Donald Trump’s campaign is going to die the way it lived: by ginning up fear and loathing of vulnerable minority groups.
On Wednesday morning, the GOP nominee announced a campaign overhaul that sent veteran political operative Paul Manafort to the backseat — and put the chairman of a far-right news site at the wheel. After several days without calling the sitting president a member of ISIS or joking about the assassination of his political rivals, Trump signaled his intention to go back to “being Trump.” And on Wednesday night, Fox News aired a town hall in which he did just that.
Appearing with Sean Hannity in Milwaukee, Trump suggested that “racial profiling” might be necessary for combating terrorism, argued that Muslims who fail to report suspicious people in their communities are “to blame” for attacks, and appeared to suggest that Muslim citizens with “extreme views” would become subject to deportation.
After championing his new proposal to subject prospective immigrants to an “ideological test,” Trump was asked what he would do about all of the thought criminals already in the United States.
“What do we do when we find somebody that has extreme views?” Hannity asked, citing the example of Seddique Mateen, the father of the Pulse Nightclub shooter, who is a vocal supporter of the Afghan Taliban. “Do we throw them the hell out?”
“I’d throw him out,” Trump said of Mateen, to raucous applause. “If you look at him, I’d throw him out.”
Earlier this month, Mateen was seen sitting behind Hillary Clinton at a rally in Florida. So it’s possible that Trump meant he would expel Mateen from one of his rallies — not from the country. However, it was quite clear that Hannity was talking about deportation.
If Trump understood Hannity’s intention correctly, his answer would mark one of the most profound challenges to American civil liberties ever uttered by a major-party candidate.
Seddique Mateen has been a resident of the United States for three decades. While he has espoused support for the Taliban and a reactionary form of Islam, he repeatedly condemned the violent act perpetrated by his son, telling CBS News, “Nobody has the right to harm anything, anybody … What a person’s lifestyle is, is up to him. It’s a free country. Everybody has their own choice to live the way they want to live.”
Mateen has illiberal views on homosexuality and gender. And his ideal government would likely be more theocratic than our own. But the same can be said of many Evangelical Trump voters. And America’s foremost enemy of “political correctness” has never suggested expelling them from the country for having the wrong opinions.
Later in the interview, Trump suggested that Muslim Americans who fail to prevent acts of violence committed by members of their communities bear responsibility for their co-religionists’ atrocities.
“Look, we have to be so tough and so smart and vigilant. And frankly, the Muslims have to help us, because they see what’s going on in their community. We do not see it. They have to help us,” Trump said. “And if they’re not going to help us, they’re to blame also.”
Perhaps the most striking thing about this quote is the way Muslim Americans are juxtaposed with “us.” On the surface, Trump could be referring to national-security professionals when deploying we in these remarks. However, in arguing that we need to be more vigilant, Trump cited the failure of the San Bernardino shooters’ non-Muslim neighbors to report the couple’s suspicious activity (although there’s no evidence any conspicuously suspicious activity took place).
Thus, it’s more plausible that Trump was referring to a broader “we” — one that included his audience and all other Americans who wish to “take their country back.” In this framing, Muslim Americans are cast as pseudo-citizens. (Which might explain why they can be deported for their having “extreme views.”)
Finally, Trump argued that if we don’t start treating them with greater scrutiny, then we’ll also be “to blame” for the suffering they cause.
“Whether it’s racial profiling or politically correct, we better get smart,” Trump told Hannity. “We are letting tens of thousands of people into our country. We don’t know what the hell we’re doing.”