war with the West?”
Trump: “I think Islam hates us. There’s something, there’s something there — there’s a tremendous hatred there. There’s a tremendous hatred. We have got to get to the bottom of it. There is an unbelievable hatred of us.”
Cooper: “In Islam itself?”
Trump: “You’re going to have to figure that out. . . . It’s very hard to define. It’s very hard to separate, because you don’t know who’s who.”
The statement that “Islam” hates “us,” with its essentializing simplicity and anthropomorphizing of an abstraction, might be amusing if Trump didn’t appear to believe it — that is, as much as Trump appears to believe anything he says.
Republicans, particularly the party’s presidential candidates, have long been engaged in mythmaking about Muslims that says ISIS/ISIL/Daesh equals Islam. Yet the mythmaking of President Obama and Democrats that “Islam is a religion of peace” employs the same essentializing rhetoric. Neither version is right because there is no such thing as Islam.
Instead, what we have are competing versions and definitions of “Islam,” competing claims to “Authentic Islam.” Now, Muslims exist and versions of “Islam” exist, but there is no One True Islam, as if we had a heavenly Platonic ideal against which we could measure earthly incarnations of “Islam.” The same is true, of course, for “Christianity,” “Judaism,” etc.
However, understanding this from a theoretical perspective could cause us to ignore the very real consequences of such rhetoric. As many have pointed out, the problem is not just Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous because it is merely a symptom of a deeper sickness in our country, and it’s a sickness that has invaded large swaths of the Republican Party. A dangerous nativism is coming into the light with more regularity and less shame, and simply wiping away the pus that is Donald Trump does nothing to cure the disease.
The Republican party exposed itself as unwilling to combat this dangerous nativism when after proclaiming how dangerous it would be to nominate Donald Trump during their most recent debate, all three remanning candidates vowed to support Trump if he did become the nominee. No one is going to take seriously that you think a Trump presidency would be dangerous when you think a Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders presidency would be even more dangerous.
Increasingly it looks like the Republican party is unwilling to fully take Trump on because though they may disagree with how Trump is saying what he’s saying, they don’t disagree with what Trump is saying. While the Republican party has tried to be disciplined about saying that the U.S. is at war with “radical Islam,” cracks have been appearing in this facade for some while. In the latest installment of “If Republicans Don’t Think All Muslims Are Evil America-Hating Terrorists, They’re Sure Doing a Great Job Of Hiding It,” Florida Governor Rick Scott could not bring himself Thursday morning to say that he does not think “Islam” hates America or that Muslims hate America. After dodging the question three times, the ‘Morning Joe’ hosts cut the segment short. One can’t help but wonder if Gov. Scott wouldn’t answer the question because he does think that Muslims hate America, but also thinks that such a position is politically untenable for him (if not for Trump). Or does Scott think that he has to dogwhistle such a position to certain segments of the electorate even though he doesn’t personally believe it? It is impossible to know, of course, but since Gov. Scott is apparently too scared to answer the question, we as voters are left to try to figure it out on our own. (Full disclosure: I am currently a Florida resident.)
How long would it take for a Trump America to begin to imitate a Trump rally?
The Huffington Post can continue to append their editorial note to the end of each article about Trump that says, “Editor’s note: Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.” But such a statement does nothing more than make the Huffington Post editorial board feel better about themselves; it does not even attempt to address the systemic realities that made Trump 2016 a possibility.
The comparisons between the rise of Donald Trump and the rise of Adolf Hitler may seem outlandish to many, but the rhetoric directed toward Jews then bears a striking resemblance to the rhetoric being directed toward Muslims now. When considering what a Trump presidency would look like, his rallies offer some potential clues. People with disabilities are mocked. Black students are removed, apparently for simply being black. A Muslim woman is removed for silently protesting. And violence is not only perpetrated against those who don’t fit the white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, conservative ideal that Trump is setting up as True Americans, but Trump himself continues to advocate such violence. This reality is so well-known that when our Managing Editor met a group of Muslim women outside a recent Trump rally in Louisville, they had a body guard with them. How long would it take for a Trump America to begin to imitate a Trump rally? As we continue to dispense with so-called “political correctness,” a violent nativism is gaining ground and enjoying increased public acceptance. This dangerous nativism has survived in the shadows for a long time; it now looks poised to thrive in the light.
Image via Gage Skidmore