Trump’s campaign is a scary phenomenon. He’s spread fabricated statistics about homicide by blacks, declared he’ll conduct a massive program to expel eleven million people, and declared that all Muslims should be made to register. This would make him the most tyrannical president in my lifetime, at least (Truman was president when I was born), yet for a long time he’s been leading the Republican polls.
Focusing too much on Trump would be a mistake. He’s a gibbering yahoo who just happens to have enough money to disseminate his nonsense widely. The real problem is the large number of people who are receptive to what he’s saying. Xenophobia as a national insanity has turned up again and again in our history. Theodore Roosevelt denounced “hyphenated Americans” and said “there ought to be no room for them in this country.” In the nineteenth century, job ads often specified “No Irish need apply.”
Murderous attacks by religious fanatics have provoked a new wave of xenophobia. The government’s reluctance to say that religious fanaticism is the motive has left a vacuum which people blaming all Muslims have started to fill. The claim “Religion has nothing to with it” is obvious nonsense, but political leaders think Americans aren’t capable of dealing with distinctions between Islamic sects that uphold a barbaric, medieval view and Islam in general. We also have to count the repeated, grossly exaggerated efforts to make us afraid of terrorists. After all that, what’s surprising is that there isn’t more outright violence toward Muslims.
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