The nation is always in decline. At one point it was rock ‘n’ roll – Elvis swiveled his hips and all decency had been abandoned, until one Sunday night Ed Sullivan booked him for a few numbers and told America that he was “a fine young man” – and America calmed down. Sullivan did the same thing for the Beatles a few years later. They were fine young men too.
These things happen. Everyone was outraged by the flappers in the twenties – young women who had abandoned all decency and modesty – but the Times of London in 1816 was outraged by “the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz” and offered this:
National morals depend on national habits: and it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs, and close compressure of the bodies, in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced upon the respectable classes of society by the evil example of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.
But couples waltzed anyway and the world didn’t end. All that was good and decent didn’t suddenly disappear, and no one now gets what all the fuss was about. Someone’s always saying the world is going to hell, but their evidence for that is often questionable. Still, now and then, the evidence mounts that all that is good and decent really is disappearing, that the nation may really be in some sort of final descent – but that usually has nothing to do with popular culture. It’s political. The country’s not working anymore. Our leaders, or those who wish to be our leaders, have lost all sense of decency and democracy itself. Kevin Drum points out that this week ended with America going to hell:
Ben Carson compared Syrian terrorists to rabid dogs, suggesting this means we’d be wise to avoid all dogs.
Marco Rubio made some strained analogy to Nazis because… Nazis.
Donald Trump wants to keep a database of Muslims. All Muslims? Only newly arrived Muslims? Who knows?
Ted Cruz wants to ban all Syrian refugees except Christians.
Jeb Bush thinks that’s a great idea too.
John Kasich has proposed that we create a Department of Judeo-Christian PR.
Carly Fiorina, Ron Paul, and Chris Christie all want to flatly ban Syrian refugees.
Suddenly we’re a theocracy with closed borders, and Drum can only add this:
We’ve seen variations of “Can You Top This?” before, perhaps most notably in 2012 regarding illegal immigration. That’s probably no coincidence. But that was before Donald Trump joined the field of presidential wannabes and upped the stakes considerably. Now they’ve gone from merely odious to actively loathsome.
What’s the answer? I think maybe Ben Carson has the right idea. These guys are like rabid dogs, which means that it might be wise for us to simply avoid all Republicans. You can’t be too careful, after all.
Drum recommends this Washington Post item for the details of what was said by each of these folks, but he does note Jeb Bush’s comments on Donald Trump’s plan to create a Muslim registry in the United States:
Trump’s solutions are “just wrong,” Jeb Bush said Friday… “It’s not a question of toughness. It’s manipulating people’s angst and their fears. That’s not strength. That’s weakness,” Bush said in an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box.
“And look, campaigns are important for sure. We’re electing a president, but there are things that are important as it relates to the values that we have as a country that make us special and unique, and we should not and we will never abandon them in the pursuit of this fight. We don’t have to. We can protect our freedoms here.”
Drum is almost pleased by that:
Good for Bush, though it’s a low bar to oppose a national registry for everyone of a specific religion. I don’t think Bush will be the only one to choke on that notion. Still, he was clear about his opposition, and clear about why it’s wrong.
It’s too bad he’s taken this long. He could have been a voice for sanity from the start and set himself apart from the crowd. At this point, though, it would just make him look tentative and indecisive. He lost a chance to do the right thing and possibly get a big payoff from it.
But that same Politico item also adds this:
Asked to clarify the difference between that idea and what the Nazis did to register Jews in Germany, Trump told an NBC reporter “You tell me.”
But in another interview published Thursday night, Trump denied saying that Muslims would have to carry identification cards.
“I didn’t say that. I never said that,” Trump told a Des Moines Register columnist in Newton, Iowa.
In the same interview, Trump again called New York City’s decision to stop monitoring mosques in April 2014 a “big mistake.”
“Something’s happening that’s really evil, really bad and it’s coming out of that area and it’s so unfair to so many Muslims that are such great people,” he told the Register.
By Friday afternoon, Trump clarified once more that a reporter had raised the issue of a database and that he did not raise it on his own.
Trump tweeted this:
I didn’t suggest a database-a reporter did. We must defeat Islamic terrorism and have surveillance, including a watch list, to protect America.
What Jeb Bush thinks doesn’t matter much, but Bush is not entirely alone:
Speaking with reporters in Concord, New Hampshire, Carson expressed a desire for a “database on everybody who comes into this country,” not Muslims specifically.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to treat anybody differently. One of the hallmarks of America is that we treat everybody the same,” he added, remarking that picking out individual groups sets “a pretty dangerous precedent, I believe.”
