A bar or nightclub. An office building. A place of worship. A school. Seemingly weekly, news of horrific acts of violence by a “lone wolf” attacker reaches our consciousness. Just recently, a shooting at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in southern California, which left one person dead and three injured, made headlines.
The profile is all too familiar: a sole gunman entered and opened fire with an assault weapon. That the shooting occurred on Passover also suggests this was more than a coincidence; multiple officials, including President Donald Trump, referred to it as a “hate crime.” According to San Diego County sheriff William Gore and as first reported in USA TODAY on April 27, though law enforcement officials were still verifying its authenticity, a “manifesto” of sorts posted online around the time of the attack hinted at the shooter’s possible motivations/reasons for targeting Jews.
In terms of our experience and our feelings about these attacks, it’s difficult to know to what degree we should feel encouraged or dismayed. Concerning the Poway synagogue shooting in particular, that only one person died certainly is worth celebrating. Viewing these matters more globally, however, the verdict is less clear, and with each attack, our ability to process it all is tested.
Undoubtedly, for the communities directly impacted by this sort of violence, the brutality and sense of loss felt is profound. Recent suicides by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, FL and by the father of one of the children lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary attack speak to the devastating long-term emotional toll gun violence can effect. To say the suffering is a shared one appears wholly accurate.
Even for those of us who haven’t felt the brunt of the carnage wrought by lone wolf attackers and other perpetrators of mass violence, the repetition of the same story may be affecting in its own way. Each tragedy can feel like a punch to the gut, or worse, we may become numb to these events as a function of their apparent frequency. As is often talked about in media circles, we then run the risk of allowing these acts of terrorism to become the “new normal.”
A survivor of a 2018 school shooting in Santa Fe, when asked whether she were surprised about what transpired, replied that she felt “eventually [a shooting] was going to happen” at her school. Her resignation to this idea as a young child, sounding more defeated than optimistic, was perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of this affair. I can only imagine how parents of young children must feel today, sending their children off to school in clear or bulletproof backpacks to participate in active shooter drills. It’s not a set of circumstances I envy.
Witnessing news reports on incidences of hate-fueled violence, as with other crimes, can make them seem more common than they actually are. We respond to the gravity of these situations and not necessarily to the statistical likelihood we will face our own personal encounters with this type of thing. Still, trends in observed data surrounding mass shootings and mass murderers are enough to cause alarm, even though the odds of an attack in our neighborhood may be comparatively slim.
Though published back in 2016, a Frontline PBS report by Katie Worth on the increasing incidence and lethality of lone wolf attacks still carries weight. Citing available research from multiple sources on the subject, Worth explains how five core findings have emerged relating to trends in this kind of violence in the United States. The findings, as she spells them out:
1. Lone wolf attacks are becoming more common. While noting these attacks are still rare and though they are nothing new, Worth details how both the number of attacks and the number of fatalities from these events have gone up in the past decade. In fact, by the date of the Frontline report, the 2010s had already surpassed all other decades in these regards, so one can only imagine where we’re at now.
2. White supremacist ideologies remain the top source of inspiration for lone wolves, though jihadism is also a significant influence. Though the left is not immune to instances of lone wolf attacks, predominantly, it is right-wing extremism which motivates these terrorists. And whether they are white supremacists or jihadis, they are terrorists. Though their exact motivations may be different (the appeal of al-Qaeda and ISIS for some young Westerners is particularly disturbing to national security experts), don’t let the absence of their condemnation and the disproportionate anti-Muslim rhetoric of conservative circles convince you there is some gargantuan divide between them.
3. Lone wolves are different than conventional terrorists. Though terrorists they may be, there are distinctions to be had. Lone wolves are mostly single white males with a criminal record, diverging from those who commit violence as part of a political organization in that they tend to be older, less educated, and significantly more prone to mental illness. Perhaps most surprisingly, lone wolf attackers motivated in part by politics tend to resemble if they aren’t patently indistinguishable from apolitical mass murderers who harbor some personal grievance. The only major difference herein is that mass murderers are more likely to perpetrate violence in a place with which they are familiar, whereas lone wolves are more likely to go somewhere previously unknown.
4. Guns are lone wolves’ weapon of choice. Though once upon a time, lone wolf attacks in America more frequently featured the use of explosives, controls on the purchase of bomb-making materials following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings are believed to be a key factor in reducing the incidence of attacks involving explosive devices. The bad news is that the permissiveness of U.S. gun laws has afforded would-be lone wolves with a staggering array of high-velocity firearms capable of hurting or killing many people in a short span. Say what you want about the Second Amendment, but the statistics are pretty clear on this front.
5. Lone wolves usually tell others about their plans. Whether it’s a cryptic post on social media, a manifesto mailed to media outlets, or some other sign of intent, lone wolves frequently telegraph their acts of violence. Of course, prevention is no easy task and finding useful intelligence to this effect raises concerns about surveillance and possible infringement of people’s civil liberties. As the report also indicates, lone wolf attacks tend to be less effective and deadly than coordinated attacks involving multiple actors. These notions aside, with this type of threat on the rise, there is some comfort in knowing investigators have hope for stopping the next tragedy in that these threats don’t usually arise in complete isolation.
It bears underscoring that not everyone who holds extremist beliefs goes on to shoot up a church or school or what-have-you. As alluded to earlier, lone wolf attacks, though on the rise, are still fairly uncommon. It should also be noted that not everyone professing fealty to an extremist cause necessarily believes in all its tenets. As experts on the subject will aver, what complicates our understanding of lone wolf attacks is that some individuals get involved with extremist movements simply as a means of inciting violence. The backdrop of hate serves as a backdoor to inflicting pain and suffering.
From a law enforcement/criminal justice standpoint, this may facilitate their prosecution. Whatever the reasons for committing these crimes, they are highly visible. In our ever-present search for meaning, however, the obscurity of a perpetrator’s motive can lead to frustration or downright despair. How do we overcome something when its very form is elusive? To say this isn’t easy seems like the understatement of understatements. In addition, our comprehension of these matters is hindered by a lack of available information on the subject, aided (and abetted) by a shift at the federal level away from viewing all forms of domestic terrorism as such. Under President Trump, counterterrorism efforts have focused almost exclusively on Islamic terrorism.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has eliminated distinctions between different types of domestic terrorism, conflating white supremacist violence with that of so-called “black identity extremists” in its new category of “racially-motivated violent extremism,” confusing the frequency of cases between the two. This is no accident, a move with political designs written all over them, a concession to Trump’s base and to the changing face of the Republican Party. The president’s supporters by and large do not want to contemplate the rise of white supremacist violence here and abroad. Trump and his administration are only too happy to acquiesce.
This intentional minimization of the threat posed by white supremacists in the U.S. is understandably not lost on the rest of us, especially not members of the opposition party. Earlier this month, a handful of Democratic senators including presidential hopefuls Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris signed and sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr (yes, that AG Barr) and FBI director Christopher Wray admonishing the Department of Justice and the Bureau for failing to adequately acknowledge and address the growing danger posed by white supremacist terrorism.
The senators also charged the DOJ and FBI with taking concrete steps to address this issue, outlining resources to be used in their efforts, and to explain why its classification system for domestic terrorism changed in the first place. Decry this as an “attack” on Trump designed to garner political capital if you will, but these concerns are undoubtedly shared by these legislators’ constituents and scores of other Americans like you and me. Even political opportunists get it right at least occasionally.
Irrespective of examples of mass shootings and other violence, the exigency of curbing white supremacist influence around the world demands action. Since Trump’s inauguration, outward shows of racism, xenophobia, and other forms of prejudice have become more mainstream. On one hand, that these dark attitudes and behaviors are becoming more visible means we are better able to combat them with love, understanding, and if necessary, peaceful resistance. On the other hand, to the extent this sense of empowerment would allow those possessing extremist beliefs to expand their reach, such transparency is recognizably problematic.
