It’s a shocking thing to wake up to: A New York Times mobile alert that a presidential contender, in fact the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, “has called for the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country for the time being.”
At least Donald Trump, billionaire and racist-extraordinaire, did not refer to Muslims seeking entry to the United States, as either refugees or tourists, as those Muslims. No, that was the president of Liberty University, who on December 4th said, “I always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walk in and kill.”
Do you hear that? We could end them. With our semi-automatic rifles and Glock pistols. Or if that doesn’t work, maybe we should tag them all and create a database for monitoring the nation’s Muslims, as Trump has yet to rule out. Don’t worry though; if this sounds dangerously racist to you and seems to raise parallels to the actions of a certain fascist regime that rose to power in 1930’s Germany, it shouldn’t. Trump was really just demonstrating his grasp of Islamic theology, according to which everyone is a Muslim at birth. I mean, I assume so, at least.
Worst of all, Trump’s comments only seem to increase his poll numbers: between a quarter and a third of self-identified Republicans profess to support him. He has been ahead in the polls for all but a few days since the middle of July, and data since Trump’s comment about banning Muslim entry on December 7 shows no drop for the real estate mogul. Rather, one in eight Americans more or less agree with him, or at the very least do not consider his views on immigration, on Muslims, etc. to be a deal breaker when it comes to their endorsement.
Of course, it is not necessarily the case that Trump, or Ben Carson (polling at 13%), who has said that America could never have a Muslim president, or Ted Cruz (polling at 17%), who seems to have found success on the back of a campaign strategy that involves being as extreme but not quite as nasty as Trump, will win the Republican nomination. After all, past precedents suggest that candidates who have as little support from the establishment as Trump, Carson and Cruz do will end up fading long before the nominating convention in July.
Rather, the problem is that, as Jon Stewart once said, Donald Trump represents America’s id. He brings out the nation’s instinctive impulses: to xenophobia, to isolationism, to hate. He draws to the surface that, under any normal circumstances, would remain repressed. Take just his slogan, “Make America great again!”, or some of his other catchphrases: “I am the best!”, “I am very rich”, “I win”. These claims to greatness are inherent to the American identity – think manifest destiny and American exceptionalism – but when unrestrained, are disastrous. Manifest destiny, after all, led to the genocide of the country’s Native Americans.
There is very little that can be said in the way of rational discourse that can persuade Trump supporters to cease being Trump supporters. That is the nature of the id: it can be restrained by reason, but never defeated by it. Hence, in a way, all the vitriolic think pieces and worried newspaper screeds about how Mr. Trump’s rise must be stopped are column space good and wasted.
The message that should be expressed instead is that even as Mr. Trump’s commentary becomes more Islamophobic and vituperative, so too must the political will of those supporting other candidates increase. That could mean action, like volunteering to work for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or Jeb Bush or Chris Christie. It could mean donation, to allow them to run a better, stronger campaign. None of the candidates is perfect, certainly – but handwringing about the sad state of affairs only allows Trump and Cruz, and their ready, enthusiastic supporters, to dominate for longer.
We cannot wave away Trump’s supporters or pretend that op-eds in the New York Times about how egregious Trump’s beliefs are do more than garner page hits for the Times and fuel self-righteousness. What we can do, however, is turn that self-righteousness, now the fire has been stoked, to productive end. America’s id is rearing its ugly head; it’s time to fight back.