Cruz, at a media availability in Sioux City, Iowa, called himself “a big fan of Donald Trump’s but I’m not a fan of government registries of American citizens.”
“The First Amendment protects religious liberty, I’ve spent the past several decades defending religious liberty,” Cruz said.
In his own statement, the Ohio governor John Kasich called the notion “that someone would have to register with the federal government because of their religion strikes against all that we have believed in our nation’s history.”
“It is yet another example of trying to divide people, one against the other. Donald Trump is unable to unite and lead our country,” he said.
Okay, that’s not so bad, and there’s this guy:
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio sought to distance himself by articulating a more precise position on monitoring terrorist threats, telling Fox News’ “The Kelly File” on Thursday evening that radicalism needs to be targeted wherever it lives, whether it means closing down a mosque or “a café, a diner” or “an Internet site.”
“The bigger problem we have,” Rubio continued, “is our inability to find out where these places are because we’ve crippled our intelligence programs, both through unauthorized disclosures by a traitor in Edward Snowden, or by some of the things this president has put in place with the support even of some from my own party to diminish our intelligence capabilities. So whatever facility is being used – it’s not just a mosque – any facility that’s being used to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States should be a place that we look at.”
In the same interview, Rubio responded to the notion from President Barack Obama and other Democrats that evaluating refugees from Syria and Iraq on the basis of a “religious test” is playing into the terrorists’ narrative.
That’s a little more subtle, slightly but not really removing religion from the equation, but then there’s this:
During an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday night, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) continued to rail against President Obama for continuing to support the U.S. plan to bring Syrian refugees to the U.S., noting that terrorists would be encouraged to lie by the “religious philosophy in Islamism” in order to enter the U.S. posing as a refugee.
“It really is remarkable that twice this week, President Obama has attacked me directly,” Cruz told Hannity, referring to the President’s remarks bashing Cruz’s proposal that the U.S. only allow Christian refugees from Syria into the U.S. “Obama, instead of defending this nation, just attacks you and me and every American who wants to keep this nation safe.”
And those who want to keep America safe understand Islam. Muslims lie about everything. That’s at the core of their religion. What any of them say on their application for refugee status will be a lie. You can’t trust any of them, ever.
That’s not a useful thing to say these days, and Josh Marshall sees a descent into madness here:
Over the course of just a few days Donald Trump has gone from saying that we might have to close down mosques and create a Muslim registry to saying that not only will we do this but we have to do it and anything less is an utter capitulation – in other words, rapidly evolving from refusing to rule out a draconian policy to affirmatively endorsing it to being its leading advocate. Some of this seems rooted in Trump’s personality and improvisational campaign style. Sometimes a reporter prompts the discussion and Trump refuses to rule it out. But once he’s floated an idea as a potential part of his no nonsense, no excuses agenda, it’s never long before the momentum of his self-assertion brings him to say he’ll definitely do it and to dare anyone else to outdo him on it. …
So on Monday he’s saying he’d “strongly consider” shutting down mosques. And then just a day later he’s saying he’d “absolutely” close them down. With his Muslim ID card and database, Wednesday he said he wouldn’t rule out creating such a system. By the end of the day he was telling NBC News he would “absolutely” create such a system.
But he is who he is:
Once he christens an idea as a tool of presidential badassery, it’s only a matter of days until he comes out and says that he’s ‘absolutely’ going to do it. …
The pattern with Trump is genuinely fascinating to observe, and so predictable as almost to be comical. But this is no longer a matter of Trump yakking on about building a gilded 100-foot wall along the southern border and having Mexico agree to pay for it. Trump is now proposing things that sound like they put millions of American citizens and resident aliens on a road to something like the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Cruz is just trying to keep up? As Drum noted, all the other candidates try to keep up with Trump, and Chris Cillizza argues that Trump is playing a dangerous game here:
As for Trump’s tweet, there’s a big difference between a reporter asking a question – that is, after all, what reporters do – and a reporter “suggesting” the idea of a database to track Muslims. Blaming the reporter for asking the question makes very little sense. Politicians are asked questions all the time on premises with which they disagree. The right response is to say: “No, I don’t think we need a database or anything like that. What we do need to do is secure the border and build a border wall.”