Seattle-based investigative journalist David Neiwert, in a recent opinion piece, writes about how hate groups are recruiting young people into a “toxic” belief system at an alarming rate. Addressing the increasing frequency of lone wolf attacks like the Chabad of Poway shooting, Neiwert underscores how many of these perpetrators of violence feel they are doing something heroic, fed by conspiracy theories and convinced they have taken the “red pill” and see what is real. Often, social media and other online or phone-accessible forums are the breeding ground for this hate. What’s more, we as a society need to acknowledge the proliferation of dangerous extremism for what it is. From the article:
It’s time for us to stop looking away and start paying attention. We need to acknowledge that our own children are being radicalized online, and that a social media ecosystem predicated on a toxic libertarianism that allows hateful speech to run rampant has been the main platform enabling this phenomenon. Before the arrival of the alt-right, white nationalism was on its elderly deathbed. Now the numbers are unquestionably surging with youthful converts. Judging from pure internet, social media and gaming-hub traffic, we’re talking in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of new young white nationalists being born online right now. We need to recognize that there are policies that are fueling it, as well as irresponsible media entities doing the same — and that these things must cease.
What also must be stressed is that, while we employ the term “lone wolves” to apply to the individuals who carry out these heinous attacks, as Katie Worth’s Frontline PBS report underscores, usually someone is made aware of their intentions. To this point, Amy Spitalnick, executive director of the nonprofit Integrity First for America, writes in her own essay how anti-Semitic lone wolves aren’t really “lone” wolves at all, but rather a group hiding in plain sight.
As Spitalnick tells it, these attackers are “part of an online cabal that perpetuates this violent hate.” Whether it’s through messaging apps, 8chan, the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, or some other forum, lone wolves are often making their intentions to do harm known to others, with their postings reading like a “virtual road map” after the fact. These premeditations are not met with condemnation and revulsion, but acceptance, fame, and idol worship.
Along these lines, Spitalnick shares Neiwert’s sense of urgency about how to combat this disturbing phenomenon. At a minimum, she advocates for recognition of the surge in white supremacist terrorism as a national emergency, as well as investment by the federal government in programs designed to address this crisis rather than cuts and amorphous distinctions between white supremacists and “black identity extremists” which misrepresent and obscure. To boot, platforms like Twitter need to get serious about curbing abuse, harassment, hate, and threats of violence. Looking at you, @jack.
Having Donald Trump promote white nationalist views from his bully pulpit in the White House is bad in it of itself. Even if we remove him from office through electoral or other means, though, the problem won’t be solved. He is not the Night King whose defeat will suddenly mean the destruction of all other bigots around him. Trump’s rise is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and with all these “lone” wolves committing wanton acts of violence, the time for a unified front working to stem the spread of chilling right-wing extremism is now. To borrow another Game of Thrones reference, winter isn’t coming. It’s already here.
As I’m sure you’re aware, on the evening of January 29, in Quebec City, a 27-year-old man named Alexandre Bissonnette walked into the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec mosque and started firing. By the end, six men were killed, with others injured, and the next day, Bissonnette was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted weapon. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quick to condemn the attack as a terrorist act and one of cowardice on the part of the assailant, and authorities and Canadian citizens alike called for a spirit of inclusivity and togetherness in the wake of the violence. While mass shootings have become regrettably almost run-of-the-mill in America, mass shootings in Canada have been relatively sparse.
Within the United States, however, for a number of vocal Trump supporters during the early confusion of details filtering down from Quebec, the attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique was Exhibit A as to why the recently-enacted “Muslim ban” is not only advisable, but patently necessary. Initial reports identified two suspects in connection with the shooting, one of whom was Mohamed Belkhadir, a 29-year-old engineering student originally from Morocco. The jingoists among us, eager to fly the Stars and Stripes at first notice of an exclusionary narrative onto which to latch, were likely already foaming at the mouth at mention of the name “Mohamed,” and news of Belkhadir’s connection with the crime just sent them over the top. See, this is why we don’t want to let refugees from Muslim nations into the country! There’s too great a danger! You never know when ISIS might be lurking around the corner! Bear in mind Morocco isn’t one of the countries specified in President Trump’s ban on immigration, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good argument, shall we?
Except for the eventual revelation Mohamed Belkhadir was not actually a suspect in the mosque attack, but a witness. Oops! According to reports, Belkhadir was trying to administer first aid to a friend and fled to the cultural center’s parking lot when he saw someone with a gun, not knowing that person was a cop. Indeed, the search for a narrative and the desire to run with it led to a hasty presumption based on unconfirmed information and betrayed a series of arguments predicated on racial and xenophobic prejudice. What’s more, regarding the person of Alexandre Bissonnette, a synopsis of various media sources by Manisha Krishnan, writing for VICE, paints a picture of the Laval University student that might easily be recognized stateside as well as in Canada. According to these reports, he is a loner, a subscriber to right-wing views, a xenophobe, someone who displays misogynistic tendencies and trolls a Facebook group for refugees, is a white nationalist, and—to top it all off—is a fan of Donald Trump and his policies. Oops, again! While I personally might balk at the idea that Bissonnette is one of the Trump Train lot, as, ahem, not every Trump supporter is a mass murderer, that Bissonnette would seem to be an admirer of the President’s puts an almost ironic twist on the quick finger pointed at the Muslim world wholesale by those espousing similar right-wing views.
There are any number of striking things about this example of brutality. Certainly, the idea that Donald Trump’s influence translates into French Canada and abroad may startle, though the rise of white nationalism is certainly not limited to Trump; Alexandre Bissonnette is also said to be an admirer of France’s Marine Le Pen, whose National Front party has gained popularity by adopting a similar anti-immigrant stance. What also grabs the attention, however, at least for yours truly, is statistical information regarding all Canadians’ attitudes toward Muslims. Justin Trudeau, either because he’s being diplomatic, he truly believes it, or both, has, in the wake of the mosque attack, consistently preached the country’s support for the Canadian Muslim community and solidarity with the population. Personal views, meanwhile, tend to vary. Alyssa Favreau, a Montreal-based writer, connects the Quebec shooting to a rising sea of anti-Muslim sentiment.
As Favreau notes within the piece, police-reported hate crimes against Muslims more than doubled in Canada from 2012 to 2014, and the raw number (99) stands to be much larger because the majority of these crimes go unreported. What’s more, the attitudes of average Canadians toward Islam on the whole speak to a vague apprehension about the religion and its practitioners. A 2015 survey by the Quebec Human Rights Commission found that, despite about half of respondents having reservations about organized religions in general, a significantly higher percentage of those surveyed said they felt more uncomfortable about someone wearing a hijab as opposed to one wearing a cross. As for the Canadian population as a whole, based on a Forum Poll (Canada’s leading public opinion service) survey, more than a quarter of respondents had unfavorable feelings about Muslims. In other words, if Trudeau’s sentiments conveyed the sense some sort of love-fest exists in his country for followers of Islam, evidence points to the contrary.
In the United States, meanwhile, according to a report by Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and the director of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, just under half of respondents across a composite of four polls during the election year disapproved of Islam on the whole; the approval rate for Muslim people fared yet better, with 70% of respondents viewing this subset of the population in a positive light, as opposed to 28% surveyed viewing Muslims in a negative light as of October 2016. This actually marks an improvement on these ratings since November 2015, and in spite of the salience of events like the Orlando shooting. As Telhami instructs, the upward trend in pro-Muslim leanings is almost exclusively attributable to changing views among Democrats and independents, and may well be a reaction to Donald Trump’s divisive actions and rhetoric. While the direction of this trend may be surprising, the source seems less so. After all, we would expect more liberal-oriented respondents to more readily embrace Islam and those who practice the faith.
