“I wrote something today that I think is very, very salient, very important, and probably not politically correct, but I don’t care.”
No, that’s not Donald Trump talking; it’s me. Trump can sue me for plagiarism if he wants. He can have my 1999 Honda Civic. Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and other leading Republicans have accused President Obama of being too politically correct to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism.” Even Bobby Jindal tried parroting that line — not that it did him much good in his failed presidential campaign.
I share Trump’s view that politically correct language can stifle honest debate. Let’s call a pig a pig, I say, and use words that accurately describe social and political realities in our country. We could say that murder is murder and dead is dead, for example. That can make it unproductive to separate “terrorist” murder from apparently acceptable, everyday normal murder.
But since Republicans are sure that getting killed for political reasons is a worse way to die than getting killed by an armed robber (or robber baron) frantic for the almighty all-American dollar, we have to acknowledge that there are different ideologies out there that compete for the highest death count.
I’d submit that killing as a form of political speech is a pretty good definition of “terrorism.” That said, I’d argue for bluntly acknowledging this uncomfortable truth: namely, that the Islamist terrorists behind the slaughter in San Bernardino have quite a bit in common with some of our homegrown jihadists. Dylann Roof, the all-American good old boy who laid waste to the Charleston prayer group, comes to mind, as does Robert Dear, who shot up the Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs.
For starters, they’re all deeply conservative. So let’s call their brand of havoc “conservative terrorism.” Using the C-word may ruffle a few feathers on the right but, hey, haven’t we just agreed to ignore what’s politically correct?
Don’t be confused by differences internal to this grouping. They’re mostly superficial. Even before the bullets began to fly, Dear and Roof could be assumed to hate on San Bernardino terrorists Tashfeen Malik and Sayed Farook because of the Muslim couple’s refusal to give up head scarves and other accoutrements of their religion.
But no doubt Farook and Malik loathed Christian prayer groups — and every one of the infidel’s rituals — right back again. And as for Planned Parenthood, as much or more than the most militant anti-abortion activist, arch-conservatives of the Muslim stripe loathe any business or service in support of a woman’s right to dominion over her body.
Our radical right wing likes to call the Islamist ideologies that fuel terrorism “radical” Islam, though “arch-conservative” Islam is a better term for the Salafist creed embraced by ISIL. Salafism, not to mention its even more extreme subcult, Wahhabism, sees feminism as one of the most satanic developments in the satanic West. The gay rights movement is also anathema, of course. Other goals shared with conservative terrorists in both the Near East and the West include contempt for secularism, multiculturalism, and political moderation of any sort.
The irony is that nothing unites conservative terrorists so strongly as their hatred for each other. The Rev. Robert Jeffress, the conservative ideologue who is pastor of Dallas’ giant First Baptist Church, calls Islam a “false religion” inspired by “Satan himself.” Arch-conservative Islamists use similar terms to disparage religions other than their own, including — as Trump and his ilk seem to forget — the vast majority of the planet’s two billion Muslims, the ones who reject the notion that a suicide vest is the proper garment to wear when knocking at the pearly gates.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-appointed leader of the Islamic State, encourages disaffected followers scattered around the world to inflict violence on innocent people. The same disrespect for life is apparent in Cruz’s repeated vows to “carpet bomb” whole regions of Syria and Iraq, and to find out “if sand can glow in the dark.”
Disrespect for life also infuses the rants from Trump and Jindal — a self-styled “pro-life” politician, no less — with their pledges to barricade our borders against refugees fleeing for their lives. Christian charity seems no longer to begin at home.
Jeb Bush, on the other hand, who calls Trump “unhinged” for advocating a total ban on Muslims entering the United States, feels that only Christians should be allowed to escape the bloodbath that is his brother’s legacy in the Middle East. I guess secularism is for the French now, even though Thomas Jefferson rather liked the idea.
Trump has emerged as the noisiest and most popular proponent of an Americanized version of jihad, but the yapping Cruz is nipping at his heels. Trump, Cruz, and all the other little men who yearn to become “commander-in-chief” — apparently “president” is too gender-neutral for their strained sense of masculinity — have already declared war. (World War III, as an alarmed Pope Francis has begun to call it.)
Our reliably blue Mayor Mitch Landrieu likens Trump’s politics to those of David Duke, the former Klansman and neo-Nazi. But we may not need to dig so far into the past to find examples of conservative extremism and spineless submission to it. Both Louisiana’s U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Republican, and Governor-elect John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, called for a moratorium on Syrian refugees entering Louisiana, despite already vigorous federal vetting.
Edwards has redeemed himself at least somewhat by promising to re-issue the executive order banning discrimination against LGBT persons, as Democrat Governors Kathleen Blanco and Edwin Edwards did before him. This is one break from the extremist social conservativism embraced by radical Baptists and radical Salafists, but Edwards also needs to issue a formal welcome to the refugees from conservative terrorism in Syria. It would make Louisiana the only state in the Deep South with the proven courage to stand up to conservative bullies.