Trump elided over that and simply accepted the premise of the question. That’s not the reporter’s fault. That’s Trump’s fault.
And that matters:
Viewed more broadly, it strains credulity to think that Trump just keeps being misunderstood or misinterpreted. The better – and more accurate – explanation is that Trump is purposely ambiguous in many of his proposals and his answers to questions from the media. That vagueness allows people to take from his statements what they will – without Trump ever having to answer for some of the more sinister meanings that might be contained in his words. …
There is no chance he is accidentally walking down these dangerous rhetorical roads. Instead, he provokes purposely, but always with the possibility of plausible deniability. And so far, it’s working.
The world is going to hell, at least for some people:
It was never this bad, not even after 9/11.
That’s what many Muslims and Arab-Americans are saying about the tenor of comments made by presidential candidates on down to local officials about how to treat adherents of Islam in the wake of ISIS’ rampage in Paris last Friday. …
“We are operating in an atmosphere of hysteria and fear,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American Islamic Relations. “I have never seen it like this, not even after 9/11.”
No good can come of this:
“The sense we get now is that it’s not only worse for Arabs and Muslims,” said Abed Ayoub, national policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “The sense we get now is that it’s worse for all immigrant and brown communities as a whole.”
Ayoub said the current climate stands in stark contrast to the broad political reaction that followed the September 11, 2001, attacks, in which terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington. At that time, Republican President George W. Bush endeavored to tamp down anti-Muslim sentiment.
Six days after the Twin Towers fell, Bush spoke at the Islamic Center, a famous mosque and Islamic cultural hub in Washington, in defense of American Muslims and Islam.
“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam,” he said. “That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”
“If George W. Bush was running today and saying the things he said about Muslims, he would be an outcast in the Republican Party,” Ayoub said with a half chuckle. “To his credit, he struck the right tone when speaking about this issue.”
That was only half a chuckle, for good reason, and Conor Friedersdorf sees this:
Over the last several years, Christians in the United States have become increasingly alarmed about threats to religious liberty. Among other things, they don’t want their nonprofits forced to provide contraception to their employees or their believers forced to provide services like photography or baking for same-sex unions. Even the people most invested in those fights should see that positions held by Trump would pose a far greater threat to their religious liberty were he elected.
The forced registration of any faith group is so abhorrent that it can only be described by words we generally avoid to preserve their integrity for moments like this: Trump’s position is nakedly prejudiced, proto-fascist, and un-American. It would be troubling even if he expressed his views off-the-cuff, without having thought them through. It is more worrisome in the context of a previous interview where he declared that “we’re going to have no choice” but to shut down some mosques in the United States, and a town hall in which he failed to challenge – and arguably encouraged – a voter who asked him about getting rid of Muslims in the United States.
That went like this:
Voter: We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one.
Voter: You know he’s not even an American.
Trump: We need this question. This is the first question!
Voter: But anyway, we have training camps brewing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of ’em?
Trump: We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things. A lot of people are saying that, and you know, a lot of people are saying bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.
This record ought to make Trump anathema to anyone who has concerns about religious liberty in America. Had he aimed his remarks at any Christian denomination, his candidacy would effectively be over because of the backlash. The fact that his positions pose a stark threat to the religious liberty of Muslim Americans ought to be enough to provoke a backlash. Insofar as it leaves some Christians unmoved, they might reflect on how much damage would be done to their religious liberty if a president of the United States successfully set a precedent for a religious registry or empowered the government to shut down places of worship. …
The current leader in the Republican Party’s presidential primary is now unambiguously on record with positions incompatible with religious freedom in America. How many voters will cast ballots for a man like that?
Many will, and Heather Parton sees why:
Unfortunately, the nervousness coursing through society after the terrorist attack in Paris has made this kind of talk sound less unreasonable to more people, and we had the Congress yesterday struggling to find a way to appease voters who were calling into their offices demanding that refugees be denied entry into the country. All but two of the Republicans in the House and a total of 47 Democrats voted for a bill that would require the heads of DHS, the FBI and the DOJ to personally sign off on each refugee’s file.
Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii voted with the Republicans and explained on MSNBC that this would sooth the fears of Americans to know that these very high level officials were personally vouching for each and every refugee. This is obviously a disingenuous explanation of the purpose of the bill. This new requirement will have the effect of sending all the refugees currently awaiting their determination to basically start anew. Requiring these officials to sign off on each applicant will slow down the process to a very slow trickle, or what Speaker Paul Ryan called “a pause.”
