It is interesting that when school shooting massacres happen, the likes of Donald Trump do not want anything close to a “total and complete ban” on assault weapons, for example, until we “figure out what is going on”. But his proposal for a “total and complete ban” on Muslims from entering the U.S .until we “figure out...
Put simply, Donald Trump, once the Clown Prince of American politics has become the Most Important Person of American politics today. He is the cat among the pigeons. He is setting the agenda and everyone else gets to react to it. As testimony to that, the Republican Party’s leaders, while trying to distance the party from Trump’s outrageousness, are nervous about going the full distance. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said “This is not conservatism” but no one in the party’s upper echelons can quite bring themselves to say they will not support Trump if he were to be chosen the party’s nominee. And while Trump’s rivals in the race called him “offensive”, “outlandish” and “unhinged,” they do not want to completely alienate Trump’s base. Thus Ted Cruz, while saying he did not agree with his proposal, also took pains to “commend Trump for standing up and focusing America’s attention on the need to secure our borders.”
Securing our borders is a great American preoccupation and Trump plays it for all it’s worth. Not long ago Trump had vowed to build a wall to keep out Mexicans (“rapists and drug dealers” in Trump-speak) trying to cross over to the United States. Now he has Muslims to the list of dangerous other, and even as he presents himself as the epitome of swashbuckling American braggadocio, he romances America with the idea of walling itself in to keep itself safe.
If yesterday it was a wall to keep out Mexicans, today it’s a ban on Muslims. And while his fellow-Republicans repudiate the Muslim ban, it’s worth remembering they lined up behind him on immigration denouncing the idea of “birthright citizenship” even then-candidate Bobby Jindal, who was himself its beneficiary. Trump has proven that today’s “offensive” and “outlandish” might not appear so “outlandish” and “offensive” tomorrow. The clown is now the ringmaster.
Trump knows this. That’s why instead of backing down when faced with a barrage of condemnation, he has tweeted “A new poll indicates that 68 percent of my supporters would vote for me if I departed the GOP and ran as an independent.” That’s as open a threat to the Republican Party as any. Trump is not just a wealthy maverick with kooky views. He has legitimized the fears, xenophobia and sometimes bigotry of many in the party’s base.
In a multiparty system like France, there are parties like the National Front that can be blatant about opposition to immigration and economic protectionism and France-for-the-French rhetoric. In a two-party system like the U.S., the fringe lurks around the margins of one of the main parties. The trade-off is that it needs to temper its ideology somewhat, or tone down the rhetoric. Trump’s “rude freedom” as Rodriguez puts it, unshackles the fringe from those limits and bounds. And suddenly America finds itself forced to debate the idea of banning Muslims from entering the country as if it is a legitimate political idea. To add insult to injury, Trump adds that he is not proposing an internment camp for Muslims already in America, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt did for Japanese-Americans in the World War II days. Small mercies, indeed. But hey, the idea has been planted.
Trump, in the end, might not win the nomination. Then he will go back to his Trump tower but what will America do about those legions of pumped-up Trump supporters? They are there to stay. That genie is out of the bottle. A Facebook post doing the rounds says “Basically, Trump is what would happen if the comments section became human & ran for President.” And that’s a very scary thought. (Roy is a journalist based in Kolkota. He is the author of “Don’t Let Him Know.”)