The unbridled right-wing id has been a bit in check during this campaign. They’re playing defense this go-round, so we haven’t seen the all-out orgiastic hatefest that characterized 2016. Some of them are out there half-praising Obamacare. Others are refusing to brag about their A ratings from the NRA.
So there are those folks. And then there’s Duncan Hunter. A five-term congressman who got his job the old-fashioned way—he inherited it from his congressman father of the same name; many voters who pulled his lever in 2008 presumably thought they were voting for the old man—Hunter has suddenly found himself in a tough race and under indictment, a combination that has resulted in him running probably the sleaziest, greasiest campaign being run for Congress anywhere in America.
And the sleaze got even worse on Monday, when Hunter’s campaign released a letter signed by three retired military types charging that Ammar Campa-Najjar, his Democratic opponent who is half-Palestinian and half-Mexican, would be in a position to commit treason if he were elected to Congress. The letter says in part: “If Democrat Candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar should get elected and sees secret information on U.S. military operations that would endanger members of the Najjar family in the Middle East, would he compromise U.S. operations to protect his relatives, the Najjars?”
We’ve seen a lot from Republicans over the years accusing Democrats of being soft on crime and terrorism, but a preemptive accusation of treason is a new low.
Think about the planning and thought that went into this. Hunter has spent the whole campaign lobbing disgusting and over-the-top accusations at Campo-Najjar. He went after him for being Muslim, which would be fine if he were anyway but he is not (he’s a non-denominational Protestant). He tore into him over his grandfather, who did truly despicable things—he was part of the attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972—but grandpa died 16 years before Campo-Najjar was born.
And now this.
This kind of tactic reeks of the sort of ethno-racist guilt-by-association tactic we’ve seen all too often in this country—and which history has judged harshly. I think mainly here of Japanese-Americans during World War II. When the war started, discrimination against and hatred of Japanese-Americans was rampant. And yet, some Nisei, American-born children of Japanese immigrants, wanted to serve their country, the United States. For a while, the Army wouldn’t take them. But it finally did, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up of Japanese Americans, became—wait for it—the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.
I don’t know Campo-Najjar, so the above paragraph isn’t meant to imply something about him personally. Rather, it’s meant to imply something about Hunter, and the three ex-Marines who signed his sick letter. The Americanness and patriotism of people of the “wrong” nationality has been impugned before in this country. And it was wrong. Dramatically, frantically wrong. And potentially tragically wrong, had the U.S. Armed Services not reversed course and agreed to take brave soldiers of Japanese descent who helped us defeat Japan, just as Italian Americans and German Americans fought for us against those countries.
Campo-Najjar worked in the Obama administration. He got a security clearance! And for what it’s worth he was born here, in San Diego County. I don’t know Hunter’s ethnic heritage, but it’s a guarantee that if we go back far enough, his forebears could have been accused of exactly what he’s accusing Campo-Najjar of now. Indeed, this country exists because people of British heritage rose up against the British, spilling no state secrets. There would be no United States of America if the founders didn’t take it on faith that people could unite around the idea of Americanism.
Campo-Najjar has demonstrated that faith in his life. Has Hunter? At age 24, he volunteered for the Marines the day after the September 11 attacks. For that I applaud him. But beyond that, his idea of what Americanism means is distorted and putrefied. He says the U.S. intelligence community is filled with “seditious Obama folks.” He’s another one of these Republicans who seeks no votes in his district beyond the ultra-right base. If he turns them out, he wins.
Until now. Now, things are complicated, because he’s under indictment for spending with his wife more than $250,000 in campaign funds for their own personal use. My favorite detail from the indictment involves his purchase of “my Hawaii shorts.” His wife allegedly advised him to buy them at a golf pro shop so they could pretend they had purchased some golf balls for wounded veterans.
The district is rated R+11, which means it ought to be a pretty easy win for Hunter, but obviously the national mood and the indictment have complicated things. Well, here’s hoping they’re complicated beyond repair. A lot of candidates do scuzzy things and distort their opponents’ records. Some use racial fear to win. But suggesting an American citizen will betray his country if he’s elected to Congress breaks new disgusting ground.
If you’re keeping a list of people you really, really want to see go down on election night—Devin Nunes, Scott Walker, whoever—it’s time to add Hunter to it. We’ve got to do better than to fill Congress with people whose only goal is to make America hate again.