Trump Goes for Broke

Donald J. Trump has bet the house. His outrageous proposal to keep all non-citizen Muslims from entering the U.S. — a likely unconstitutional ploy — put his presidential aspirations squarely on the line. All his chips are now in.

Why do this?

It’s no accident that Trump did this right after one poll found him trailing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz by five percentage points in Iowa, the state in which Republicans will cast their first real votes of the nominating campaign come Feb.1.

The move blew Cruz off the media radar. Here in the U.S., it’s been non-stop Trump since he opened his mouth. Whatever else he may be, Trump’s a media manipulator par excellence.

Additionally, perhaps he also believes it will force, over time, his closest Republican nomination rivals to begrudgingly queue up behind him (some like, Cruz, won’t have far to go) to at least some degree, any immediate denouncements of his comment notwithstanding. Because if they don’t they will risk looking weak (forget about rational, that’s a non-factor for the time being) on what now is — after San Bernardino — the campaign’s dominant issue.

That, of course, is the threat of continuing Islamic terrorism on American soil.

But if his gambit fails — and this is why I say he has bet the house — it likely ends his surprisingly strong run for the Republican nomination in an avalanche of invectives.

It would be comforting to say that he dared to do this because somewhere deep within the furrows of his narcissistic soul he fears he won’t get the Republican nomination because, sooner or later, the emperor will be seen to be utterly naked, without any well thought out and possibly workable policies. So why not let it all ride now?

But I fear that’s not the case.

Trump’s bet it all because he senses that enough Republicans will be happy, at least in the initial primary balloting, to vote for someone who articulates what they most fear. It’s a fear of the deep uncertainty existing in an increasingly chaotic world, a globalized world in which once distant conflicts can now pop up in almost any neighborhood.

What better than to have as your political leader someone who glibly spouts easy solutions to extraordinarily complicated problems? Relax. He’s got it covered. Didn’t he say so?

However, Americans are not just scared of what might come next. They’ve also been primed.

Even before 9/11, and certainly since, the American rightwing — religious and secular, politicians and journalists — has dined on a steady diet of anti-Muslim red meat. It’s inherently, pathologically depraved. Every last one of them is a jihadi, you know.

Just days ago, the president of evangelical Christian Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr., — does that name ring a bell?– urged his students to get guns so “we could end those Muslims.” Before that, Franklin Graham, the son of America’s all-time favorite evangelist, Billy Graham, said “stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S.” until terror threats subside, whenever that might be. Sound familiar?
Not to be outdone, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, when asked about allowing refugees fleeing the horrors of Syria and elsewhere into America, said that only Christians should be allowed entry.

As for the aforementioned Cruz, he has promised, if elected president, to “carpet bomb” the Islamic State “into oblivion.” He made no mention of the civilians, among whom Islamic State fighters embed themselves. Nor did he note that bombing the Islamic State has been dismissed as insufficient to eradicate it — military experts say only ground forces can do that, and other than Iran, no one seems up for that.

American Jews are not without blame. As of this writing, only a handful of major American Jewish organizations have spoken out against Trump’s latest outrage, according to JTA, the Jewish news service. The ones that have, of course, are politically or religiously centrist liberals.
We’ve heard nothing, so far, from the politically or religiously more conservative Jewish community.

One might dismiss this saying, American Muslim anti-Semitism does exist. Likewise, a growing American Muslim community means greater political power, alarming U.S. Jews who fear losing Washington’s support for Israel in its own conflict with hostile Muslim nations and terrorist groups.

But given the outrageousness of Trump’s no-Muslims, no-way comment, I’d expect more American Jewish communal leaders who profess to subscribe to bedrock American values to say, at the least, this time he’s gone too far.

Look, I get that the very real threat of Muslim terrorism cannot be dismissed.

But America is not Israel. It’s not even Paris. Of course we have what I believe — based on my nearly 30 years covering the American Muslim community as a journalist — to be a small, probably very small, pool of wannabe Muslim terrorists residing within our borders.

However, American Muslims are, by and large, far better assimilated into the social mainstream than are European Muslims. And unlike Israel, our Muslim neighbors are not trying to throw us into the sea. Besides, American Muslim terrorist wannabes are already here. The vast majority are citizens, and Trump’s proposal would not apply to them.

So will Trump’s outlandish rhetoric mark his end? Will it within days or weeks prove his downfall, as more and more Republicans come to regard him as a threat to their recapturing the White House, and a dangerous one at that?

I wouldn’t bet my house on it. As an American, that scares me a great deal.

About the Author
Ira Rifkin is an award-winning journalist and author ("Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization: Making Sense of Economic & Cultural Upheaval", SkyLight Paths) who has been widely published on issues relating to Israel, American Jewry, globalization and the news media. He lives in Maryland.
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