The week since the bloody terrorist attack on a San Bernardino holiday party hasn't gone well for American politics. It's mostly been a disconcerting combination of the uncertain and the shrill, the latter crossing the line into outright fascism.
President Barack Obama, though faster than in the past at recognizing jihadism when he sees it, wasted an Oval Office address on a refried beans mess of platitudes I forgot as soon as I heard it. If he had so little to say, I don't know why he bothered. At least he didn't take months to recognize jihadist terrorism, as he did when the obviously radicalized U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan -- lest we forget, the delicious irony, a psychiatrist -- gunned down 45 people, killing 13 and wounding 32 others, at Fort Hood in 2009. The San Bernardino attackers gunned down 35 people, killing 14.
The Republicans who would replace Obama?
Well, that is the shrill. They mostly acted like it is World War III. Or maybe they just want World War III.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declares quite correctly that Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump's latest hateful jabber attacking the religion of Islam "is playing right into the hands of Isis."
Cue the ever reliable Donald Trump, and his call to ban Muslim visitors to America, to which we will return in a moment.
The Democrats? Well, Bernie Sanders still really wants to talk about economic inequality. Which is fine, as far as it goes. Of course, it does not go far enough, since the presidency isn't just a great big Labor Department on steroids.
Hillary Clinton? Well, she is one of the few bright spots in all the murk and twaddle.
Hillary, who I did not support in 2008, was firm but thoughtful, resolute but measured. There is a word for this: Presidential. That she is now advocating some of the things I've written about after Paris and after San Bernardino, including taking down the seductively murderous social media recruitment and propaganda presence of Isis, naturally doesn't hurt.
It's not all good. She's still talking about imposing a no-fly zone over Syria. Isis has no air force but the Assad regime does and Hillary is still chasing after the elusive "moderate Syrian rebels" scenario.
Assad is a bad guy and should go, as has been clear since he forcibly suppressed his Arab Spring protesters. But not, as Russian President Vladimir Putin correctly points out, until there is something real to replace Assad other than more chaos.
In the meantime, we really aren't going to impose a no-fly zone there with the Russian air force in the air. If anything, with its S-400 anti-aircraft system, the world's most advanced, now deployed, it is Russia that is best positioned to institute any no-fly zone.
The reality is that the post-colonial construct known as Syria, like Iraq, is already dismembered by the Sunni-Shia and Arab/Kurd divides. Assad is presiding over a Syrian rump state, which I'm sure Russia and Iran will both, for their own reasons, insist on continuing in at least some form, with or most likely, in the long run, without Assad.
None of which Donald Trump, a true primitive on the issues, gets. He's the Apostle of Ignorance. Which brings us to Trumpism's dumb and dumber politics of banning Muslims from visiting, much less emigrating to, America.
As Hillary Clinton points out, this demonization of an entire religion -- something some other Republicans do in more veiled fashion -- plays right into the hands of Isis, Al Qaeda, and every other slimeball jihadist on the planet, who would like nothing better than to force their arguable co-religionists into a worldwide religious war. Talk about apocalypse now.
Now, I don't believe for a second that Donald Trump is one of those extreme religionists who believes there must be a great battle over the holy places and yada yada yada. I remember when he supported one of my candidates, Gary Hart, so I know that Trump is really just an extraordinarily conceited opportunist with a stupendously big mouth. So why is he pulling this endless crap?
Because he can.
To borrow an old Texan phrase, Trump has always been an "all hat" kinda guy. Now he's found a way to get one hell of a herd of cattle to follow his oh-so-big hat.
The Republican Party has been prepped for the emergence of a truly dangerous ultra-demagogue like Trump for many years. And our media culture is a perfect Petri dish for it.
First the neoconservatives, who have got to be some of the dumbest imperialists in world history, spun up their nitwit designs on the Middle East, leading to the ultimate non sequitur response to 9/11, the disastrously destabilizing invasion of Iraq. Which empowered Iran and created photo-jihadists around the world. (Unrepentant neocon theorist Victor Davis Hanson has "The Islamic War" in the latest National Review.)
Then Fox News went from a sometimes intriguing conservative network, on which I occasionally appeared, to all right-wing/all the time, consciously aggregating and constantly agitating a hard-core right-wing constituency. Whatever Rupert Murdoch may think about this now, he's laughed all the way to the bank.
Then, desperately trying to win a presidential race that was never in the cards, my old fave John McCain -- surrounded by some friends of mine who've since had, er, second thoughts -- put an attractive but obvious know-nothing, as I wrote at the time, named Sarah Palin on the national ticket.
And poor McCain, having trolled for votes in the sewer, found himself confronted at one of his own town halls by a supporter so terrified of the rather moderate Barack Obama that she could barely even say what he was: "He's an, an ... Arab!"
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, the choice of the moderate conservative Republican establishment, plays a slightly more sophisticated form of Trumpism, declaring that we are engaged in a "clash of civilizations," referring to the concept of Samuel Huntington's famous 1996 book of the same name. But we should clash not with the civilization of Islam but with the barbarian radicalized subset of that religion that uses supernatural ideology to thinly veil a deranged will to power.
So why be surprised by Trumpism?
If he's not the nominee, it will be someone who is a little better at disguising the dog whistle.
Like, say, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who's shown all the makings of a Joe McCarthy type in his antics on Capitol Hill.
Jihadism is a serious problem, spun up by the misadventures of the Bush/Cheney administration and furthered, at least in some ways, by the Obama administration, whose Afghanistan surge backfired, whose secret drone war may create more problems than it solves, and whose response to Isis, as I wrote for months, was amazingly dilatory.
Jihadism requires serious thinking and tough strategies.
But, unlike climate change, it is not an existential crisis.
Jihadism will only become an existential crisis if we overreact and provoke the "clash of civilizations," that "Islamic War" that so many right-wing Republicans evidently want. Or if we under-react. As, sad to say, Obama, who is doing a fine job of Carterizing himself, has been doing.
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