Donald Trump's views are sometimes farcical, and sometimes disturbing. And yet, he is the last man standing among the Republican candidates and is one step away from the White House.
As pundits and analysts are asking "what went wrong", one way to understand Trump's success is the fact that he is perceived to state things as they really are, without the filter of establishment jargon and what some denounce as "political correctness".
I had written about this in December 2015, as I found the results of a poll particularly revealing. What the NBC, Telemundo, and Marist College poll showed was that more than seven in ten Republicans believe Trump "tells it like it is," while only 25 percent find him "insulting and offensive".
To be sure, Trump is 'telling it like it is' for those who believe what he says. For those who disagree with his views, the 'like it is' is a racist, fascist, Islamophobic, narrow-minded, and essentially false perception of reality.
In other words, Trump is 'telling it like it is' because he is giving voice to opinions that have only rarely been overtly adopted by influential presidential candidates or presidents.
As was noted by Chris Cilliza, each time there is a public outcry, media reaction and fact-checking vis-à-vis Trump's 'facts', Trump's stock increases in value because the perception is that the media does not 'tell it like it is'. The net result is that "Trump's 'facts' are of more value because they aren't being filtered through the media's liberal filter."
So what are those "facts" that Trump ostensibly tells like they are?
I will limit my discussion here to "facts" about Islam, and by extension, refugees, immigrants, and foreign policy as it relates directly to Islam.
In calling for a ban on Muslims' entry into the US, Trump was explicit in assuming that any Muslim--citizen or refugee--is likely to espouse radical views and may be a terrorist threat.
Although unsubstantiated by evidence or studies, pundits who agree with Trump promote the view (see video below) that a "large number of Muslims believe in this Islamic radicalism."
A *crazy* thing happens when CNN simply asks a "Muslim ban" supporting pundit to source their claims!
— CAFE (@cafedotcom) December 8, 2015
Another version of this is the idea that refugees are part of a conspiracy to invade Europe and the west in order to impose Sharia law. This runs completely counter to the fact that the number of extremists who identify as Muslim are a minute proportion of the world's total Muslim population. Also, recent polls suggest exactly the opposite, namely that "in nations with significant Muslim populations, [there is] much disdain for ISIS."
Furthermore, a recent study on ISIS recruits who have defected from the group cite the violence against, and killing of fellow (Sunni) Muslims as being a main reason for their disillusionment with the group. As has always been true, radical Islam continues to kill more Muslims than it does non-Muslims.
Strategically, this runs counter to US counter-terrorist interests, as it needs to ally itself with the vast majority of Muslims who view ISIS as a threat to their religion (as I mention in the video below). Promoting diplomacy and dialogue with Muslims in order to eradicate ISIS is the winning card in this war. President Obama--at least on this matter--is not solidifying ties with Muslim nations to be politically correct, but in order to defeat ISIS.
Ultimately, Trump is perhaps not an Islamophobe, but simply a good old-fashioned politician who knows how and when to shift positions on key issues, in large part determined by what potential voters want to hear--by 'telling it like it is' from the perspective of those voters.
This is evidenced by earlier statements of his regarding Muslims, such as in The Atlantic, as recently as September 2015: ""I love the Muslims, I think they're great people." Would he appoint a Muslim to his cabinet? "Oh, absolutely," he said back then. "No problem with that."
But for those who believe Islamophobic notions, all the opposing voices in the world might not suffice to bring about a change of mind given the long tradition of Islamophobia in the west and the United States.
Perhaps, just as we speak about the need for education and democracy-promotion in the Third World, we must begin to treat the populations with Islamophobic notions and discriminatory practices as groups deserving international efforts to counter extremism and the spread of terrorism.
Armed conflicts fuel terrorism. Poverty fuels terrorism. Economic inequalities fuel terrorism (see second half of the interview below). But Trump's success should remind us that discrimination against Muslims will also fuel terrorism and will shape a counter-terrorism strategy that will fail and potentially backfire with unpredictable consequences.
Thanks to Trump, those concerned with working towards a more secure and humane planet must as a matter of urgency find an effective way in which to counter xenophobic public opinion. On the rise in many parts of the world, it seeks to find the most vulnerable scapegoats for heinous acts of terrorism: either refugees fleeing conflicts and persecution, or immigrants who cherish and abide by the rule of law in their new homes.
This is a slightly edited and shortened version of an article that was published in December 2015, titled "Trump and Islamophobia: discrimination fuels terror", on openDemocracy.