If American views of Islam and Muslims are on the upswing, and even though progressives would like to see improvement on the dimensions governed by the polls interpreted by Shibley Telhami and his associates, it is therefore somewhat troubling to have people who would more readily identify with the left espousing views that mischaracterize Islam. By and large, I appreciate the comedy of Bill Maher, and while I may not agree with all of his positions on key issues, I have a certain degree of respect for the man. His stances on Islam and Muslims, on the other hand, I patently disagree with, and his embrace of fringe theories about this religion is not only arguably counterproductive, but potentially dangerous as well.
On a recent airing of his show, Real Time with Bill Maher, the namesake host featured a conversation with Sam Harris, author, cognitive neuroscientist, and co-founder of Project Reason, on the nature of Islam. Harris, no stranger to the program and notable for being a leader within what has been coined the New Atheist movement, had some choice words for the Muslim world and those liberals who support them. According to Sam Harris, “the left has allied itself with Islamists and closet Islamists,” and while on one hand, he and Bill Maher reject the merits of the Muslim ban, he had this to say about criticisms from left-leaners of others possessing Islamophobic tendencies: “You don’t have to be a fascist or a racist or even a Trumpian to not want to import people into your society who think cartoonists should be killed for drawing the Prophet.” Maher was quick to chime in at one point on this broad subject, condemning comparisons made between Islamist terrorist groups and the Ku Klux Klan, saying dismissively, “The KKK is not seeking nuclear weapons.” Um, bully for them then?
Both Sam Harris and Bill Maher, in discussing Muslims and Islam in this way, appear to be making a fundamental error. Harris, making a sweeping generalization, evidently believes all Muslims and refugees from countries where the predominant faith is Islam think cartoonists should be killed for drawing the Prophet Muhammad or otherwise representing them in a less-than-holy light, when realistically, this is a hallmark of radical or ultra-conservative Muslims, and not necessarily your everyday followers. As for Maher, he makes the distinction between the Ku Klux Klan and various Islamist groups, as if to say, “See? What did I tell you about Islam!” If saying the KKK doesn’t want nukes is your primary defense of this group, though, it’s a bit of splitting proverbial hairs, no? It’s like saying Donald Trump isn’t Hitler because he hasn’t tried to exterminate the Jews. That’s really a cold comfort, and besides, dude’s still got ample time in his first 100 days and Stephen Bannon the Skeleton King pouring poison into his ear. In either case, Harris and Maher are conflating the work of jihadists with that of rank-and-file Muslims, and such discourse not only seems to be steeped in faulty logic, but potentially is dangerous given the national voice these figures possess.
Sadly, this is nothing new for either man. Though a bit dated by Internet standards, Salon in 2015 compiled a compendium of Bill Maher’s “greatest hits” on Islam, which includes references to Muslims’ beliefs as “pernicious,” the Koran as a “hate-filled holy book,” and to Islam itself not being a religion of peace. As for Sam Harris, Glenn Greenwald, perhaps the best journalist you’ve never heard of, penned a lengthy op-ed about Harris and other New Atheists on “anti-Muslim animus” back in 2013. I know—positively ancient, right? And yet, not much seems to have changed or evolved within Harris’s world view since. Greenwald acknowledges Sam Harris’s antipathy toward organized religion as a whole (Bill Maher, though not an avowed atheist, is like-minded in his distaste for organized religion and its more deleterious effects), but notes how Harris, for lack of better phrasing, has a hard-on for Islam and those that worship in accordance with its precepts. From the essay:
The key point is that Harris does far, far more than voice criticisms of Islam as part of a general critique of religion. He has repeatedly made clear that he thinks Islam is uniquely threatening: “While the other major world religions have been fertile sources of intolerance, it is clear that the doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the emergence of a global civilization.” He has insisted that there are unique dangers from Muslims possessing nuclear weapons, as opposed to nice western Christians (the only ones to ever use them) or those kind Israeli Jews: “It should be of particular concern to us that the beliefs of devout Muslims pose a special problem for nuclear deterrence.” In his 2005 “End of Faith”, he claimed that “Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death.”
This is not a critique of religion generally; it is a relentless effort to depict Islam as the supreme threat. Based on that view, Harris, while depicting the Iraq war as a humanitarian endeavor, has proclaimed that “we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam.” He has also decreed that “this is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with millions more than have any direct affiliation with Al Qaeda.” “We”—the civilized peoples of the west—are at war with “millions” of Muslims, he says. Indeed, he repeatedly posits a dichotomy between “civilized” people and Muslims: “All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the earth.”
This isn’t “quote-mining”, the term evidently favored by Harris and his defenders to dismiss the use of his own words to make this case. To the contrary, I’ve long ago read the full context of what he has written and did so again yesterday. […] Yes, he criticizes Christianity, but he reserves the most intense attacks and superlative condemnations for Islam, as well as unique policy prescriptions of aggression, violence and rights abridgments aimed only at Muslims. As the atheist scholar John L Perkins wrote about Harris’ 2005 anti-religion book: “Harris is particularly scathing about Islam.”
The larger significance of these kinds of attitudes, as Glenn Greenwald sees things, is that this thinking can be used to justify all sorts of aggression, human rights abuses, and violence against Muslims, the kinds of acts to which rights activists independent of political affiliation strongly object. They include anti-Muslim profiling, state violence (i.e. liberals are “soft” on terrorism), support for Israel even in the face of international criticism, and torture. What’s more, whereas defenders of divisive behavior and rhetoric on the right might view this as justified based on vague ideas of Christian righteousness or outright racism and xenophobia, the foundation of New Atheism’s anti-Muslim sentiments is feelings and notions of a moral superiority. Sure, Sam Harris and his confederates might view their objections to Islam as more correct because they are not based on strict adherence to religious doctrine, but viewed in the context of secular morality and a battle of good versus evil, they are equally as insidious, if not more so. “They know not what they do”? Hardly. Harris and Company know exactly what they do—and that’s the point.
As Glenn Greenwald frames his arguments, then, Bill Maher’s and Sam Harris’s wholesale character assassination of Islam fits in all-too-nicely with a generalized American and Western condemnation of the Muslim world, and a tendency to side with our own interests even when they may be seen as wrong. Greenwald describes the problem with Harris’s denigration of Muslims and Islam quite succinctly:
Harris’ self-loving mentality amounts to this: those primitive Muslims are so tribal for reflexively siding with their own kind, while I constantly tout the superiority of my own side and justify what We do against Them. […] He is at least as tribal, jingoistic, and provincial as those he condemns for those human failings, as he constantly hails the nobility of his side while demeaning those Others.
As Sam Harris and other New Atheists would have it, the end game of Islam is to convert everyone to the faith, politically subjugate those who don’t convert, or kill those who stand in the way. Otherwise, the assumptions they make about the way Muslims think are based not on factual observation or rational, intellectual inferences, but rather a spirit grounded in religious or “tribal” attitudes—and if we really want to get down to brass tacks, this liberal Islamophobia is pretty much a religion in of itself. So much for that whole “no religion” bit.
It’s one thing for educated folks like Bill Maher and Sam Harris to sneer at the section of right-wing America that, to paraphrase Barack Obama’s infamous quote, clings to its Bibles, its guns, and its resentment against the foreign and the unfamiliar. It’s quite another, however, for their likes to convey an elitist tone and deride the Muslim ban as an obvious poor choice while they, in the same breath, denigrate Muslims and what they believe. So, while Maher, Harris and other non-believers/agnostics may thumb their noses at those who get caught up in matters of sectarian conflict, looking down at the rigidity of organized religions from atop their high horses, by painting Islam and Muslims with broad, largely negative strokes, they are no better than the Americans who, say, argue Muslims are a danger to the United States because they want nothing more than to make sharia law the supreme law of the land and subvert our existing statutes in the name of Allah.
