By now, the fog created by Donald Trump's proposal to ban all Muslims from the country has cleared. The pundits, elected officials, and Democratic presidential candidates have all had their chance to deride him as poisonous to our political process, to reaffirm what apparently needs to be reaffirmed: that a country like ours simply doesn't stand for this kind of thing.
But if there's anything more harrowing than a leading candidate for president of the United States unprecedentedly proposing to ban an entire religious group from the country, it's that candidate getting away with it. And rest assured, Donald Trump has gotten away with it.
Let's look at the evidence. The voters, for one, have failed to hold Trump accountable. He was still center-stage at the last debate, and there's no indication he's going anywhere. In fact, a majority of Republican voters support his plan. And what about the Republican leaders? Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, spoke out, as did the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, but when pressed on whether or not they would support Trump as the nominee, their opposition came to a screeching halt. The same goes for Trump's 2016 adversaries: Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio said they "understand" where Trump was coming from, and Jeb Bush said Hillary Clinton has "chutzpah" for suggesting Trump's remarks could be a recruiting tool for ISIS.
No one paying attention could have been all that surprised when Trump proposed his ban. After all, it's also unprecedented to send endless inflammatory tweets as a presidential candidate and dismiss a debate moderator's tough questions because you suspect she's menstruating. But what is surprising is that for all the calls of un-Americanism, the so-called un-American is still in line to be the Republican nominee for president. And that's not Trump's fault.
So to all those people who dismissed Trump's proposal by saying "this is not what America stands for" and "this is not what America is," guess what: you're wrong. This is our country. This is the Republican party. Trump can be quieted any day we choose--it will only take people pulling back their support and their attendance at his rallies. But it's not happening--far from it--so what other conclusion can we draw?
It didn't have to be this way. Imagine for a moment that the day after Trump released his plan, Speaker Ryan and and Majority Leader McConnell called a joint press conference and declared, "This is not what the Republican party stands for and we will not support him if he is our nominee," and then walked off the stage without taking any questions. Imagine if the Republican presidential candidates got together and released a statement saying, "Despite where he stands on the stage these are not our values, and he is worse than Hillary Clinton." Then, at least there would be a powerful counter-balance to Trump's supporters and some practical consequences. Then, at least a reasonable observer could conclude that maybe Americans actually don't stand for this sort of thing. But come on, who would ever expect that to happen?
Yet that, in itself, is the problem. Indeed, such an unprecedented proposal, something so blatantly at odds with our history, culture, and constitution should merit that kind of unprecedented response. But it didn't happen--we didn't even expect it to happen--and it's becoming increasingly clear that the abstract citations of American values and descriptions of un-Americanism are not up to the task. We do live in a country where these values are acceptable--just turn on your TV, sign on to Twitter, or look at the most recent poll. This is the new America, and it's going to take a lot more than ridiculing a billionaire to bring it back.