In previous campaign seasons, inflammatory statements aimed at abridging First Amendment protections, such as those made by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump about Muslims, would likely serve as the death knell to a candidate's election campaign, but this election seems to be different.
"I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down,” Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told a group of cheering supporters in Birmingham, Alabama, last Saturday. "And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”
The fact that this statement is provably false doesn’t seem to matter to the GOP front-runner. When confronted on ABC’s “This Week” with solid evidence that his recollection does not square with the facts, Trump refused to back down. He continued to insist that he had seen members of “a heavy Arab population” in the United States that were celebrating the 9/11 attacks. This is despite police assertions that no such demonstrations occurred and that no archival footage of such an event exists.
It seems Trump is not above relying on fiction to vilify Muslims both at home and abroad.
Indeed, this story served as the capstone for a series of disturbing anti-Muslim remarks recently made by Trump and his campaign. He has called for the creation of a database that would track innocent Muslims in the United States and has said in no uncertain terms that he wants “surveillance of these people.” He is open to requiring Muslim Americans to carry “a special form of identification that noted their religion” and even shutting down mosques to further stigmatize and alienate American citizens solely on the basis of their religion.
No presidential candidate in living memory has ever demonstrated such blatant contempt for basic First Amendment freedoms.
“Some people are going to be upset” by these deplorable ideas, Trump conceded to Yahoo News. But he justified his willingness to set aside the Bill of Rights because “now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule.” But what people or presidential candidates are “feeling” at any given moment should never be allowed to override core constitutional principles. In addition, security is the least likely outcome of harassing people solely on the basis of their faith. Such abhorrent policies are far more likely to have the opposite effect. Rather than enhance security, they will likely breed distrust, paranoia and even violence, all fueled by religious bigotry.
In previous campaign seasons, such inflammatory statements would likely serve as the death knell to a candidate’s presidential aspirations, but this election doesn’t seem to be subject to traditional rules of decorum. Trump himself recognizes the unprecedented nature of what he’s suggesting, telling Yahoo News that, if elected, he would be willing to implement policies “that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”
He is correct; they were unthinkable a year ago. They are also unthinkable now.