The latest outburst of self-righteous indignation directed at Donald Trump underscores what hypocrites Americans are, as well as illustrating their seemingly endless capacity for self-delusion. This latest eruption of moralizing is occasioned by Trump’s proposal that all travel by Muslims into this country must be ended – “until we find out what the heck is going on.”
Oh, moan liberals and conservatives alike, this is terrrrrible!!! It’s bigoted! It’s unconstitutional! And it’s not very nice! Yet Congress is set to approve a bill with broad bipartisan backing that would deny visa-free travel to anyone who has been in Iraq or Syria in the past five years. Not only that, but the legislation would end visa-free travel from friendly nations like France and Belgium, where Muslims make up a significant minority of the population. Trump’s proposal – given its draconian premise – actually makes more sense, in that it wouldn’t include a French wine wholesaler on a tourist visa or a Belgian Jewish doctor here to attend a medical conference.
Even self-described “libertarian-ish” politicians like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) are on the same wavelength as Trump on this one: a couple of weeks ago he introduced legislation “suspending” entry into the US by visitors, students, refugees, etc., from countries with “significant jihadist movements.” His father, former presidential candidate Ron Paul, introduced very similar legislation – the “Terror Immigration Elimination Act” – back in 2003 when he was a congressman. Paul the Younger’s spokesman says he opposes Trump’s proposal – but The Donald is simply taking the principle animating Sen. Paul’s legislation and applying it more consistently.
Let’s look at the provenance of another supposedly outrageous Trumpian proposal: the idea of establishing a database tracking Muslims in the United States. This is supposed to illustrate The Donald’s unique evil, but in fact mosques in this country have been under heavy surveillance for years. New York City had a Muslim surveillance program, and the FBI has been entrapping Muslims in phony “terrorist” plots as a form of security theater. And then there was the proposal for a comprehensive program of systematic spying by David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, and Richard Perle, a former top Bush administration official, as put forth in their book, An End to Evil:
“People who live next door to a storefront mosque in Brooklyn, New York, will almost certainly observe more things of interest to counterterrorism officials than will people who live next door to a Christian Science church in Brookline, Massachusetts. The software engineer who develops a sudden enthusiasm for Islam is more likely to be funding terror than the software engineer who develops a sudden enthusiasm for vintage cars.”
An End to Evil not only advocates singling Muslims out, it avers that a good many Muslims, including those in the United States, endorse terrorism, and spends many pages impugning the patriotism of American Muslim leaders and organizations. Frum and Perle cite a Sufi Muslim leader as saying that 80 percent of US mosques are run by “extremists.” If that’s true, then why is Trump’s statement that “we’re going to have to look at” shutting down mosques so objectionable? Both Frum and Perle were highly influential in the Bush administration, and Frum is today a widely-read columnist who supposedly abhors what he terms as Trump’s “racist” effusions. And yet Trump is merely taking a page from An End to Evil – although one could argue that Frum’s proposal is even more extreme, since he advocated creating a vast database on everyone, which would include “an individual’s credit history, his recent movements, his immigration status and personal background, his age and sex, and a hundred other pieces of information.”
Both liberal and conservative Trump-haters deplore The Donald’s proposal to discriminate against Muslim immigrants and travelers to the US, yet immigration laws have routinely singled out certain religious groups for favorable treatment, i.e. the Lautenberg Amendment, passed in 1989, which gave religious groups in the Soviet Union, including Jews, some Christians, etc., presumptive refugee status unavailable to nonbelievers or state-sanctioned religious groups that weren’t persecuted. Here the principle of singling out certain religious groups was first established, and if we apply the principle consistently then Trump’s proposal to single out Muslims for unfavorable treatment is entirely in line with this precedent.
And of course the biggest single example of singling out a particular ethnic or religious group for persecution in the modern era is Franklin Roosevelt’s executive order sending tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans to internment camps for the duration of World War II. The religious aspect of this singling out should not be overlooked: Americans believed that Japanese Shintoism, in which the Emperor was worshipped as divine, was inherently subversive. Roosevelt’s massive violation of rights was not only upheld by the Supreme Court but was also cheered by leading “liberal” lights of the day, such as the country’s most influential liberal columnist, Walter Lippmann, Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. “Dr. Seuss,” and then California Attorney General Earl Warren. The American Civil Liberties Union refused to challenge the internment order, an act of cowardice that motivated the California chapter to break with the national organization.
Liberals like George Stephanopoulos, confronted with this example, are reduced to spluttering incoherence, as in this Stephanopoulos-Trump confrontation on “Good Morning America”:
“Trump: What I’m doing is no different than FDR’s solution for German, Italian, Japanese, you know –“
Stephanopoulos: So you’re for internment camps?”
Trump: This was a president highly respected by all, he did the same thing. If you look at what he was doing, it was far worse.”
Stephanopoulos: I’ve got to press you on that, sir. You’re praising FDR there. I take it you’re praising the setting up of internment camps for Japanese in World War II?
Trump: No, I’m not. Take a look at Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527, having to do with alien German, alien Italian, alien Japanese. They stripped them of their naturalization proceedings. They went through a whole list of things; they couldn’t go five miles from their homes. They weren’t allowed to use radios, flashlights. I mean, you know, take a look at what FDR did many years ago and he’s one of the most highly respected presidents.”
Poor George: he had no effective answer to Trump’s argument, except to raise his eyebrows until they practically took flight. And the reason he had no answer is because Trump’s proposals, far from being “un-American,” as our hysterical liberals aver, are all-too-American, as even a cursory glance at the history of this country confirms. Indeed, one needn’t go all the way back to World War II to underscore this undeniable fact. As Jesse Walker points out in Reason magazine, simply recalling what Hillary Clinton said on the campaign trail last week will do:
“Hillary Clinton said Sunday that the Islamic State had become ‘the most effective recruiter in the world’ and that the only solution was to engage U.S. technology companies in blocking or taking down militants’ websites, videos and encrypted communications. ‘You are going to hear all the familiar complaints: ‘Freedom of speech,’’ Clinton said…”
Here’s Trump, the very next day on the very same subject:
"’We’re losing a lot of people because of the Internet,’ Trump said. ‘We have to see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some ways. Somebody will say, ‘Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people.’"
I had to laugh when reading Peter Suderman’s piece in Reason, entitled “Donald Trump is a Bad Person”:
“He is consistently ungracious and egotistical, and he is prone to insults and bullying when challenged. He is xenophobic and bigoted. He does not tell the truth when called on his insults. He has the maturity level of a middle-school bully, but with less sophistication about policy.”
Oh, and he’s nasty on Twitter!
Suderman may as well be describing the average American, circa 2015, whose egotism invariably thrills at the invocation of “American exceptionalism” by our aspiring officeholders. And surely “the maturity level of a middle-school bully, but with less sophistication about policy” describes US foreign policy – endorsed by American voters in every election since the end of World War II – to a tee. “Xenophobic and bigoted”? These are basic elements of the human condition, and certainly Americans are no exception to the rule.
One has to wonder: what country has Suderman been living in?
Trump isn’t a “fascist” – at least, no more than Franklin Roosevelt ever was. Nor is he especially demagogic, given the history of American politics. He is merely the image we see reflected when a funhouse mirror is held up to the face of the American electorate, and those who pander to them. The fear-mongering and war hysteria that has dominated the American political landscape since 9/11 has come back to haunt our Establishment – and they don’t like it one bit. This is “blowback” with a vengeance, and it conjures in my memory this quote from a trenchant observer of the march of human folly, Henry Louis Mencken:
“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Check out my latest piece for The American Conservative.
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You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.