Political Correctness. PC. The right has wielded that phrase going on three decades now, and popular vote loser Donald Trump made it a major part of his presidential campaign. They claim that PC shuts down certain ideas and elevates others based on how they make people feel, rather than the actual truth. And there’s no better way to describe the Trump Administration’s approach to terrorism and Islam thus far.
Let’s start with the ban on all nationals from seven Muslim countries (but not the ones with whom Trump does significant business) entering the U.S., and the blocking of all Syrian refugees from our shores. The fact that this policy violates basic morality and some of our core values as a nation is a vitally important reason why many of us oppose it, but let’s leave that aside for a moment. Let’s examine the truth about its necessity and effectiveness. Guess how many people have died on our territory in an attack carried out by someone from one of those seven countries since 9/11? Zero. How about since 1975? Also zero.
But that’s not all Trump has been up to. On Thursday, sources indicated that the new Administration plans to radically alter the Countering Violent Extremism program initiated under President Obama. Currently, the program works to combat violent extremism, i.e., terrorism, in the U.S., no matter what the underlying ideology. Regarding Muslims, CVE encourages community groups to work together with the government.
Trump’s new plan? He wants to limit the program’s focus to Islam, and change the name to either “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.” What about white supremacist killers, or terrorists who murder Muslims while they pray? Apparently, there’s no need for a federal effort to counter them any longer. Furthermore, does anyone think this change will make American Muslims—the overwhelming majority of whom reject terrorist violence—just a wee bit wary of joining hands with a program, not to mention a government, that targets their faith specifically?
We have some evidence on that front already. One group, Leaders Advancing & Helping Communities, just decided to turn down a CVE grant they won because of “the current political climate and cause for concern.” And they aren’t the only ones. It’s definitely a cause for concern if Muslim American groups feel alienated by Trump’s counterproductive policies.
So why did Trump enact these measures, in particular given that numerous experts believe they will weaken, not strengthen, our national security? Feelings. Nothing more than ... sorry. Trump, and many other Republicans, have long sought to fire up their base with charges that, for example, President Obama wouldn’t use the words “radical Islam” when talking about terrorist acts committed by Muslims. That was 100 percent about politics, about playing on fear to gin up anger.
Obama, like George W. Bush before him, made a sober, strategic assessment that not saying those words would make us safer, stronger, and help us in the fight against ISIS, al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups acting in the name of Islam. Would you like to know who else agrees with Obama and Bush, and thinks Trump is just plain wrong? Vladimir Putin:
‘I would prefer Islam not be mentioned in vain alongside terrorism,’ he said at a news conference in December, answering a question about the Islamic State, a group he often refers to as ‘the so-called Islamic State,’ to emphasize a distinction with the Islamic religion. At the opening of a mosque in Moscow in 2015, Mr. Putin spoke of terrorists who ‘cynically exploit religious feelings for political aims… Terrorists from the so-called Islamic State are compromising a great world religion, compromising Islam, sowing hatred, killing people, including clergy,’ and added that ‘their ideology is built on lies and blatant distortions of Islam.’ He was careful to add, ‘Muslim leaders are bravely and fearlessly using their own influence to resist this extremist propaganda.’
Putin is an authoritarian thug, to be sure. I am loathe to cite him for, well, anything. The point is that if he, Bush, and Obama all agree on which approach works best on this issue, that says something. What it says is that Trump—no doubt influenced by his own personal Rasputin, i.e., Steve Bannon, is pursuing a policy that makes the American people less safe. He’s doing so because it makes a segment of his base feel good, feel like they are the ones whose ideas are in charge. It’s nothing more than right-wing political correctness.
Along similar lines, Judge James Robart’s order that blocked Trump’s travel ban gave him another opportunity to play to the emotions of his base. He attacked the judge, and thus the constitutional principle of an independent judiciary, in incendiary terms. The clear message he’s able to send is that he wants to keep you safe, but the establishment just won’t let him.
If Democrats want to beat Trump, it’s not enough to talk only about the fact that his policies are immoral—as important as that is. People are scared of terrorism, specifically coming from Muslims, especially after San Bernadino and Orlando. From the perspective of political strategy, to deny that reality is unhelpful to say the least. We must talk about morality and American values, but we also have to talk about effectiveness.
Like it or not, there are Americans who are willing to sacrifice their morality for their safety. We can convince them that Trump is making them and their loved ones less safe by targeting Muslims with his policies, and that he’s doing so in a cynical way to appeal to their fears and win their votes. In a close election, that could make the difference between a one-term failed Trump presidency that discredits everything he stands for, and a re-election that is painful to even contemplate.