The Democrats provided enough votes to override a presidential veto.
Forty-seven Democrats would join in for a reason:
They fear being called “soft on terrorism.” A bunch of hysterical voters who listen to demagogues on cable TV and talk radio called their offices to demand they put a stop to this foreign threat. Rather than be leaders and try to calm the waters, they just went with the flow, knowing that this legislation is unlikely to become law, but wanting to be able to tell their constituents they voted to bar refugees from our shores and keep the children safe. (Well, the good American children anyway – Syrian children will not be so lucky.)
She calls this a soulless sort of politics:
This isn’t a highway bill or a tax hike. It’s an issue of life and death. These are votes that should be taken on merit, not political calculation (which very often turn out badly – ask Hillary Clinton). And feeding this xenophobic beast in an environment in which the frontrunner of the Republican Party is endorsing government registration of American Muslims is a very risky business. This kind of thing can get out of hand quickly.
We are going to hell, but Kevin Drum isn’t so sure:
Congress has already passed two SAFE Acts and considered two more over the past couple of decades, so apparently it’s a pretty popular acronym. This time around it stands for the American Security against Foreign Enemies Act, and it’s a strange beast. It’s designed to show that Congress is responding to the alleged threat from Syrian refugees, but it actually does nothing much at all. Vetting doesn’t change, procedures don’t change, and no limits are placed on the number of refugees we can accept. All it does is require the administration to formally certify the procedures already in place – and force three top officials to personally sign off on every Syrian or Iraqi refugee.
In other words, it’s basically a fraud. It will create a short pause in the refugee program while some poor schmoe who draws the short straw goes through the make-work of drafting the “certification” procedure and getting it approved, and that’s about it.
So there are two ways of looking at this:
It’s a cowardly bill that panders to unwarranted fears instead of trying to calm them.
It’s basically a craven but noble lie. It pretends to do something in order to mollify the masses and prevent something worse from passing, but it really does very little and is moving slowly enough that it might just die of its own accord.
Really it’s both. It’s cowardly for sure. On the other hand, refugees are the latest excuse for shutting down the government in a few weeks, and a bit of cheap symbolism might be a small price to pay for removing it.
It’s not worth fretting about. If it passes the Senate and goes to Obama, and then Obama vetoes it, and then Congress overrides that veto, it won’t change much of anything. This will add one more layer of approvals to a process that already takes eighteen to twenty-four months. Let the Republicans have their symbolic victory. Now, for the first time, they’re saying we should be more like the French:
On Saturday Brigadier General Tony Tata told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “President Hollande today showed more leadership in one day than President Obama has in seven years.” Tata continued. “Our Commander in Chief, his first responsibility is to protect the citizens of the United States at home and abroad and you don’t do that by underestimating the enemy. And that impacts foreign and domestic policy. You gotta be kidding me, we’re gonna bring Syrian refugees here?” …
On Sunday afternoon, Fox News contributor John Bolton said, “I think we have to start with the recognition that this attack in Paris was an act of war, which French President Francois Hollande has been very forthright in saying – unlike our leadership – and that the way that you respond with an act of war is by the use of force.” …
Even anchor Bill Hemmer, who surprisingly editorialized about the weakness in Obama’s remarks, said Tuesday night of Hollande, “It may sound Orwellian. But if you listen to President Hollande, he’s willing to go as far as necessary to get this country back on a safety and security footing soon.” Dana Perino said the same day, “Their approaches to handling ISIS could not be more different.”
That wasn’t exactly true:
In a move that puts the heated U.S. debate over taking in Syrian refugees in perspective, French President Francois Hollande declared on Wednesday that his country would accept 30,000 Syrian refugees over next two years. He announced this at a gathering of mayors from French cities, where he received a standing ovation. …
Hollande said that “30,000 refugees will be welcomed over the next two years. Our country has the duty to respect this commitment.”…
Hollande said it was France’s “humanitarian duty” to honor its commitments to refugees, even in the wake of the chilling terror attacks on Friday, claimed by the Islamic State, which killed at least 129 people. “We have to reinforce our borders while remaining true to our values,” the French president said.
Fox News then fell silent on the matter. What was there to say? Friedersdorf saw it. We have become nakedly prejudiced, proto-fascist, and un-American. The French have now become more American than we are. We are the ones in that final descent. Someone’s always saying the world is going to hell, and sometimes they’re right.