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Juan Williams: Trump trades on fear

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Was it something Donald Trump said? Was it something I said five years ago?

Yes, actually. 

{mosads}Donald Trump’s radical proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, as well as calls to carpet-bomb terrorists even if it means killing innocent civilians, has increased his already-sizeable lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. 

According to the latest Monmouth University poll, taken after Trump announced his plan, a whopping 41 percent of Republicans say they now want the billionaire real estate developer to be their nominee for president of the United States. That is a new high.

In last week’s GOP debate, Trump’s rivals for the party’s presidential nomination did little to challenge his call to violate America’s protections of religious liberty. In fact, Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) said President Obama is to blame for Trump’s radical statements. “We’re looking at a president who has engaged with this doublespeak,” said Cruz.

“People like what I say,” Trump said at the debate, by way of explaining the positive reaction from Republican primary voters. “People respect what I say. And we’ve opened up a very big discussion that needed to be opened up.”

Controversy about broad suspicion of Muslims is a storm I know.

Five years ago, I was fired by NPR for telling Bill O’Reilly that, since the September 11th attacks, I get nervous when I see people dressed in Muslim garb getting on an airplane.

By admitting the truth of my own fears, I was pointing out the need to avoid politically correctness and acknowledge the legitimate link between radical Islam and terrorism. I also said once the PC muzzles are off the American people— and after all the fears are expressed — it is paramount to keep in mind that the U.S.A. is a country founded on the ideal of religious liberty.

I believed then, as I believe now, that we can’t stereotype any group on the basis of the behavior of extreme, violent or criminal behavior from extreme elements. I don’t want anyone blaming me, a Christian, for the Colorado man who cited his faith as the reason he shot and killed three people at a Planned Parenthood facility last month. 

My point five years ago was that if our leaders pander to public fears they will see political gain in the short-term. But in a nation of many faiths, the political impulse to exploit anti-Muslim passions amounts to bigotry. And in the long run, it undermines our common American identity, a bond across religious beliefs, place of birth, skin color, and political beliefs.

In other words, it is contrary to basic American values and undermines American unity — out of many, one people. 

The Trump Muslim ban is exactly the type of bigoted overreaction I was warning against. 

Clearly, most Republicans do not see it the same way.  

A Washington Post/ABC News poll taken last week found that 59 percent of Republicans support Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States while just 38 percent say it is the “wrong thing to do.” 

Similarly, a Bloomberg/Purple Strategies poll found 65 percent of Republicans supporting Trump’s proposal and 22 percent opposing it.   

But among all Americans, regardless of party, 60 percent say Trump is wrong and just 36 percent support the ban. 58 percent of independents oppose the ban and just 38 percent support it.

Trump was asked at the debate if his plan to “Make America Great Again” boiled down to isolation, beginning with banning Muslims immigrants as well as building a wall to stop Mexicans from coming to America.

“We’re not talking about isolation,” Trump replied. “We’re talking about security. We’re not talking about religion. We’re talking about security. Our country is out of control.”

When Trump was called out at the debate for proposing that the U.S. should kill the families of terrorists — such an idea runs contrary to both the U.S. Constitution and international conventions of warfare — Trump replied: “They can kill us but we can’t kill them?” 

The problem is killing non-combatants – but Trump’s emotional appeal blocks logic.

Trump’s proposal and resultant surge in the polls stem from the deep vein of anti-Muslim sentiment inside Republican politics these days, especially Republican Congressional politics.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), a Tea Party favorite, once famously declared that the Obama administration “has so many Muslim Brotherhood members that have influence that they just are making wrong decisions for America.”

Former Minnesota Rep. and 2012 presidential candidate Michele Bachmann raised the possibility that Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was influencing State Department policy to further the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood because her family members may have been connected to the group.

This led Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to defend Abedin on the Senate floor, calling the accusations “sinister” and saying “they have no logic, no basis and no merit.”

Right-wing politicians get tons of media attention and fundraising boosts when they call for mass deportation of millions of Mexicans, building a wall along the Southern border, barring visitors from Africa over Ebola paranoia, and banning widows and orphans fleeing from Syria over ISIS paranoia.

The American right needs a bogeyman and more often than not, that bogeyman is dark-skinned and a foreigner. The Trump solution is to pull up the drawbridge, wall off the United States and abandon the country’s tradition of inclusion and acceptance. Making American great seems to mean taking the country back to a time of more white people, fewer immigrants and certainly fewer Muslims.

It is safe to say the odds of it happening are slim. 

But Trump is selling fear and even his GOP political opponents are buying it.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.

Tags 2016 presidential election Donald Trump Islam Muslims

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