Half of the American electorate wants to ban all Muslims from entering the country, according to a Morning Consult poll released on Tuesday.
Even if Donald Trump’s campaign peaks tomorrow and he never makes it a single inch closer to the Oval Office, he will have done lasting damage to our politics. Trump’s demagoguery has inspired millions of Americans to indulge their most wrongheaded intuitions about minority groups in their midst. He has shifted the terms of respectable debate to the point where Ted Cruz – a man who has called for armed patrols of Muslim neighborhoods, and whose top foreign-policy adviser believes that Obama’s White House is teeming with stealth jihadists – has become the Republican Party’s “moderate” alternative.
But Trump did not do this by himself. What was the subtext of the Ground Zero mosque controversy, which inspired the outrage of so many right-wing media figures and politicians, if not that Muslim-Americans were an inherent threat to all “real America” holds sacred? In a newly published interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, President Obama puts his finger on the absurd position mainstream Republicans have put themselves in: On the one hand, they condemn the president for refusing to frame America’s counter-terrorism efforts as a clash of civilizations; on the other, they condemn Trump for taking the idea of an existential conflict between irreconcilable ways of life to its logical endpoint.
I’m amused when I watch Republicans claim that Trump’s language is unacceptable, and ask, ‘How did we get here?’ We got here in part because the Republican base had been fed this notion that Islam is inherently violent, that this is who these folks are. And if you’ve been hearing that a lot, and then somebody shows up on the scene and says, well, the logical conclusion to civilizational conflict is we try to make sure that we’re not destroyed internally by this foreign civilization, that’s what you get.
There’s nothing too surprising in Obama’s remarks, but it’s encouraging to see him address the threat of radical Republican extremism.