The man who murdered 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, has hailed President Trump as a “symbol of renewed white identity.” But Trump’s supporters piously deny he is any such thing. “If you find yourself using the tragedy in New Zealand to take backhanded swipes at conservatives in America — many of my colleagues already have — then you really have no shame and you are part of the problem,” complains Texas representative Dan Crenshaw. Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney appeared on Face the Nation to insist, “I don’t think anybody can say that the president is anti-Muslim.”
Anybody? Really? If bald-faced lying were not already a mundane practice for this administration, it would be astonishing to watch its defenders deny such a plainly obvious truth.
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration made a concerted effort to distinguish between the radical sectarians who carried out the attacks and the broader Muslim population. By the end of the Bush era, though, a nativist hysteria was bubbling up from the grassroots, as evidenced by vivid scenes from McCain–Palin campaign stops in which delirious Republican voters voiced paranoid theories that Barack Obama was a secret Arab or Muslim.
During Obama’s presidency, control of the Republican line on Muslims unmistakably passed into the hands of the bigots. Trump, who led the birther crusade, played a key role in this change. While Trump usually confined his racist sentiments about the African-American community to private conversations, he regularly articulated slanders against the Muslim community in public. He spread the lie that thousands of American Muslims cheered the 9/11 attacks. He insinuated that Ghazala Khan, a Muslim-American Gold Star mother whose husband spoke at the Democratic National Convention, “wasn’t allowed” to speak publicly. He claimed “Islam hates us,” and has deliberately refused to recognize a distinction between radical Islamists and the broader population: “It’s very hard to separate, because you don’t know who is who.”
Trump naturally attracted and promoted the most viciously anti-Islamic figures within his party. His first strategist, Steve Bannon, calls Islam “a religion of submission” and has tried to build a global religious conflict between Christians and Muslims. His first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, made wild public claims like, “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” They attempted to enact a Muslim travel ban, later couched in euphemism, as an effort to prevent a “multidimensional and multigenerational” threat from Muslim-American communities — enshrining into official policy the notion that Muslim-Americans posed an inherent security threat and could not assimilate.
Trump’s bigotry against other minority groups is usually couched in euphemism, and — in the case of Jews — counteracted by displays of fervent philo-Semitism that obscures his racist dog-whistling. When it comes to Muslims, though, there’s no dog whistle, just a loud series of yelps. At the same time his party was insisting he has not a trace of bigotry, Trump spent the better part of his Sunday morning demanding the reinstatement of Jeanine Pirro, who was suspended for anti-Islamic bigotry so blatant not even Fox News could tolerate it.
The president’s enablers clearly long for him to give them some plausible basis to claim that he is free and clear of animus against Muslims. But he has not bothered to hide his intentions. It is telling that the party’s response to this refusal is either to ignore the president’s undisguised bigotry or to lie on his behalf.