On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II. With U.S. involvement, it marked the day when Germany and Japan could no longer win the war.
In the aftermath of the December 2nd San Bernardino terrorist shootings that left 14 dead and 22 injured, on December 7, 2015, Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
This statement ended whatever marginal chances Trump had to become the Republican nominee. It was his Pearl Harbor moment.
But, wait. Trump had said a lot of outrageous things in the past months and his polls numbers have just gone up.
True to form, Trump has enjoyed a poll surge which put him at an unprecedented 41% in one recent Monmouth pole.
Even though he is the clear front runner in the polls, his failure to win the nomination is assured.
My reading is that Trump’s inevitable fall will see Ted Cruz emerge as the GOP presidential candidate for 2016. I do not see anything that will reverse Ben Carson’s decline. Once you take Trump and Carson out of the picture, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are the strongest candidates left.
Of the top four candidates, Rubio is the one most favored by the Republican political establishment and the most electable versus Clinton. However, the perception that he is part of the establishment is a disadvantage in the current mood of the Republican electorate.
He offers no compelling narrative and is best known in the Senate for missing votes and being part of an effort to pass an immigration reform bill. Cruz helped write the legislation which included a provision that provided for a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States.
Although he later repudiated his own bill, it has been difficult for him to distance himself from the perception that he is in favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants. Whatever is thought to be amnesty is anathema to the Republican base.
Cruz is going to consolidate support after winning Iowa. Then he will have momentum and the push will be on to rally GOP support for the Anyone-But-Trump candidate. Trump is not going to disappear. He will win his share of the primary vote but he will not get to 50% in the delegate count.
Were Trump to win and become the new face of the Republican brand, not only would the Republicans suffer a tremendous defeat in the presidential election, they would also be in big trouble in the Senate and House races.
They cannot win the presidency with Cruz either, but at least they have a better shot in the Senate and the House.
Cruz is very much the social conservative that Trump is not and that will be a disadvantage in the general election. Moreover, he is every bit as hawkish on the war with ISIS. In a foreign policy address Cruz said this: “We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark but we are going to find out.”
This seems to advocates a bombing campaign which makes no effort to avoid civilian deaths and also implies the use of nuclear weapons. Cruz’s militarism is then another aspect which makes him less appealing to the general electorate.
Ted Cruz can muster a coalition of older white Christians in the general election but that is not going to take him to 270 electoral votes.
What then makes Cruz an acceptable candidate for the GOP and Trump an unacceptable one?
What Trump has proposed is government sanctioned religious profiling. If there is any one principle which is sacred in American democracy, it is the principle of religious liberty. Disregarding this value is an emotionally activating element that resonates across the whole political spectrum.
In response to Trump’s call, former Vice-President Dick Cheney said this: “I think this whole notion that somehow we can say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in.”
Moreover, Trump’s call to ban Muslims feeds directly into what ISIS is trying to promote, a narrative of Islam versus the West. He is putting us at greater risk and making the terrorism threat worse. He has become a great recruiting asset for ISIS.
Trump has doubled down on his anti-Muslim stance by calling for killing the families of terrorists. This puts him on the same moral footing as the terrorists.
It is inconceivable how we can make any progress at all in dealing with the complex challenges of the Middle East with a president who is perceived to be as anti-Muslim as Trump is perceived to be. He would be an unprecedented disaster for U.S. foreign policy.
Trump’s call on a ban on Muslims is clearly unconstitutional, impractical, bigoted, and discriminatory. Unless you take into account the reality show attention getting rhetorical intent, it would seem to be a political absurdity.
When someone’s line of reasoning ends up in an absurd conclusion, this focuses attention on the premises that lead to the unacceptable end. When you start looking critically at the basis for his comments, his standing as a serious candidate quickly degrades.
For example, one stable of Trump’s campaign is his argument that what is holding us back from achieving our national goals is political correctness. He is then an advocate of the virtue of political incorrectness.
What he is really saying is that we should be more fearful and suspicious of our neighbors, less tolerant of anyone who opinion is different from ours, and erect literal and administrative walls to keep out foreigners of all kinds.
The term “politically correct” has been co-opted by conservative think tanks to be a weapon in the culture wars as conservatives try to resist the liberalization of American and world culture.
In one of its original meanings, it referred to the attempt to enforce ideological orthodoxy among Marxists. It was used as an admonishment for anyone who had any idea which was thought to deviate from the official party line as in “you’re not being very politically correct here, comrade.”
Today the term “politically incorrect” has taken on the meaning of saying or doing something that is offensive to an ethnic or demographic group. Racist, sexist and homophobic comments would all apply here.
The advocates of politically incorrectness would like us to believe that they are champions of radical honesty and truth speaking because they say what other are thinking but are afraid to say. If people feelings are hurt, it is not their problem.