Speaking of which, on that last note, in another one of those quasi-ironic twists that I seem to love these days, if anything is liable to bring religiously-motivated laws into a position of greater influence and effect, it is not Muslims, but the man behind the ban himself, President Donald Trump. Alongside plotting a gutting of the Dodd-Frank Act, a piece of legislation crafted in direct response to the irresponsible banking, lending and other regulatory practices which led to the global financial crisis almost a decade ago, Trump vowed recently to destroy the Johnson Amendment, which effectively bars churches from making political contributions, and thus, is an important aspect of the separation of church and state in the United States. Evidently, and in short, Trump, his cronies, and Republicans who aid and abet him in terrible policy-making are content to let the financial industry and religious organizations alike run amok. As many of us may reason, they might as well. You know, after confirming the likes of Rex Tillerson, a man who has ties to Vladimir Putin and who until recently helmed a company that dealt with countries considered state sponsors of terrorism, and Betsy DeVos, whose millions of dollars of political contributions somehow are supposed to count for a complete lack of competence and experience, there’s almost nowhere to go but up. Almost.
What we don’t need, therefore, returning our focus to the topic of anti-Muslim sentiment, is more noise from individuals professing to uphold science and intellectualism but instead giving way to beliefs that smack of white ethnocentrism and are reliant on a warped understanding of a religion practiced by over a billion people worldwide. People like Sam Harris argue liberals are in bed with jihadists and others like Bill Maher feel political correctness holds us back from having an honest and open conversation about Islam and the Muslim world, and at worst, makes us “pussies.” Little do they realize, however, it is, to a considerable extent, their closed-mindedness which only fuels mutual misunderstanding between East and West and drives us all further apart.
When Donald Trump “misstates” something (read: “outright lies”) or “outlines a policy plan” (read: “has a really bad idea”), you’ve got to give it to the man—he tends to commit to it. Whereas Hillary Clinton can’t recall having conversations about classified E-mails, or can’t remember having specific conversations about classified E-mails, or blames a concussion on not being able to follow protocol, or claims she doesn’t know how thousands of messages got deleted, or expresses the belief that Colin Powell whispered sweet nothings about private servers in her ear, Trump has been largely resolute on his awful anti-immigrant agenda. By now, he and his campaign are largely synonymous with the notion of building a wall at the Mexican border. Dude’s got a real hard-on over the whole thing, in fact. Don’t like the wall? That shit just got ten feet higher! Still sassing back? We’ll add ten more! And we can keep going like this too! Why? Mexico’s paying for the whole damn thing! So put away that wallet, Joe America, our construction workers are only accepting pesos from here on out!
Heretofore, Donald Trump’s policy on curbing illegal immigration to the United States has been criticized as lacking specificity—and that’s a nice way of putting it. This past Wednesday, capping off a fun-filled month of August in this presidential campaign (obvious sarcasm intended), Trump spoke to supporters outlining his “detailed” policy on “one of the greatest challenges facing our country today” in illegal immigration, from—where else?—Phoenix, Arizona. I’m going to give you 24 choice quotes from his address—one for each hour of the day!—with my own annotations, and you can reach your own conclusions from there. Brace yourself.
1. “The truth is our immigration system is worse than anybody ever realized. But the facts aren’t known because the media won’t report on them. The politicians won’t talk about them and the special interests spend a lot of money trying to cover them up because they are making an absolute fortune. That’s the way it is. Today, on a very complicated and very difficult subject, you will get the truth. The fundamental problem with the immigration system in our country is that it serves the needs of wealthy donors, political activists and powerful, powerful politicians.”
Groan. We’ve only just begun, and already, I’m somewhat regretting my decision to examine what Donald Trump actually, you know, says. It seems almost disingenuous for a man who has gained so much free publicity from the media without being challenged more seriously on aspects of his finances (tax returns, cough, cough) to turn around and blame the media on anything, but that’s our Donald, after all. Apparently, there’s a lot of misinformation by omission concerning immigration trends in America happening on the part of some vague conspiracy involving a leftist media, lobbyists, politicians, and wealthy private citizens. It’s not that corporations and other businesses could actually be to blame—including your own, Mr. Trump. Not that at all.
2. “We…have to be honest about the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate. Sometimes it’s just not going to work out. It’s our right, as a sovereign nation, to chose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish and love us.”
Trump doesn’t mention Muslims here. But you know he totally f**king means it.
3. “A 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office found that illegal immigrants and other non-citizens, in our prisons and jails together, had around 25,000 homicide arrests to their names, 25,000.”
Ooh, look! Donald Trump has learned to make citations! Besides the fact this statistic is misleading in that it makes it seem as if Mexican and other immigrants were responsible for this many murders in 2011 alone—the FBI reports fewer than 15,000 estimated homicides that year, but what do they know?—it cherry-picks the figure from one group without considering how much violent crime is perpetrated by American citizens. Of course, though, that doesn’t fit the narrative.
4. “Illegal immigration costs our country more than $113 billion a year. And this is what we get. For the money we are going to spend on illegal immigration over the next 10 years, we could provide one million at-risk students with a school voucher, which so many people are wanting. While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, many, many, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower skilled workers with less education, who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they can ever possibly pay back. And they’re hurting a lot of our people that cannot get jobs under any circumstances.”
Trump throws so much into one thought that it’s almost impossible to address it all in the time you would need to consider it fully before moving on to the next tangent. With the benefit of being able to rationally confront his remarks retrospectively, however, let’s give it a whirl. 1) Republicans often like to tout school vouchers as an alternative for our “failing” public schools, but not only are they to a large extent responsible for this failure based on their refusal to fund education and other public programs, but their assumption that school choice is a vastly superior option, especially when the private sector is involved, is a fallacy. In many cases, these additional options are no better than their public-school counterparts, if not worse, and what’s more, affording our presumed “best and brightest” to pick and choose their school when others cannot just encourages division along racial and socioeconomic lines. 2) If these illegal immigrants are such good people, what’s the problem? OK, even if the issue is that they supposedly “take our jobs,” this claim is overblown, because often times, they are doing dangerous or more physically intensive work in agriculture or, say, the meat packing industry, jobs that American citizens don’t want to do, or otherwise have been challenged more significantly by trends like automation and global trade.
But wait—there’s more! 3) According to Harvard economist George Borjas, as cited in this NPR Q&A, the net effect on the average American’s wealth as a result of illegal immigration is minimal (less than 1%), and if anything, slightly positive. While the report acknowledges the negative economic effects of illegal immigration, including depressing effects on wages of low-skilled workers and an income tax shortfall, on the other hand, undocumented immigrant labor does make products and services more affordable, not to mention these immigrants do pay property and sales taxes and are ineligible for certain classes of benefits as non-citizens. Let’s not let these considerations get in the way of a good argument, though.
5. Only the out of touch media elites think the biggest problems facing America — you know this, this is what they talk about, facing American society today is that there are 11 million illegal immigrants who don’t have legal status. And, they also think the biggest thing, and you know this, it’s not nuclear, and it’s not ISIS, it’s not Russia, it’s not China, it’s global warming.
For Christ’s sake! We don’t have time to argue the merits of global f**king warming! Moving along.
6. Hillary Clinton, for instance, talks constantly about her fears that families will be separated, but she’s not talking about the American families who have been permanently separated from their loved ones because of a preventable homicide, because of a preventable death, because of murder. No, she’s only talking about families who come here in violation of the law. We will treat everyone living or residing in our country with great dignity. So important. We will be fair, just, and compassionate to all, but our greatest compassion must be for our American citizens.
Commence with the ritual Clinton-bashing! We’ve already discussed how Donald Trump’s figures on violent crime committed by immigrants are kind of wonky, but let’s tackle the notion of relative compassion. If we’re truly being compassionate to all, then at heart, it shouldn’t matter who is receiving more or less compassion, as if you can modulate such things just like that. I’ve heard it said that Jesus never went out of his way for anyone—because He never considered helping anyone to be going out of His way. Just something to think about.
