Is something insidious happening in mainstream America?

Published December 14, 2015
Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Oklahoma City. —AP
Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Oklahoma City. —AP

The art of political brinkmanship in mainstream US politics has a new dimension; religious bigotry.

None of us get the Trump doctrine. He is no more a religious bigot, misogynist or a racist now than he always was. He was all of the above, it's just that he needed a cause to come out of the closet.

Getting the GOP ticket has been the driver. Trump is like that spoilt brat at age 5, who will bang on a door or throw his toys out to get attention. If you respond to any of his tantrums, he'll always remember and then use the tactic again to get what he wants.

The hysteria generated around Trump's latest stump; of banning Muslim immigration to the US is exactly the reaction his campaign wanted and we are all, hopelessly, playing right into it.

He has replaced the race card with religion, and the Mexican card with Muslim. The art of political brinkmanship and “just in time” manifestos is now being played out for the biggest prize in politics.

I imagine, like all other campaign teams do, he sits with his people and plans painstakingly to drop certain morsels for the media and the electorate to chew on every day.

They then look at the day's polling numbers and build on the message that resonated the most in media coverage and among the Republican electorate.

There is nothing impetuous or spontaneous about any of his diatribes.

These are sickeningly well-calculated and planned moves to get the best out of the poll numbers. If you failed to notice, he dropped the "Mexican Wall" from his stump as his numbers went south during the 3rd-4th debate, and as Carson's started to spike.

The Paris and California attacks gave Trump's campaign a new lifeline and impetus.

Only Trump out of the entire GOP candidates except Cruz had the potential, political will and wherewithal to convert such tragedies into political expedience.

And, that he did with cynical precision.

A perfect storm

What started as a mildly entertaining side show of a campaign, building upon his well-caricatured and narcissistic image, has now turned into a full blown political campaign that has religious bigotry, racism and misogyny as its over arching message, and one that is resonating well with main street Republican America as the daily polls tell us.

This is playing out more as a catharsis of the far right wing of the GOP and a damning indictment on the general American Republican demographic that is feeding on those messages than a shocking revelation on Trump himself.

Also read: White House slams Trump's plan to ban Muslims

The grand prize for such shock-and-awe political antics for Trump, who understands ‘The Art of the Deal’ well, is the highest office in the land.

Religious bigotry is being deployed ‘Artfully’ to maximum effect and will be used until its utility expires and will then be replaced by another set of messages with a wider appeal to mainstream America to win over the Democratic vote, that lies more in the centre right in order to give him edge over Hillary Clinton.

All of the above in normal times may have sounded like the rants and raves of a paranoid member of the Muslim diaspora residing in the West.

But these are not normal times.

The political divide has transcended into more perilous territory, dividing a populace on religious grounds — where numbers on each side run into millions — is a game of chicken, where no one comes out unscathed and collateral damage would be profound and generational.

Also read: Al-Huda, Tashfeen, and the massacre

As each day unfolds on the primary campaign trail, which is played out for maximum effect by Trump, both the Muslim diaspora, as well as Muslims born in America, watch in sheer horror as they are sucked into the eye of a perfect storm.

The series of events that started with the attacks in Paris and went on to the California shootings in main street America are the stuff of nightmares and religious zealots on both sides of the divide are feeding on the frenzy and the rhetoric generated by the likes of Trump.

These are all disturbing realities that take you into another time in history in the 1940s, when one charismatic, larger than life leader managed to mobilise an entire population for the annihilation of an entire race.

It now remains to be seen whether the Trump campaign continues with this message till the primaries are won, which based on current evidence they will. If he does triumph, my bet is that the religion and race card would be toned down to give Trump a fighting chance against Clinton.

For Muslims living in the US, several questions reverberate:

  • Is there a large enough American population, that had till now stayed in the closet, with views aligned with that of Donald Trump?

  • Is Trump's campaign just political brinkmanship or a defining moment that will turn into a scary revelation of something insidious in mainstream America, not limited to the people who live on the fringes of society?

  • Was the Tea Party a prologue to the ultimate manifestation of a mainstream American political party at the very far right of the political spectrum?

Sadly, I believe it’s some of the above, if not all of the above.

The reshaping of the American political landscape is well underway. The discourses of the past that centred around the economy and jobs are now being hijacked by a paranoia generated around religion.



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