When President Obama delivered his Oval Office address on Sunday night, he urged Americans not to give into fear and to reject calls for discrimination. “It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently – because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) could hardly contain his disgust with the president’s remarks, complaining about Obama’s “cynicism” on the issue of discrimination. “Where is there widespread evidence that we have a problem in America with discrimination against Muslims?” Rubio asked on Fox News.
It was probably a rhetorical question, though Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, answered it quite clearly with a press release issued yesterday afternoon.
Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on. […]Mr. Trump stated, “Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life. If I win the election for President, we are going to Make America Great Again.”
Trump campaign officials soon added that the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” would include blocking Muslim tourists, as well as American Muslims currently abroad.
The political world has played the “Has Trump Gone Too Far This Time?” game a few too many times, and the answer is always the same. In light of polling that suggests a significant number of Republican primary voters support the criminalization of practicing Islam, there’s simply no reason to assume Trump’s brazen bigotry will necessarily derail his campaign.
What’s more, while it makes sense that decent people everywhere will be disgusted by the Republican candidate’s latest stunt, let no one be surprised – because we’ve been gradually working towards this point for quite a while.
As Rachel noted on the show last night, this is the same Trump who’s publicly called for greater surveillance of mosques and suggested that, if elected, he’d “strongly consider shutting down mosques in the United States.” Soon after, Trump raised the prospect of a government registry of American Muslims.
Yesterday was the latest step on an abhorrent journey, but it wasn’t the first step.
Just as importantly, Trump isn’t alone. To their credit, many Republican presidential candidates condemned Trump’s extremism yesterday, but several GOP candidates have been peddling similar garbage for quite a while. Rand Paul pushed a proposal just last week, for example, to halt U.S. visas for visitors, students, and refugees from dozens of countries, most of them with majority Muslim populations.
Jeb Bush has insisted that U.S. officials give preferential treatment to Christian refugees over Muslim refugees. Marco Rubio has endorsed the government closing down “any place” where “radicals are being inspired,” adding, “not just mosques.” Ben Carson believes Muslims should even be disqualified from the presidency.
There’s obviously a qualitative difference between this rhetoric and what Trump said yesterday afternoon, but the point is, a variety of Republican presidential hopefuls, hoping to score points with the right-wing GOP base, have already been caught dabbling in discrimination, some more overtly than others.
The difference is, as of yesterday, Trump has out-Trumped them to a dangerous and genuinely scary degree.