7. “[Hillary Clinton’s] plan [is] to bring in 620,000 new refugees from Syria and that region over a short period of time. And even yesterday, when you were watching the news, you saw thousands and thousands of people coming in from Syria. What is wrong with our politicians, our leaders if we can call them that. What the hell are we doing?”
8. “We will build a great wall along the southern border. And Mexico will pay for the wall. One hundred percent. They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for it. And they’re great people and great leaders but they’re going to pay for the wall. On day one, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall. We will use the best technology, including above and below ground sensors that’s for the tunnels. Remember that, above and below. Above and below ground sensors. Towers, aerial surveillance and manpower to supplement the wall, find and dislocate tunnels and keep out criminal cartels and Mexico you know that, will work with us. I really believe it. Mexico will work with us. I absolutely believe it. And especially after meeting with their wonderful, wonderful president today. I really believe they want to solve this problem along with us, and I’m sure they will.”
OK, now we start to get to Trump’s plan a.k.a. the 10-point path to Crazy Town. Point One, obviously, is the wall, which is his baby and the centerpiece of his plan. Which is unfortunate, because it’s a complete disaster in the making. Let’s disregard any talk of effectiveness in light of the cost of this theoretical monstrosity. Donald Trump has averred the cost of the wall would be only about $8 billion or so, but more realistic estimates suggest the actual price tag could reach upwards of $25 billion. Wait, you say, it’s OK. Mexico’s paying for the wall. I’m no expert in international relations, but Mexico is not going to pay for that wall. Trump acts as if, because Mexico has a trade deficit with the United States, they just have money lying around to throw at a grandiose construction project, but this just demonstrates the man’s lack of understanding of economics despite his professed business acumen.
This is aside from the reality that Mexico has never said they would pay for the wall. Former Mexican president Vicente Fox dropped F-bombs over the whole idea, and current Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has categorically denied his country will foot the bill, despite Donald Trump’s insistence it will, and moreover, referred to the Republican Party nominee’s proposals as a “threat to the future of Mexico.” So, yeah, seriously, this whole wall thing-a-ma-jig is a waste of time and money, won’t lead to permanent jobs being created, will alienate Spanish-speaking people across the globe, and on top of that, probably won’t work all that well. And that people actually would vote for Trump based on the wall scares the shit out of me.
9. “We are going to end catch and release. We catch them, oh go ahead. We catch them, go ahead. Under my administration, anyone who illegally crosses the border will be detained until they are removed out of our country and back to the country from which they came. And they’ll be brought great distances. We’re not dropping them right across. They learned that. President Eisenhower. They’d drop them across, right across, and they’d come back. And across. Then when they flew them to a long distance, all of a sudden that was the end. We will take them great distances. But we will take them to the country where they came from, O.K.?”
Um, yeah, Mr. Trump, you’re not referring to Eisenhower’s operation in name by design, I can guarantee it. What he’s invoking, by the way, is a little something called, ahem, Operation Wetback, and by many objective measures, it was a failure. For one, on a human rights dimension, the quick-minded nature of the program’s relocations often resulted in deportees being unable to claim their property in the United States, let alone notify their family they had been deported in the first place. In addition, there were reports of beatings by Border Patrol agents, and when the deportees actually got to Mexico, they faced hardship from being relocated to unfamiliar territories, if not dying from the sweltering Mexican heat. Perhaps more significantly, however, in terms of its effectiveness, Operation Wetback did not deter illegal immigration. By the end of the program, about one in five deportees were repeat offenders, and American employers in border areas were undermining border agents’ efforts anyway, hiring undocumented immigrants because of the cheap labor incentive. Needless to say, this is an awful chapter in history with a shitty legacy to match, so I’m not sure why you would even invoke Operation Wetback with a similar initiative.
10. “According to federal data, there are at least two million, two million, think of it, criminal aliens now inside of our country, two million people, criminal aliens. We will begin moving them out day one. As soon as I take office. Day one. In joint operation with local, state, and federal law enforcement. Now, just so you understand, the police, who we all respect—say hello to the police. Boy, they don’t get the credit they deserve. I can tell you. They’re great people. But the police and law enforcement, they know who these people are. They live with these people. They get mocked by these people. They can’t do anything about these people, and they want to. They know who these people are. Day one, my first hour in office, those people are gone. And you can call it deported if you want. The press doesn’t like that term. You can call it whatever the hell you want. They’re gone. Beyond the two million, and there are vast numbers of additional criminal illegal immigrants who have fled, but their days have run out in this country. The crime will stop. They’re going to be gone. It will be over. They’re going out. They’re going out fast.”
Trump is worried about the use of the word “deported” here, but it’s not that term which is the offensive one here. That would be “criminal aliens.” Contrary to popular belief, Mexicans don’t like being referred to as criminals. Call them crazy, I guess. Also, for all his talk about Clinton’s pandering to groups, his appeals to America’s uniformed police are pretty damn blatant. Besides, in general, I feel like the police get their fair share of credit for the important service they provide, and at times, too much, or at least the benefit of the doubt, in instances of violence against minorities. Again, though, that doesn’t fit the narrative that Donald Trump and his supporters wish to hear. My apologies. It’s always the black person’s fault.
11. “We will issue detainers for illegal immigrants who are arrested for any crime whatsoever, and they will be placed into immediate removal proceedings if we even have to do that”.
Any crime? Like, even jaywalking? I know much of this is tough talk, but the itchy trigger finger that Trump is encouraging here would set a dangerous precedent, if for no other reason than it lends itself to profiling and possibly even vigilantism. The vagueness of the phrase “if we even have to do that,” too, is worrisome. Do we just literally throw people over the wall back into Mexico? Or somehow exact a physically worse punishment? What we don’t know might just hurt us, and cause Lady Liberty to hide her face in shame.
12. “My plan also includes cooperating closely with local jurisdictions to remove criminal aliens immediately. We will restore the highly successful Secure Communities Program. Good program. We will expand and revitalize the popular 287(g) partnerships, which will help to identify hundreds of thousands of deportable aliens in local jails that we don’t even know about. Both of these programs have been recklessly gutted by this administration. And those were programs that worked.”
“Highly successful?” If it were highly successful, why was the Secure Communities Program suspended? Maybe it was because it didn’t do an effective job of targeting and curbing violent criminals who immigrated illegally to the United States. Or because it was responsible for numerous cases of people being deported who are actually American citizens. Or because it didn’t allow states and local police forces to opt out, as was first promised. Or because it made people less likely to report serious crimes by undocumented immigrants for fear of being deported. The Secure Communities Program was, in no uncertain terms, an abysmal endeavor, so there’s no reason Donald Trump should be touting its merits. Ditto for 287(g). That provision, put into practice, lacked requisite oversight, diverted police resources away from the investigation of local crimes, and, again, led to profiling of Latino residents in border states. It’s already bad if public policy is marked by ethical lapses, but when it doesn’t even accomplish its stated purpose, it deserves to be deep-sixed. If Trump were hoping to name-drop effectively, he didn’t do it on this occasion.
13. “Within ICE I am going to create a new special deportation task force focused on identifying and quickly removing the most dangerous criminal illegal immigrants in America who have evaded justice just like Hillary Clinton has evaded justice, OK? Maybe they’ll be able to deport her.”
Hmm, new task force—I’m sure this will be handled with the requisite oversight so as to prevent abuses of civil liberties and cost overruns. (If I could, I would put an eye-rolling emoji here for emphasis.) By the way, Mr. Trump, your joke about Hillary being deported isn’t all that funny considering she’s an American citizen and therefore could never be deported. Though the relevance factor would be lost in that he’s done serving as President after this term, Barack Obama being deported is more amusing because stupid, gullible people are convinced he was born outside the country and/or is a secret Muslim. Like, um, yourself. It all would still be reprehensible to suggest, even in jest, but at least your stab at humor would be more spot-on. It’s the principle of the thing, Donald.
