The Real Reason Trump Scares Me
Florida Times Union, September 8, 2016
Donald Trump’s speech in Arizona about his signature issue of immigration terrified me. Of particular concern was the perception that anyone who is not in Trump’s image, will be objects of his ire. In a Trump presidency, I have three strikes against me – immigrant, Muslim and brown-skinned.
Trump’s slogan of making America great again sounds fascistic because by any objective measure America is not in serious decline. Yet he has been able to persuade many that people who do not fit the profile of the majority pose an existential threat to America. Noted CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria views Trump as a bullshit artist who is so oblivious about the world that he fails to recognize reality, even when it is obvious. This shows up in his lack of understanding about immigrants and their struggles.
In his Arizona speech, besides the dark picture he painted of immigrants, Trump advocated returning immigration levels to “historical norms,” a term he left undefined. This sounded like dog-whistle for returning America to the pre-1965 days when immigration was mostly limited to white Europeans. His speech gave the impression that America is awash with immigrants when in reality the number of legal immigrants to America has remained at about one million per year over the past two decades. The foreign born population in the U.S. now stands at only 13 percent, posing no threat to the native born majority.
In addition, the number of undocumented immigrants has decreased to around 11 million from its peak of 12.2 million in 2007. Net migration, the difference between people coming and leaving, from Mexico is now close to zero. By reasonable estimates, it is impossible to make the assertion that crime rates from undocumented immigrants are more than those from native born Americans. Trump’s statement that, “Illegal immigration costs our country more than $113 billion a year” was rated “Mostly False” by the fact-checking website PolitiFact.
Trump also played on the fears of refugees, some of the most vulnerable people on earth. Since 9-11, America has resettled 784,000 refugees, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Only three have been arrested for planning terrorist activity and only one of them for plotting to harm the homeland. As a so called “law and order” candidate Trump is silent about the many deaths resulting from police brutality or from mass shootings by people other than Muslims.
Trump also shows little reverence and understanding for the U.S. Constitution. Trump advocated the closure of mosques, because “some bad things are happening.” He was oblivious of the fact that the First Amendment protects religious liberty of all Americans. In his Arizona speech Trump advocated “extreme vetting” of visitors to the U.S., not just on understandable security grounds but on inexplicable ideological grounds. He called out “radical Islam” as one example requiring “extreme vetting.” How does one spot “radical Islam” at the border? How does a border agent determine which visitor is telling the truth about their true ideological beliefs?
Trump also lacks understanding of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Trump not only wants to reinstitute the torturous practice of water boarding but he also advocates killing family members of suspected terrorists. Trump’s blanket ban on all people from “terrorist countries” is possibly unconstitutional because the definition of “terrorist countries” is vague and if any such definition only singles out Muslim majority countries, it could be viewed by a court as a thinly veiled guise for discriminating against Muslims. When Trump railed against a judge and proclaimed him unfit because of his Mexican heritage, he not only exhibited racial animus but also ignorance about the separation of powers idea in the U.S. Constitution.
There is no telling who Trump will target next. It’s bad enough that as a narcissist, he has Quixotic ideas about his own capabilities. But it is worse that as a demagogue he peddles falsehoods that threaten vulnerable communities. Trump scares me, not because any of his crazy ideas are practically feasible. My real fear is that his brand of bullshitting and nativism will become an indelible part of the American political and social landscape.