Watching Donald Trump on television Monday urging that Muslims be banned from entering the United States was like listening to Hitler on the radio in the early 1930s.
As was the case with Hitler, Trump appeals to a substantial number of angry people who cheer his call for making outcasts of members of a particular religion. At first scorned by decent people, as was Hitler, the presidential candidate now is enlisting a growing number of angry and scared Americans by promoting hatred of a religion and an ethnic group. That’s what Hitler did in regard to the Jews.
With Trump gaining strength, he may be on a path to the Republican presidential nomination and, if things continue to go his way, the presidency. Then, say farewell to our democracy. The bleak prophesies of novelists Sinclair Lewis and Philip Roth about a fascist America could come true.
As he spoke to enthusiastic followers Monday on the retired aircraft carrier Yorktown in South Carolina, Trump’s body language was revealing: the contemptuous face, curled lower lip, bullying mouth. Hate-filled words flooded out. Reporters are “scum,” Trump said; his opponents are worthless.
What was most disgraceful about this speech—considered by many to be far worse than his earlier vitriol—was the way he went after anyone who follows the Muslim faith. Muslims, he said, are under suspicion. Reading from a press release he had just sent out, he told the crowd: “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 the hell is going on.”
“We have no choice, we have no choice, we have no choice,” he declared.
He based his call on a survey taken for the Center for Security Policy, an anti-Islam Washington think tank. In the survey of 600 Muslims living in the United States, 51 percent said they should have the choice of being governed by either Sharia courts or U.S courts. Nearly a quarter said they believe it is legitimate to use violence to punish those who give offense to Islam.
Washington Post reporter Philip Bump, who writes about polling, questioned the accuracy of the poll. “There is, in fact, no reliable evidence that a large percentage of Muslims in the United States—or, for that matter, Muslims hoping to travel to the United States—support doing harm to the country or plan to commit acts of violence,” he wrote.
The Center for Security Policy is headed by Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration assistant defense secretary. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which studies and exposes extremist groups, called Gaffney “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes. Gripped by paranoid fantasies about Muslims destroying the West from within, Gaffney believes that ‘creeping Sharia,’ or Islamic religious law, is a dire threat to American democracy. He favors congressional hearings to unmask subversive Muslim conspiracies, and was even banned from far-right Conservative Political Action Conference events after accusing two of its organizers of being agents of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Trump’s proposal taps into a reservoir of racism that is part of American history. Our most beloved liberal president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, ordered American-born and immigrant Japanese people into prison camps at the outset of World War II, one of history’s worst violations of the Constitution. Trump cites Roosevelt’s action in an effort to whip up support for his own plan.
Our history is rife with other examples of racism, too. For example, Asian exclusion laws were widely enforced into the 20th century. From the moment the first slave was taken off a ship in colonial America, African-Americans have been subjected to violent racism. So have Latino immigrants, another Trump target.