14. “We will end the sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths. Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars, and we will work with Congress to pass legislation to protect those jurisdictions that do assist federal authorities.”
The idea of sanctuary cities is a complicated one in the light of highly-publicized deaths such as that of Kate Steinle in 2015, who was shot and killed by an undocumented Mexican immigrant who had been deported multiple times, had seven felony convictions to his name, and was on probation at the time of the incident. The Steinle example, however, sticks out because a) San Francisco, the setting of the fateful event, is a sanctuary city, and in this instance, did not honor a detainer from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because no active warrant existed for the shooter’s arrest, and b) Steinle was white, and a beautiful young woman at that, who presumably loved life, was kind to all people and animals, and all that jazz.
In all seriousness, a loss is a loss, and I can only imagine what Kate Steinle’s family felt and still feels. Still, her death, while tragic, doesn’t mean we necessarily should abandon sanctuary cities wholesale. Errol Louis penned an op-ed piece last year on the subject of sanctuary cities, and he rightly pointed out that numerous cities and other municipalities do not want to have to shoulder the financial and logistical burden of trying to enforce immigration law when resources are at a premium in investigating and stopping all other crimes that happen within their jurisdiction. Not only this, but law enforcement in these same places doesn’t want to jeopardize the trust it stands to lose and has forged with members of Hispanic/Latino communities. Deportation, legally speaking, is a federal enterprise, and Donald Trump’s insistence that only those who comply with ICE’s demands for information and detention would receive federal subsidies is appalling, because it is prejudicial against those areas who oppose his viewpoints, and only encourages local governments to comply meekly to avoid sanctions or try to manipulate the situation such as to maintain the appearance of compliance. Sanctuary cities, despite their concerns, are a bit of a political red herring.
15. “We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties in which he defied federal law and the Constitution to give amnesty to approximately five million illegal immigrants, five million.”
Or we can just continue to have Obama’s executive orders batted around in court, which, owing to how slow the law moves, is pretty much a death sentence anyway, amirite?
16. “We are going to suspend the issuance of visas to any place where adequate screening cannot occur. According to data provided by the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, and the national interest between 9/11 and the end of 2014, at least 380 foreign born individuals were convicted in terror cases inside the United States. And even right now the largest number of people are under investigation for exactly this that we’ve ever had in the history of our country.”
More vagueness from Donald J. Trump, whose “detailed” plan is seeming less and less accurate as we go along. How do we define “adequate” screening? Who decides such things? How long is the suspension of visa issuance? Indefinite? I ask these questions not only because they deserve to be asked, but because it’s wholly possible Trump has not even considered how to answer them. And in case anyone has forgotten to keep score, THE MAN MIGHT BE ELECTED PRESIDENT. HE SHOULD KNOW THESE THINGS.
17. “Countries in which immigration will be suspended would include places like Syria and Libya. And we are going to stop the tens of thousands of people coming in from Syria. We have no idea who they are, where they come from. There’s no documentation. There’s no paperwork. It’s going to end badly, folks. It’s going to end very, very badly. For the price of resettling one refugee in the United States, 12 could be resettled in a safe zone in their home region. Which I agree with 100 percent. We have to build safe zones and we’ll get the money from Gulf states. We don’t want to put up the money. We owe almost $20 trillion. Doubled since Obama took office, our national debt. But we will get the money from Gulf states and others. We’ll supervise it. We’ll build safe zones which is something that I think all of us want to see.”
Wow. There’s a lot to unpack here, and a lot of it just further cements the idea that Trump either doesn’t understand what he’s talking about, is intentionally misinforming the public, or both. Let’s start with the vetting of refugees from countries like Syria, which just happens to be some of the most intensive vetting done by the United States for refugees from any country, or by any country, for that matter. At any rate, the vetting process for these potential entrants into the U.S. is sadly better than the one, ahem, used for Republican Party presidential candidates. This leads into the discussion of theoretical safe zones in Syria. Ideally, and depending on the actual wishes of the refugees originally displaced, they would be able to return to their homeland. But right now? THERE ARE NO F**KING SAFE ZONES IN SYRIA! Certainly not with Assad in power, and not likely in the foreseeable future with all the factions currently there, not to mention the specter of jihadism in the region.
Finally, let’s talk about the idea of Persian Gulf states paying for these ill-conceived “safe” zones. These are the same countries that have refused to take in refugees, people who are fleeing violence and other unspeakable horrors in the nations of their birth. Much like Mexico ponying up for the cost of a $25+ billion wall, there is little to no chance these places are going to volunteer to throw money at the problem, and for all his talk of renegotiating bad deals, Donald Trump is unlikely to be able to convince foreign leaders or wealthy private individuals to fork over the cash. Most certainly, America would be adding to the national debt to authorize and enforce these safe zones, and by that token, would be as bad “as Barack Obama,” even though the conditions which brought about our deficit spending were in place long before he took office.
18. “Another reform involves new screening tests for all applicants that include, and this is so important, especially if you get the right people. And we will get the right people. An ideological certification to make sure that those we are admitting to our country share our values and love our people. Thank you. We’re very proud of our country. Aren’t we? Really? With all it’s going through, we’re very proud of our country. For instance, in the last five years, we’ve admitted nearly 100,000 immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan. And these two countries, according to Pew Research, a majority of residents say that the barbaric practice of honor killings against women are often or sometimes justified. That’s what they say. That’s what they say. They’re justified. Right? And we’re admitting them to our country. Applicants will be asked their views about honor killings, about respect for women and gays and minorities. Attitudes on radical Islam, which our president refuses to say, and many other topics as part of this vetting procedure. And if we have the right people doing it, believe me, very, very few will slip through the cracks. Hopefully, none.”
Ugh. This is getting tiresome. I can almost see why the media doesn’t spend more time wading through Trump’s bullshit. Almost. So you’re saying we want immigrants who “share our values.” Again, who decides this? You, a man who has advocated bringing back waterboarding and torturing the families of suspected terrorists? You, a man who has made numerous sexist remarks during this campaign alone, likened an entire country to a haven for rapists and murderers, and may or may not have expressed the belief that “laziness is a trait in blacks”? If you’re our shining example of American values, we’re in some deep doo-doo, let me tell you. Also, right, “radical Islam.” Because the fundamental problem is with their entire religion, not with those kill in the name of. If you can call jihadists radical Islamists, I submit I should be able to call those who denounce homosexuality as a sin and harass Planned Parenthood workers as radical Christians. Because if that’s what “our God” wants, then I think I need a new one.
19. “There are at least 23 countries that refuse to take their people back after they’ve been ordered to leave the United States. Including large numbers of violent criminals, they won’t take them back. So we say, OK, we’ll keep them. Not going to happen with me, not going to happen with me.”
Yeah, you and what army? Oh, right, that army. Still, are you prepared, Mr. Trump, to use force to get your way on this issue, risking American lives and sanctions from other nations at what is considered an affront to diplomacy? Because that seems to be the only way you’re going to get these countries to play ball with you—unless you really are the great negotiator you think you are.
20. “We will finally complete the biometric entry-exit visa tracking system which we need desperately. For years Congress has required biometric entry-exit visa tracking systems, but it has never been completed. The politicians are all talk, no action, never happens. Never happens.”
