Guest Column: Trump creates an election of the extremes
“Politics hates a vacuum. If it isn’t filled with hope, someone will fill it with fear.”
Naomi Klein’s words certainly ring true during this unusual presidential race. Nothing brings out America’s hopes and fears like a hard-fought battle for the White House.
The 2016 election cycle — at times a clown show more than a presidential race — comes after a decade of war and fear mongering since 9/11.
It is no coincidence that, “in the age of Donald Trump,” the nation is witnessing extraordinary religious extremism and racism. And religious extremism fans the flames of the politics of fear.
Trump has fueled religious extremism on several occasions. Some of his most dangerous comments include “calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States,” claiming that Christianity itself is “under siege” and, just this month, claiming that president “Obama founded ISIS, literally.”
Tragically for us, Christian as well as Muslim extremists are picking up on his hate speech and mobilizing. It’s not a coincidence, therefore, that Trump enjoys the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan, or that his comments have been featured on an Al-Qaeda recruiting video.
But rather than blaming this election season’s hate speech entirely on the “Trump effect,” we need to ask deep, honest and introspective questions of ourselves: Why do some American’s flock toward this kind of religious extremism? Why don’t they reject it outright?
It’s easy for us to blame Trump, and even easier still to label him a racist or just plain ignorant. The truth is that Trump is the fruit, rotten and distasteful as it may be, of every election season since George W. Bush. The rise of Barack Hussein Obama, the U.S.’s first African-American president and whose father was a Kenyan Muslim, was enough to roil the racist sensibilities of many in the GOP to its very core.
The ensuing fight for the Republican Party’s survival depended on strengthening their right-wing, Christian, conservative credentials. So in the aftermath of 9/11 and the so-called “War on Terror,” the “Islamophobia industry” — as author Nathan Lean demonstrates — flourished. Conservative activists, donors, intellectuals, televangelists, media and politicians generated a multi-million dollar industry through anti-Muslim programming.
Nowhere was the “Islamophobia industry” more active than during the 2010 midterm election cycle. The “Ground Zero mosque” controversy, neither a mosque nor located on Ground Zero anyway, was made up out of thin air. And it became one in a series of protests blocking mosques from being built anywhere on U.S. soil.
The 2012 election cycle saw the peak of #CreepingSharia, another fearsome but hollow campaign aimed at maligning American Muslims. By 2015, hate crimes against American Muslims were five times higher than before 9/11.
Trump himself is not particularly religious, and there’s no indication he could tell the Bible from Moby Dick. So why does insulting Muslims or Mexicans resonate?
Religious extremism is a tool to harness the fears of working-class, older, white Americans — the political base of the GOP. It’s an audience that includes good, hardworking people, evangelicals, workers who lost factory jobs, families who sent their kids off to war, average people falling victim to alcoholism and suicide at higher rates, and a white America shrinking before a growing Spanish-speaking population.
Trump is banking on scaring enough votes out of them to land him in the White House, an increasingly unlikely prospect after Khizr Khan constitutional intervention at the DNC.
The U.S. is indebted to the Khan family, not just for their son’s sacrifice, but for potentially saving our republic from the politics of fear and persistent religious extremism.
Emran El-Badawi is the program director and associate professor of Middle Eastern studies. If you want to submit a guest column, please contact us at [email protected]