Donald Trump gave us a profile in cowardice on Thursday night, remaining silent as one of his supporters served up a big heaping of vile anti-Muslim comments at a packed New Hampshire campaign event.
The Trump supporter’s words were so off the charts that part of me thought the guy might be joking. But sadly it appears he was deadly serious when he told the GOP frontrunner: “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. Our current president is one. We know he’s not even an American.” The man then added, “We have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question: When can we get rid of them?”
Did Trump respond: “When you say we have a problem with Muslims, you mean the handful who have been involved in terrorism?” Nope. Did he correct his supporter, as John McCain did during the 2008 presidential race when a supporter called Obama “an Arab” and McCain immediately responded: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” Nope.
Instead Trump’s response was the cowardly: “A lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking at that and a lot of different things.”
So Trump not only refused to counter his bigoted supporter’s description of Obama as an un-American Muslim, he even seemed to agree with the suggestion that we should look into getting rid of Muslims in this country. But what may be even more shocking is that the views of this anti-Muslim Trump fan are not so wildly different from what Trump himself has said in the past about Muslims. In a 2011 interview on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, for example, Trump said: “Is there a Muslim problem? Look what’s happening.”
As I noted a few weeks ago, Trump has refused to denounce the white supremacist groups that have publicly endorsed him. Apparently he is not troubled by being publicly embraced by neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups.
And now Trump is “palling around” with anti-Muslim bigots. To be honest, I’m surprised that he waited this long to embrace anti-Muslim hate. After all, 66 percent of his supporters think Obama is Muslim. Plus, we Muslims are an easy target, given that we are a small community. Sure, Bobby Jindal said crazy stuff a few months ago about Muslims wanting to impose “no-go zones” where Islamic law rules, but no one cares what a guy trailing the margin of error in polls has to say.
Trump, of course, didn’t begin his anti-Muslim fear-mongering Thursday night in New Hampshire. Along with several other GOP presidential candidates, he kicked off a “scare people about Muslims” campaign last week in connection with the debate surrounding accepting Syrian refugees into the United States.
In response to President Obama’s announcement that the United States would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, Trump warned that ISIS members could slip in among them. What is his evidence for that position? Well, he told Fox News, “If you look at a lot of the people I have been watching on television, they have been men. There aren’t that many women.” I guess if the refugees were women, especially hot ones, he would let them in. In fact, given his track record of marrying two immigrant women, maybe he would even make a Syrian refugee the fourth Mrs. Trump.
The No. 2 person in the GOP field, Ben Carson, told CNN on Tuesday that we can’t let any of these Syrian refugees in because they “could be infiltrated by terrorists.” Carson even dismissed that any screening process could be used to vet these refugees, saying, “How did that screening process work for the Tsarnaev brothers?” So under the “Carson doctrine,” if even two or three people in a certain faith group commit a crime, all members of that religion must be penalized.
Now just so it’s clear, no one is saying we don’t thoroughly vet these refugees coming to the United States. The State Department has explained that the screening process is very thorough, typically lasting 18 to 24 months. The vetting includes several rounds of face-to-face interviews, a security clearance by the Department of Homeland Security, and “cultural orientation” classes.
Then there’s Mike Huckabee, cheerleader in chief for Kentucky clerk Kim Davis’s crusade to impose Christian Sharia law. This former Christian minister did more than just warn about these Muslims possibly being terrorists. He also ridiculed the refugees, saying, “Are they really escaping tyranny… or are they really just coming because we’ve got cable TV?” I guess to Huckabee, Aylan Kurdi and his family risked their lives because they were in search of a cable TV package that included a good deal on some premium channels.
Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, and Carly Fiorina have also rejected the idea of the United States accepting any refugees. The real message these GOP candidates is sending is that no more Muslim immigrants should be allowed into the United States because anyone might be a terrorist. Such a notion furthers the right-wing lie that “not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” (That is factually wrong, as I have noted.)
But facts don’t matter when you are scaring people into supporting you. In fact, pesky facts often get in the way.
That Trump and others in the GOP are stoking the flames of hate against Muslims is nothing new. What is surprising is Trump’s lack of leadership and courage to counter a bigot who was standing just a few feet away. Is this really the character of the person who will “make America great again”?