You know, Donald Trump is full of big ideas that cost a nice chunk of change. Probably because his other big ideas, all his life, have been paid for by other people, namely his rich daddy, creditors he has been unable to recompense, and investors he has bilked. He’s convinced Mexico will cover the cost of the wall. (They won’t.) He assumes neighboring countries in the Middle East will make generous donations to ensure safe zones are created in Syria. (They won’t.) So, when it comes to potentially including biometric data (facial, fingerprint, or iris recognition) on passports stored on radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips, once more, it will be on someone else’s tab—yours and mine. Here’s the thing about biometric passports. Not only is the chip technology used to store identifying information costly to produce, but there are security concerns with storing this data all in one place, as there is the potential to hack and exploit this info, as well as obvious concerns about civil liberties in the seeming invasiveness of these requirements. Thus, yet again, Trump is oversimplifying a complicated issue and dining on people’s fear and paranoia. Great work, Donald.
21. “We will turn off the jobs and benefits magnet. We will ensure that E-Verify is used to the fullest extent possible under existing law, and we will work with Congress to strengthen and expand its use across the country. Immigration law doesn’t exist for the purpose of keeping criminals out. It exists to protect all aspects of American life. The work site, the welfare office, the education system, and everything else.”
I’ve touched upon the notion that Donald Trump’s pointing of the finger at undocumented immigrants on the problematic domestic employment situation is a red herring because often, these immigrants are doing work that American citizens are not flocking to. As for the benefits situation, there seems to be a lot of confusion concerning what benefits undocumented immigrants are and are not permitted. Those who don’t have legal status can get compulsory public education for their children and emergency medical care, as well as potentially worker’s compensation, but numerous benefits, including food stamps, Medicaid, Social Security, state and local benefits, and welfare, are not available to non-citizens, at least in theory. Sure, there are abuses of benefits programs, but potential for fraud exists in many facets of our lives, and irrespective of legal immigration status, so while this is not to undermine the seriousness of people taking advantage of gaps in reporting false claims, let’s not overstate the severity of the problem when the occasion arises. We also shouldn’t demean the contributions made by hard-working undocumented immigrants who do contribute in the form of paid taxes—even when they can’t make use of the benefits they fund.
22. “We’re going to bring our jobs back home. And if companies want to leave Arizona and if they want to leave other states, there’s going to be a lot of trouble for them. It’s not going to be so easy. There will be consequence. Remember that. There will be consequences. They’re not going to be leaving, go to another country, make the product, sell it into the United States, and all we end up with is no taxes and total unemployment. It’s not going to happen. There will be consequences.”
You know, many states and municipalities at least try some sort of carrot-and-stick incentive to encourage American corporations to stay at home, namely tax breaks. Apparently, Donald Trump is dispensing with the carrot portion of the metaphor and just shaking the stick at Fortune 500 companies and their ilk. Is this all his warning is? Could he join rival Hillary Clinton in the call for an exit tax? Does he have other consequences in mind? Or did he make all this up on the spot and would be forced to come up with something after the fact should he become President of these United States? It’s anyone’s guess, and sadly, I don’t think Trump has any more of a clue than we do.
23. “So let’s now talk about the big picture. These 10 steps, if rigorously followed and enforced, will accomplish more in a matter of months than our politicians have accomplished on this issue in the last 50 years. It’s going to happen, folks. Because I am proudly not a politician, because I am not behold to any special interest, I’ve spent a lot of money on my campaign, I’ll tell you. I write those checks. Nobody owns Trump. I will get this done for you and for your family. We’ll do it right. You’ll be proud of our country again. We’ll do it right. We will accomplish all of the steps outlined above. And, when we do, peace and law and justice and prosperity will prevail. Crime will go down. Border crossings will plummet. Gangs will disappear. And the gangs are all over the place. And welfare use will decrease. We will have a peace dividend to spend on rebuilding America, beginning with our American inner cities. We’re going to rebuild them, for once and for all.”
You’re not a politician—except you have been one for the last year and change, and are a major-party candidate for President—so the grace period is effectively over, Mr. Trump. You say you’ve spent a lot of your money on your campaign, but you’ve been borrowing the money, as you usually do, and from yourself, no less, and there’s evidence to suggest people within your own campaign are not being compensated as they should. Furthermore, you say you will accomplish all these things, so what is your timetable? One year? Two years? The kinds of things you’re promising certainly won’t be accomplished within a single presidential term, and sound more like the boasts of a snake oil salesman than the policy plan of a legitimate presidential candidate.
24. “The result will be millions more illegal immigrants; thousands of more violent, horrible crimes; and total chaos and lawlessness. That’s what’s going to happen, as sure as you’re standing there. This election, and I believe this, is our last chance to secure the border, stop illegal immigration and reform our laws to make your life better. I really believe this is it. This is our last time. November 8. November 8. You got to get out and vote on November 8. It’s our last chance. It’s our last chance. And that includes Supreme Court justices and the Second Amendment. Remember that. So I want to remind everyone what we’re fighting for and who we are fighting for.”
Wait—what are we fighting for again? I thought we were talking about illegal immigration. Now you’re bringing in Supreme Court justices, except for the idea that Barack Obama already nominated a fine candidate in Merrick Garland—whom your buddies in the GOP kindly refused to even acknowledge and do their job by hearing—and the Second Amendment—which Hillary Clinton has said she doesn’t want to repeal, and probably couldn’t if she wanted to—but which you’re convincing people she’s coming after.
So, now that I don’t know what we are fighting for, or even who we are, now I’m curious as to who we are fighting for. Future generations? The children of undocumented immigrants? Nah, you want to deport their parents as soon as possible and probably want to reverse birthright citizenship while you’re at it. The alt-right? Other white supremacists? At the end of the day, Mr. Trump, your campaign, when all is said and done, has been about one person and one person only: yourself. You don’t give a shit about the average American. How could you? You’ve never been one, and your pretense that you’re running on behalf of the “little guy” is as nauseating as your relationship with your daughter, Ivanka. You’re a fraud, a liar, a cheat, and an all-around terrible person. I proverbially spit on your candidacy, much like anyone who actually bought one of Trump Steaks surely spit what he or she chewed back onto his or her plate. That’s what I truly think about Trump-Pence 2016.
Donald Trump’s depiction of the future of the country, should he fail to win in his bid for the presidency, is an apocalyptic one, filled with visions of Mexicans overrunning America and general anarchy and lawlessness, like something you would see in a scene from The Purge movies. Ironically, this is what many envision will happen should Trump succeed in his bid, replete with rivers of blood and the Four Horsemen and whatnot. Regardless of who may or may not be correct in matters cataclysmic, this prediction of doom and gloom taps into the fear of a significant portion of the electorate, of which a chief subset is working-class whites. Perhaps no better symbol of a Trumpian foretelling of the United States’ downfall exists, however, than one uttered by one of his Latino supporters (yes, they do exist!). In a recent panel discussion led by Joy-Ann Reid of MSNBC, Marco Gutierrez, founder of the organization Latinos for Trump, had this to say, apropos of nothing:
“My culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.”
The almost uniform response to this, on social media and in news story Comments sections, and deservedly so, was, “Um, why is this a bad thing? Tacos are delicious.” And maybe there’s a lesson in this reaction. For all the blustering about a Mexican invasion, and the fear and hate Donald Trump’s campaign has engendered, at heart, there is much more to appreciate concerning Hispanic/Latino contributions to our proud melting pot of a nation than the actions of a few bad manzanas could ever hope to spoil. This includes, yes, tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, burritos, and any other delicious confluences of tortillas, meat, cheese and/or vegetables you can think of. And the Spanish language. Es muy bueno. And plus, there are other hallmarks of cultural significance, including works of art, film, literature, music and poetry, and other genres I can’t readily think of off the top of my head. And, you know, if we believe that people are inherently good and not out to screw the rest of us over, there’s a whole lot of hard-working, law-abiding individuals to call neighbors. In this respect, I feel the vast majority of immigrants, Mexican or Muslim, legal or not, understand the American spirit better than some self-identifying “true Americans” do.
