Donald Trump’s rhetoric has been described as unsubstantial, aerated and fickle. I call the GOP presidential nominee’s speaking style Trump-Talk: using words like “perhaps,” “maybe” and “probably,” Trump rips accountability from himself and recklessly blames others. This shouldn’t be taken lightly. Believe it or not, Trump’s rhetoric and reckless blaming is the key ingredient to a recipe for radicalization.
Reckless blaming isn’t the only ingredient to radicalization. Other ingredients for a country-turned-radical include rampant othering (treating others as intrinsically different), racial and religious discrimination, the blending of church and state and the rejection of democratic ideals. All of these aspects to radicalization are becoming more and more present in Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency.
Let’s start with othering — the process of creating an “other” group, usually to unite against a common enemy. When Trump says that most Syrian refugees are “ISIS-aligned” and coming into this country Trojan horse-style, he’s othering. When Clinton discourages an America of “pitting of people one against the other,” she’s opposing othering. This is pretty consistent throughout both of their campaigns. Trump is frequently othering, and Clinton isn’t.
But who are the others sitting outside the Trump camp? Among many out groups, Trump’s favorites are Muslims, as a symbol for terrorism, and the Clinton political machine, as a symbol for greater political corruption. As an American-Muslim and a Clinton supporter, I take personal offense. On March 9, Trump told CNN, “I think Islam hates us.” And who could forget Trump’s un-American proposal of a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” on Dec. 7, 2015?
In regard to the Clinton political machine, Trump has arbitrarily decided that the Clintons are responsible for any and every problem America faces. During the first presidential debate, Secretary Clinton said she felt she’d be blamed for everything that has ever happened. Trump’s response: “Why not?” Trump has masterfully created the perception that the Clintons are the great American internal enemy, while he has come forth from the heavens to salvage a dying U.S.A. from the couple’s blood-drenched hands. He is the self-proclaimed opposition to the great Clinton conspiracy, responsible for stealing America from the pure, “original,” white American people. Give me a break, Donald.
But Donald doesn’t shy away from this ridiculous narrative. In fact, he promotes his brand as the great American martyr. In a rally in West Palm Beach, Trump told an eccentric crowd, “I take all of these slings and arrows, gladly, for you.” Scary, isn’t it? The GOP nominee is promoting the same self-sacrificial rhetoric we hear from extremists across the world. But it’s not surprising, given the GOP’s blatant blending of church and state. Remember the first Republican primary debate, when moderator Megyn Kelly, reading a question from Facebook, asked the candidates “if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do?” At the time, my jaw hit the floor. I couldn’t believe that in our secular democracy candidates were asked on a political stage about God. Of course, the rise of the religious right in the GOP is widespread and apparent. But this was outright insulting to my American values.
If you think that religion and politics mixing isn’t a bad thing, it’s probably because your religion is favored by mainstream politics. Let me explain why it’s dangerous, especially if you are a Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Atheist or one of the 30-percent of non-Judeo-Christians living in America. On Oct. 14, three white Kansas men were arrested and charged after plotting to attack Muslim Somali immigrants in a mosque and apartment complex. The self-proclaimed “Crusaders” said the country could only be turned around with “a bloodbath.” The would-be terrorists were recorded saying, “If you’re a Muslim I’m going to enjoy shooting you in the head.” Backtrack to March 9, when Donald Trump told Anderson Cooper in an interview, “I think Islam hates us.” You see, once you mix xenophobic sentiments with political legitimization, people feel justified. And that, that right there, is why the secular American system is a great precaution to extremism. In a true secular democracy, candidates ought not to speak like Trump, or the GOP.
Look no further than the Nazi regime for evidence of this religious-political mixture turning extreme. A religious minority becomes the target of hateful speech, and as a result, violent policy is legitimized and destructively carried out. The same thing is happening to my religious community in Pakistan. Pakistan was founded as a democracy, but once the common enemy of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was established through policy, the state became a theocracy full of human rights violations. Now, I don’t believe the United States is in danger of becoming theocratic. But I do believe that state-sponsored discrimination and persecution is within reach as a result. I believe that minorities are in danger of losing their voice and facing Trump-justified harm, from the likes of the “Crusaders.” How unfortunate is it that members of my community flee Pakistani hateful rhetoric only to see the same kind of radical speech coming from a U.S. presidential candidate?
Even a mere week before the election, we see rapidly growing evidence of the fatal consequence of this religious-political mix. On Nov. 1, 2016, Trump supporters set a Black church on fire in Greenville, Miss. As if that wasn’t enough of an attack on the community, the arsonists defaced the side of the religious center with a large, spray-painted “Vote Trump.” Think about the message this sends to Black voters. Their right to freely worship is contingent upon their support of a candidate who, in case you didn’t know, has the support of white supremacists across the nation. The mere fact that a presidential candidate has opinions that are in line with would-be terrorists is enough of a reason to prevent a Trump presidency. This religious-political mixture stirred by Trump and the GOP breeds extremism.
Still not convinced that Trump is creating a perfect storm for radicalization? Let’s see, we have rampant othering, pervasive theocratic tendencies and who could forget the threats of a non-peaceful transition of power? Not enough non-democracy? Let’s revisit Trump’s reckless blaming record to drive the message home.
It might be hard for the unaware ear to pick up on exactly how Donald blames others. But I promise, once you hear it, you won’t stop noticing. In no particular order, here is a brief list of examples. During the third debate, Trump was questioned about women who have alleged he sexually assaulted them. He responded by irrelevantly bringing up the recent violence at his Chicago rally, saying, “(Clinton’s) the one and Obama that caused the violence.” When questioned about the fact that he has not paid federal income tax, he blamed Clinton by saying, “You should have changed the law … if you don’t like it.” After Clinton outperformed Trump in the second debate, Trump said, “I think we should take a drug test prior to the (final) debate.” In regard to the many sexual assault victims coming out against Trump, he said, “all of these liars will be sued once the election is over … I look so forward to doing that.” But Donald, what happens if the court finds you guilty? Will you blame the corrupt court system in America? Or maybe the Clintons bribed each juror? How about blaming the Muslim community at large for, I don’t know, using your own words against you? Trump’s blame game knows no bounds.
Trump’s in-grouping and out-grouping is epitomized when he blames the American democracy for a presidential outcome that hasn’t even happened yet. He urges his supporters to “watch the polling booths.” He says, “I will totally accept the results… if I win.” He blames a large-scale anti-Trump conspiracy for his decline in favorability, and is basically crying about losing the game before it’s even started. It seems his entire campaign has changed its tone. It started out as this retrospective “Make America Great Again,” calling upon a good ol’ American ethos. But after months of rampant othering and reckless blaming, Trump is now inciting nationalistic and radical sentiments among Americans. He’s inspiring his followers to reclaim their impure nation from the hands of the “others.” I think his campaign needs a rebranding if it’s continuing down the path to radicalization — “Take America Back Again.”