By himself, Trump is nothing to waste print on: yet another entitled plutocrat who has augmented an inherited fortune by artful manipulation of the bankruptcy laws — making himself not quite as rich as he would have been if he’d simply left his inheritance in an index fund. It’s the screaming mob at his rallies who are the cause for greater concern. Trump isn’t going to go kill some Sikh he mistakes for a Muslim, but one of his gun-nut fans just might.
Fox will hasten to dismiss the killer as mentally ill, reserving the usual on-air hissy fit for the next attack that can be more directly linked to an Islamic radical. The Trump mob fails to note that deporting every last Muslim would have zero effect on the risk of death every American faces every day, from non-Muslims who just want our money or just want to indulge their compulsion to wave big guns and fire real bullets into human flesh.
Like many white Southerners, I have Republicans in the family. (We tolerate each other.) Some are seduced by Trump, and others make the argument that, based on more liberal positions espoused in the past, he’s not a real Republican. To them his bombast is mere theatrics, no less so than what got dished up on “The Apprentice,” his reality TV show.
I agree with those who say that Trump is not necessarily committed in a personal way to the stands he takes, that he’s just playing a cynical game calculated to secure the GOP nomination. But he appears to know what his audience wants to hear, and there’s no denying that audience constitutes an increasingly big chunk of the GOP primary vote.
What horrifies the party elders is not Trump’s message. Racism and xenophobia have been part of the script for decades. The scary part for the GOP establishment is that their party’s leading candidate doesn’t seem interested in mastering the art of coded language — what Cruz probably means when he questions Trump’s “judgment.”
Trump is George Wallace in a party that yearns for a Nixon — if it can’t have another Reagan. Reagan was no slouch himself when it came to coded racism, as when he chose, early in his triumphant 1980 presidential campaign, to deliver remarks on states rights and welfare just outside Philadelphia, Miss., the Holy Land to the cult that thrilled to church burnings and the assassination of civil rights workers in the mid-1960s.
Trump’s willingness to be politically incorrect is why GOP rivals who are also desperate for support from conservative extremists — Jindal flamed out for other reasons, but Cruz is waxing ever stronger — can’t bring themselves to denounce the Donald in no uncertain terms. That would be to tell the truth plainly — too plainly perhaps.
Trump is the GOP’s “id,” as Paul Waldman and others have noted. Cruz is id lite, but our homegrown jihadists are now thirsty for the real thing: fascism, to use the accurate but politically incorrect word for it.
As the better-educated conservatives in my family are quick to remind me, neither fascism nor Trump is “conservative” in the principled tradition of Edmund Burke or William Buckley. But intellectual conservatives have been outflanked. Very simply, there aren’t enough of them. The party has gotten to where it is today by pandering too long to the base instincts of racial resentment, and now the taloned chickens are coming home to roost.
Like German conservatives in 1933, who made Adolf Hitler Germany’s chancellor on the strength of the Nazi Party’s 33 percent share of the vote, the GOP establishment has unleashed forces they’re now unable to control. They’ve deployed a combination of anti-government orthodoxy and fear-mongering that seems to be inspiring a nation that worships guns to arm itself to the teeth. What an ugly mess they’ve made of our society.
But I should blame Muslims, they tell me. Sorry, I know better. I’ve lived in Muslim countries, among them Senegal, which banned full-body burkas last month, and is on the front lines in combating the rise of conservative terrorism — the kind that pits newer, Wahhabi-leaning Muslims against more traditional and tolerant Sufi Muslims.
Senegal is also a land of native Muslim feminists, among them Mariama Ba, who wrote “So Long a Letter,” (Une si longue lettre) her great novel challenging Muslim and West African patriarchy, way back in 1979. Another great Muslim feminist, Morocco’s Fatima Mernissi, passed away on Nov. 30, a death Fox News somehow failed to note.
To acknowledge that Mernissi critiqued the excesses of arch-conservative Islam for 30 years would lay bare the fraudulence of right-wing media’s insistence that “moderate” Muslims are not our allies in the fight for a more just and humane world.
Too bad we can’t send al-Baghdadi, Jeffress, Trump, Cruz, and all the hate-spewing imams, reverends, ayatollahs and Republicans to the apocalyptic war they all want so badly — on Mars. That might leave the rest of us — Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, pagans, atheists —in peace.
I know it’s not politically correct to wish such a thing, but like Trump, I don’t care.
C.W. Cannon’s latest book is “Katrina Means Cleansing,” a young-adult novel about Hurricane Katrina. He teaches “New Orleans Myths and Legends” and other courses at Loyola University.