CJ Werleman on why the US President will keep targeting Muslims and step up his attacks on Islam as his begins his 2020 re-election campaign.
Despite a slim majority of Americans expressing support for the impeachment and removal of US President Donald Trump – with evidence of his wrongdoing, specifically the abuse of power and obstruction of justice, all but plain to see – there is little doubt that he will survive his impeachment trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, given that many of his jurors openly boast of defying their constitutional requirements of impartiality in coordinating with the White House.
Trump is here to stay and his 2020 re-election campaign now officially begins.
On Friday, the President provided a glimpse of what shape and form his effort to secure a second term will take in signalling that his administration is considering a dramatic expansion of its much-litigated travel ban to additional Muslim-majority countries.
During the 2016 Presidential Election campaign, Trump promised a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the country”, but was forced to implement what he called a “water-downed, politically correct version” due to subsequent pressure flowing down from multiple federal courts.
Despite the administration’s insistence that the travel ban has kept the country safe, not a single US citizen has been killed on US soil by a national from the affected Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somali – in the period spanning 1975 to 2015.
Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the right-leaning Cato Institute, describes the ban as a “response to a phantom menace”. He argues that “the annual chance of being murdered by somebody other than a foreign-born terrorist was 252.9 times greater than the chance of dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreign-born terrorist”.
But Trump’s ban was never about “Making America Great Again” or keeping the country safe. If it was, then Trump’s number one financial benefactor, Saudi Arabia, would have been included – with 15 of the 19 people involved in 9/11 Saudi nationals. Instead, the ban has been about inflicting cruelty on a religious and cultural group Trump’s predominately white evangelical Christian political base deems detestable.
Cruelty was Trump’s central selling point in 2016 and it will be again – but with a further twist of the proverbial dagger in the undesirable ‘other’.
Joy in Suffering
“The ban’s impact comes in many shapes and forms, reaching well beyond individuals from the five targeted countries into hearts, homes, and neighbourhoods across the country,” observes the American Civil Liberties Union.
It has denied law-abiding Muslim migrants from visiting their loved ones in the US, causing tens of thousands to miss weddings, funerals, graduations and birthdays. It has also denied athletes from entering competitions and artists the ability to showcase their talents.
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But, none of this matters to Trump’s supporters. If they aren’t moved by the sight of migrant children being separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border before being held in steel cages, it is hard to imagine them losing sleep over a Somali national losing their place at a prestigious American university.
What the President knows better than anyone else is that his supporters “find community by rejoicing in the suffering of those they hate and fear,” according to Adam Serwer in a 2018 op-ed for The Atlantic.
They rejoice when their President mocks female victims of sexual assault, a child with Down’s Syndrome, a handicapped journalist, teen survivors of a high school mass shooting, immigrant parents of US military Gold Star families, black athletes protesting against police brutality, Hispanic American judges, and American prisoners of war – while smearing his critics and political opponents with lies.
“Taking joy in that suffering is more human than most would like to admit,” Serwer wrote. “Somewhere on the wide spectrum between adolescent teasing and the smiling white men in the lynching photographs are the Trump supporters whose community is built by rejoicing in the anguish of those they see as unlike them, who have found in their shared cruelty an answer to the loneliness and atomisation of modern life.”
Muslims remain the perfect target for Trump’s darkest impulses, given the right-wing-media has spent two decades expressing open hostility and suspicion towards them and Islam.
When Trump refers to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers”, it causes measurable political pain and discomfort to many within the Republican Party, particularly those who preside over states and districts with high numbers of Latino Americans. Given that Muslims account for fewer than 2% of the population, Trump’s attacks on adherents of the Islamic faith are, for him, free of political cost and risk, which explains why his renewed assault on Muslims and Islam coincides with the launch of his 2020 re-election campaign.
If the success of Trump, Brexit and the right-wing throughout the Western world has taught us anything in recent years, it is that Islamophobia remains the gift that keeps on giving for every opportunist, charlatan and huckster.