However, this ignores the power that language has to be an instrument of domination and disempowerment. The person who deliberately uses politically incorrect speech is trying to create some kind of power differential when they are one up and the other is one down.
One example of such speech I recall from my days growing up in Southwest Virginia was the term “poor white trash.” This term was used as a way to marginalize and basically dehumanize financially disadvantaged white people. It was a way of speaking that makes you feel superior to others and justifies any sort of injustice you might want to inflict on them.
It is a short step from the advocacy of politically incorrectness to bigotry, xenophobia, and discrimination.
It is time to retire the term “political correctness” and find an alternative which can avoid the connotation that the focus on treating people with dignity, respect, fairness, and justice needs some kind of corrective to avoid infringing individual freedom and liberty. I recommend the term “diversity sensitivity.”
When you use a slur against any ethic or demographic group, it is not ignoring some arbitrary and artificial standard of politeness or etiquette. It is showing insensitivity to a group of people that you perceive to be different than yourself. When we consider people from understanding and tolerance, then we are also much more likely to treat them with fairness and justice as well.
Trump, Carson and Rubio all spoke about the dangers of political correctness in the last GOP debate. In fairness to them, they are not advocating the use of racist, sexist or homophobic slurs as we normally encounter them. However, the term “radical Islamic terrorism” that Cruz says we should use is a diversity insensitive term.
It is insensitive because it blurs the distinction between Islam and terrorism. It fuels Islamophobia.
Should we call Dylann Roof’s murder of 9 people at a Charleston, South Carolina Church with the intent to create a race war “white Christian terrorism” or Robert Dear’s killing of 3 people at Planned Parenthood? Christianity does not advocate violence you might say. Although the Ku Klux Klan members are all Christians, the Ku Klux Klan is not Christianity. So too, ISIS is not Islam.
When I say that the premises behind Trump’s outrageous statements do not stand up to any sort of critical inquiry, by no stretch of the imagination am I claiming that his current sizeable plurality of followers in the GOP are critical thinkers that are going to be swayed by rational arguments or even common sense.
Trump’s followers have a kind of cult mentality. They may rationalize their support by saying such things as Trump is not corruptible because he does not need any one else’s money to run for office, or that Trump is the strong, tough guy we need to restore America’s respect in the world. It is clear though that Trump’s appeal is emotional rather than rational.
He is the master demagogue using various rhetorical devices to appeal as directly as possible to the emotions, especially to the fear and anger of his base. His positions are all provocations of one kind or another and the reasons he gives for them are often based on distortions and outrageous lies.
Trump’s candidacy is a vehicle for the expression of the rage and frustration that the GOP electorate feels with respect to what they perceive is happening in the country, what is happening in the government, and what is happening in their own party.
But this does not mean that, at the end of the day, at the July GOP Convention, the majority of delegates are going to happily jump aboard what is in effect the GOP suicide Trump bandwagon.
We may think that we live in a world where people live in their own isolated reality bubbles so that what is true in general never filters through to the public at large. But people do not have to think and reflect in order to be influenced by a consensus that comes through the collective field.
So the growing awareness of the true nature of the lies, distortions and provocations that are the basis of Trump’s campaign will in the long run keep him from the nomination. He will not get more than 30% of the vote.
Popularity in the polls does not translate neatly into delegates for the convention. Many of Trump’s supporters, in particular the blue collar, less educated group, do not have a history of voting in Republican primaries. His outrageous positions mean that he is not going to get endorsements from any other political figures. He will get zero support from established Republicans.
Lastly, Trump is not the leader of a group of dedicated and committed political professionals. He is a one man band. His circle of closest advisors are all pretty much all within his own head. He does not have the organization to make a go of a long campaign.
Nor, in my reading, does he have the will or the stamina to work hard enough to achieve the goal. What has happens so far fits neatly within his larger purpose to garner attention to his brand and enjoy free media attention.
He is loath to spend his own fortune on campaign ads and he eschews super PACs. It is fun for him as long as he does not have to work too hard at it and it does not take away too much attention from his other interests.
He is ambivalent about being president because it is very hard for him to conceive of not having direct control of his business interests which he would have to do if elected.
More high profile domestic terrorist attacks between now and the GOP convention might change what I see to be the trajectory of history. But, my reading is that we are not going to have any attacks like San Bernardino where more than 10 people are killed between now and the election next November.
The Trump phenomenon helps put the focus on what needs to be healed in American politics and throughout the world. This is ethnic identity politics that see diversity insensitivity as a virtue.
If we are going to survive the adolescence of our species, we need to understand that our welfare and well-being is tied up with the welfare and well-being of all other people on earth. Unless we are committed to a world in which everyone thrives, we are going to be working against our own long term interests.