There has long been a paranoid and racial element to movement conservatism. We saw this disturbing trend begin with the Goldwater campaign in 1964 when he carried five states in the deep south based upon his opposition to the passage of the Civil Right Acts that year. This trend was further amplified by Nixon’s “infamous Southern strategy” in which he made coded appeals to racial resentment with the use of terms like “states’ rights” and “law and order.”
Subsequent Republican Presidential campaigns continued to use Nixon’s southern strategy to win votes. President Obama’s most vitriolic and bitter enemies have pursued this strategy up to the present day. This is what the birther movement is all about. Even Mitt Romney used a page from this playbook as recently as 2012 when he briefly ran television ads falsely accusing President Obama of eliminating the work requirements in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.
What makes the Donald Trump phenomenon so disturbing is that he has completely dropped all artifice and has made blatant appeals to racial resentment and xenophobia. In his campaign, Trump has called Mexicans rapists, criminals and drug dealers. What’s more, Trump has called for the forcible deportation from the U.S. of eleven million aspiring U.S. citizens.
Trump has been especially harsh with respect to Muslims. The GOP Presidential frontrunner has called for the registration of Muslims and the closing down of Mosques. The GOP front runner recently ignited a firestorm when he called for a “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Trump’s demonization of the Muslim religion isn’t only offensive, it also undermines U.S. national security. This is because the U.S. needs the support of moderate Muslims in both the U.S. and the Middle East to defeat ISIS.
By bashing all Muslims, Trump “plays into the into the same rhetoric used by militant groups like the Islamic State,” University of Nebraska-Lincoln history Professor James Le Sueur said last week. Professor Le Sueur also said: “Refusing Muslims entry into the country only serves to reinforce the Islamic State’s idea that Islam is at war with the West.” Simply stated, Trump is acting as recruiting agent for ISIS when he uses inflammatory rhetoric trashing the religion of 1.4 billion people around the world.
Trump’s Republican rivals for President were all quick to condemn his proposal to block all Muslim entry into the U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham blasted Trump and accused him of hurting the national security interests of the U.S.: “Trump’s rhetoric is putting our troops serving abroad and our diplomats at risk. For interpreters and others risking their lives abroad to help America — this is a death sentence,” Graham said. Nevertheless, the GOP Presidential candidates’ condemnation of Trump’s plan rings hollow since all of them have pledged both in writing and on television to back the eventual GOP nominee – no matter who it is.
The response of prominent Nebraska Republicans was pretty tepid compared to what some of that party’s Presidential candidates had to say. Both Senator Ben Sasse and Representative Jeff Fortenberry offered up mild criticism of Trump but lacked the courage to even utter his name for fear of offending his many supporters. Sasse even went so far as to blame President Obama for Trump’s nasty rhetoric.
Senator Deb Fischer offered up weak criticism of Trump but was quick to say she “would support Donald Trump if he is the eventual 2016 Republican presidential nominee, suggesting that any GOP nominee would be better than Hillary Clinton.” As of the date of this column, we’ve heard nothing from Governor Pete Ricketts, Adrian Smith or the chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party.
The only member of the Nebraska Congressional delegation to show any leadership was Representative Brad Ashford. The Second District Congressman issued a blistering statement: “Donald Trump’s proposed religious test on immigration undermines the foundations of our democracy and tears at the fabric of who we are as a nation. Trump’s statements also provide support for ISIS and other Islamic terrorist organizations by bolstering the America vs. Islam narrative that terrorists use to gain support. I condemn these statements in the strongest terms possible and call for a return to Nebraskan and American values of acceptance and equality of opportunity.”
It is past time for Governor Ricketts, the chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party and the members of Nebraska’s Congressional delegation to condemn Trump’s dangerous campaign. It is foolhardy to tolerate Trump’s racism and hatred when the U.S. is being threatened by ISIS. We must send a message of unity and strength to America’s enemies. This is not the time for some of our country’s most prominent public figures to declare war on 1.4 billion people. This is simply risky and stupid.
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley did an excellent job of summing up the threat Trump poses to American democracy and national security when he said that the GOP front runner is a “fascist demagogue.” Before anybody thinks O’Malley is being shrill or extreme, please be aware that former Virginia Governor and RNC chair Jim Gilmore essentially said the same thing when he said didn’t agree with Trump’s “fascist talk.”
Trump’s meteoric rise to the top of the GOP Presidential race only further raises the already high stakes in 2016. This reality television star has a very realistic chance of winning the GOP Presidential nomination. Even if Trump doesn’t win the nomination, his ideas and proposals have moved the already very conservative GOP even further to the right. The GOP’s current stance on immigration makes Romney’s 2012 controversial proposal to “self deport” aspiring Americans to look moderate or even humane in comparison.
Once the Democratic nominating contest comes to a conclusion, we Democrats must be firmly united behind our nominee – whoever it is. We must also work hard to insure that our nominee is the next President of the U.S. Our national security and our values as an open society depend upon it. This could very well be the most consequential Presidential election of our lifetimes. The stakes are too high for us to stay home during election year 2016. Let’s get to work!