Living in a Trumpian Twilight Zone

“We’re in a surreal world,” Matthew Dowd, political strategist who has worked for Democrats and Republicans alike, told the Washington Post a few days ago.

I found the comfort of kinship in his words. Because in these times, every day truly does feel surreal -- or at least off-balance, askew, akilter. I suspect that’s precisely the way Donald Trump and his puppet master, Steve Bannon, want it.

And, for the record, I’m a white, heterosexual male, still largely insulated from the worst insults and excesses of our new presidential administration. For others, things already are so much worse.

There’s the story of a colleague whose father, a naturalized citizen born in Sri Lanka, has been advised that just to be on the safe side, he probably shouldn’t fly domestically for awhile. There’s the Indian graduate student, who lamented at a college gathering that she didn’t dare leave the United States to visit family this summer because she wasn’t sure she would be able to return.

And, of course, there is the Indian computer engineer, gunned down in a wealthy suburban county near Kansas City by a man who reportedly shouted “get out of my country” before opening fire perhaps, authorities told The Post, because he mistook his victim for an Iranian.

These stories, big and small, unfolded before Donald Trump issued immigration ban 2.0 on Monday. But the seeds for these and a general surge in hate crimes, it seems, were planted by the campaign that catapulted Donald Trump into the presidency and have been nurtured by his administration’s attitudes since.

Trump’s ludicrous ban on immigrants from six predominantly Muslim countries will do nothing to make this country safer. Instead, it, like his first sloppy effort, likely will be a poster child for terrorist recruitment.

Why is this ban futile? Because most terrorists in this country are radicalized years after entering the United States, according to a recently published Department of Homeland Security report. Asked to make a case for the ban against citizens from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, Department of Homeland Security intelligence experts instead reported that “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of terrorist activity.”

That did little to dissuade the Trump Administration from issuing what’s being called Muslim Ban Lite, a new executive order that drops our ally, Iraq, from the list and no longer excludes current green card and visa holders.

Still, what the remaining six-country ban — and an accompanying temporary ban on refugees worldwide — will accomplish is unclear, other than the certainty it will make the lives of some of the world’s most frightened and disenfranchised people that much more miserable.

There’s no evidence it will make anyone safer. But it’s clearly creating suspicion – and sometimes hatred – of anyone who looks different (read, non-white).

This week I received a special Intelligence Report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has traced hate groups and extremism in this country for generations. It is titled: “The Year in Hate and Extremism: After Half a Century, the Radical Right Enters the Mainstream.”

“Our annual census shows that hate groups remained at near record levels – and that groups targeting Muslims nearly tripled,” founder Morris Dees writes in an accompanying letter. The report, he writes, reviews “the serious outbreak of hate crimes and bias incidents that accompanied the campaign and the election of Donald Trump.”

Coincidence, you say? Pleeaaase.

In addition to fear, suspicion and the “odd assassination,” as in Kansas, we’ve only just begun to measure the fallout of this ill-conceived ban on immigrants from select majority-Muslim countries. The broader fallout will come when those from more populous and not necessarily Muslim nations, such as India, stop immigrating to Silicon Valley to fuel our technology industries, when graduate students from a broad swath of Asian and Middle Eastern nations stop studying in the United States, when the outflow of immigrants from this country exceeds the influx.

Of course, that’s precisely what Donald Trump and his most fervent “Make America White Again” supporters want. They revel in the fear his anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions is creating among a broad swath of Americans, many of them citizens.

But what about others in the Republican Party, now in control of Congress and the courts as well as the White House? What about the party’s senators and representatives in the House? If they’ve noticed the upsurge of racists and bullies, if they care, they sure aren’t saying much about it.

Until they do, the conspiracy-laden boldness of Donald Trump’s dizzying late-night tweets – now building a myth about President Obama’s supposed spying – will continue to ratchet upward, ever hastening the country’s march toward an authoritarian state.

Surreal? Yes, that’s the perfect word.

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