For those who support Trump in his goal of being elected to the highest office in the land, there are numerous reasons why they might favor the man of the orange complexion. Maybe they’re Republican loyalists. Maybe they hate Hillary Clinton with a passion and will vote for anyone but her. Maybe they secretly want Democrats to succeed down the road in the legislature and in the White House, and are inviting a blowing-up of the system we know to rebuild it in a better, more progressive fashion. However they justify their choice, though, they should know that they can’t separate any more meritorious reasons for backing Donald Trump—such as his business acumen or his straight talk, both of which are highly overrated—from his hateful rhetoric on immigration and his uninspired 10-point plan to save America from the “Mexi-pocalypse.” It’s an agenda built on mistruths and outright lies about immigration trends, insufficiently detailed solutions to, ahem, trumped-up problem areas, and one that undoubtedly will cost the United States tens of billions of dollars and standing in the international community, with little to no tangible reward to show for it.
While this isn’t an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, as I feel her presidency would preserve a fundamentally flawed status quo in the name of incremental progress the likes of which fewer and fewer working-class Americans can afford, at least she wouldn’t send the country on a blatantly morally-regressive path. President Trump would, though. Taco trucks on every corner? Nope, the real danger would be Humpty Trumpty looking down from atop his Mexican wall like some sort of dictatorial ruler. If that comes to pass, all of our horses and all of our men might not be able to put the country back together again.
No doubt by now you’ve heard about the tragic loss of life that occurred at a gay nightclub in Orlando this past weekend. 49 dead, more injured, a city and state in a state of emergency, a world community in mourning. Some are dispensing the usual “thoughts and prayers.” Some are using the events of the Pulse shooting—in fact, the deadliest mass shooting in United States history—as political cannon fodder. We need more gun control. We need less gun control. This has nothing to do with Islam. This has everything to do with “radical Islam.” It’s a hate crime. God sent the shooter to deal with the sin of homosexuality. There’s a lot of opinionated noise about what happened after the fact, and most of it is just that. Allow me, then, to be one more drop of water in an angry, confused and saddened swelling sea.
From what we currently know, the shooter, who will remain nameless per my choice to not give him any more press that he doesn’t deserve, pledged allegiance to ISIS or was at least sympathetic to their cause. ISIS took credit for this act of mass violence. Then again, they would. Much like Donald Trump feeding his ego related to any positive developments of a campaign built on bigotry, empty promises and hate, the response of any incidence of Muslims shooting multiple Americans predictably is another notch on the aforementioned terrorist organization’s proverbial belt. It doesn’t mean it’s not true, of course, but it also doesn’t mean one has to like it. Especially since this will probably do wonders for the Islamic State’s recruiting efforts. Death to America and all that jazz.
You probably understand what ISIS hopes to accomplish in the Middle East: the formation of a caliphate—an Islamic state led by a caliph, or supposed spiritual successor of the prophet Muhammad—within the group’s holdings in Iraq and Syria. So, what about the United States? Last time I checked, the old US of A is pretty far from Mosul. Fareed Zakaria recently wrote an excellent piece about why ISIS, well, hates us. As Zakaria puts it, ISIS doesn’t hate Americans or hate the Western world as much as they hate the modern world and Muslims living in that modern world. And they don’t represent Islam, or at least not all of it. Fareed Zakaria describes the Islamic State, quite aptly I believe, as a cancer within the Muslim world. It is not so much a religious movement as much as a political one. To quote him:
Radical Islam is the product of the broken politics and stagnant economics of Muslim countries. They have found in radical religion an ideology that lets them rail against the modern world, an ideology that is now being exported to alienated young Muslims everywhere — in Europe, and even in some rare cases in the United States.
It’s here where Zakaria’s discourse seems the most instructive. Broken politics? Stagnant economics? Alienated young people? Why does that seem familiar? Oh, right—that describes the United States, too! If the current election cycle hasn’t hit on each of these themes, I don’t know what it has hit on. Viewing the rise of ISIS through this lens, it’s not to crazy to suggest that parallels exist in the rise of someone like Donald Trump in America. ISIS rejects the trappings of the modern world and the liberalization of Muslims across the globe. Trump appeals to those who reject a growing acceptance of political correctness and goodwill to people of all races, creeds and orientations, invoking sentiments of making America “great again” and thereby making his supporters nostalgic for a mythical era the likes of which they can neither dispute the veracity nor remember as authentic. ISIS promises the disaffected youth of the regions it touches and influences a solution to their woes in the destruction of a vague, ill-defined “other.” Trump, the consummate showman and strongman, lashes out against any group that serves his purpose of stoking the fires of anger among his faithful, and frequently, this takes the form of “radical Islam.”
In both cases, the goal is complete destruction of the other, and by whatever means necessary. ISIS’s influence has been felt in any number of “lone wolf” attacks carried out on American soil, using the kinds of weapons the firearms fetishists among us are so desperate to ensure are legal to buy and carry. If Donald Trump were to have his say, any number of rights violations might be on the table, including waterboarding and other forms of torture, as well as targeting families of suspected terrorists and inflicting harm on them. Thinking in these terms, no other is a good other, and thus, any association with someone resembling the collective other means that person is guilty, too. As far as Trump and other Republicans are concerned, this means foaming at the mouth at what Islam supposedly teaches its followers about hate and destruction, and it certainly requires a condemnation of any refugee policy that would have men, women and children from war-torn Arab nations like Syria live among us “true” Americans. All the while, of course, the underlying symptoms of why so many people are disaffected in the U.S. and in the Middle East fail to be treated, but in the creation of a scapegoat in an amorphous enemy, the distraction is enough. Death to America. ISIS must be destroyed. If we have to bomb, kill, rape and terrorize our way to doing so, risking innocents as collateral damage, so be it.
By no means am I suggesting that the United States has been guilty of the same sorts of atrocities as ISIS, nor am I saying that we ever would. In the never-ending war on terror, however, America is not without a good amount of blood on its hands. Abu Ghraib, drone strikes and bombings of hospitals, Gitmo, regime changes in the Middle East and elsewhere, scores of dead soldiers, civilians and enemy combatants—so much death and destruction (and, not to mention, so expensive). And much of this was with a Democrat as Commander-in-Chief! Lord only knows what Trump, a man with the foreign policy knowledge and temperament of a small child, and the backing of a Republican majority Congress, might do if given the right authorizations. What’s more, as Fareed Zakaria and others would insist, this bombastic language denigrating all of Islam on the part of jingoists in the U.S., France, the Netherlands, and other major developed countries is actually counterproductive. When Westerners demean the Islam faith and the prophet Muhammad, and suggest its practitioners are a backward sort, it is no wonder attempts at reform by Muslims are met with decision and scorn, and groups like ISIS are able to recruit from all corners of the Earth. If we were to live in Iraq or Syria and witness the regular degradation of the Muslim people, we might think America were the enemy also.
The massacre in Orlando was indeed a terror attack, and ISIS may well be at least partially to blame. This does not mean, however, that we should all be allowed to carry assault rifles, nor does it signify that law enforcement should be conducting invasive surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods. And once more, it doesn’t mean we need to use the term “radical Islam.” What jihadists like ISIS espouse and what the Quran teaches, I believe, should remain uncoupled, because what bastardized version of Islam the Islamic State is selling does not deserve to be mentioned in the same thought as a religion which preaches peace and love, not to mention such an association is far from helpful in communicating our acceptance of those Muslims in and out of the Arab world who share a sense of belonging with those of other faiths. At a time like this, what is most needed is compassion, especially for the families and friends of those who were lost in the shooting, but for others, as well. Insisting on less clouds the distinction between us and those who would try to hurt us, and blurs the sides of the same coin of American intolerance and ISIS’s wanton destruction on which we find ourselves.