Saying Anything, Election 2016-style

Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, speaks during a presidential candidate debat
Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, speaks during a presidential candidate debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015. The fourth Republican debate, hosted by Fox Business Network and the Wall Street Journal, focuses on the economy with eight presidential candidates included in the main event and four in the undercard version. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Here is what's grimly fascinating in this year's dystopian carnival of a Republican presidential primary. When it comes to what can be said in America, all bets are off. These days, the concept of "beyond the pale" couldn't look more wan. All of a sudden, there's nothing, no matter how jingoistic or xenophobic, extreme or warlike that can't be expressed in public and with pride by a Republican presidential candidate. You want torture back in the American playbook? You've got it! Just elect Donald Trump or Ben Carson -- and our future torturers don't even need to justify its use in terms of getting crucial information from terror suspects. Employing good old American-style enhanced interrogation techniques to inflict pain on "them" is fine and dandy in itself.

When it comes to refugees from the grim war zones we had such a hand in creating in the Greater Middle East, if you want the Statue of Liberty to hold a "Christians only" sign, welcome to the worlds of Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz. Should you prefer a registry for either Syrian refugees or American Muslims and mosque closings aplenty, you've got it from Donald Trump (and the closing of any facility "where radicals are being inspired" from Marco Rubio) -- and no matter how much politically correct liberals may complain, Trump's not walking either of those proposals back far. (Where, by the way, are all those religious freedom types now that mosques are at stake? Can you imagine the uproar in this country if Bernie Sanders were to call for the shutting down of a few right-wing Christian churches?)

If you have the urge to compare Syrian Muslim refugees to "rabid dogs" and thought you had to keep your mouth shut about it, step into the universe of Ben Carson and speak out! Should you want to claim that, on September 11, 2001, crowds of thousands of Muslims cheered and tailgated in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from the smoldering ruins of the Twin Towers, and that it was all recorded on video that only Donald Trump and maybe Ben Carson saw, then you're in just the right exceptional nation at just the right moment. I could go on, but why bother?

In 2016 there is evidently no longer anything, no matter how extreme or offensive, that Donald Trump and the rest of the crew can say to the Republican base that will affect their popularity negatively. Quite the opposite, such statements, along with the promise to be "tough" on the Islamic State, are now the equivalent of popularity meters. In a country where public opinion not so long ago seemed down on more boots-on-the-ground interventions in the Greater Middle East, you can't threaten to send in too many boots and planes these days. The attacks in Paris and threats of them elsewhere are clearly God's gift to Republican extremity. And right now, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his caliphate pals seem to control the electoral fate of politicians in both the United States and Europe.

In the midst of this Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to election 2016, lest you think that the category of extreme and perverse is confined to foreign policy, and refugee or immigrant bashing, climb aboard TomDispatch's campaign tour bus and let Nomi Prins, author of All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power, take you on a wild ride in "The American Hunger Games" into the wilderness of Republican economic policy in the ongoing campaign from hell.

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