Through an executive order, President Trump just banned entry to the United States for all refugees, and Muslims from 7 countries. On the one hand, this shouldn’t come as a surprise given that Trump explicitly campaigned on doing so for all of 2016. However, Republican White Nationalist rhetoric in the post 9/11 era has been mostly bark, with little policy bite. Yes we created the Department of Homeland Security, and yes the US needlessly invaded Iraq, but Republican elites have for the most part built up white nationalist sentiments, without ever following through on that rhetoric.
Not only did the muslim ban poll pretty well back in June (50-46 in favor), better than the ACA does today, but for a large segment of the public Islamophobic sentiments have stewed for quite some time. In polls or focus groups, people will express deplorable sentiments toward Muslims, but often that rhetoric doesn’t have any policy content behind it, just the kind of casual racism that pervades a good chunk of the white public in America. Hell, in a campaign I worked on, I ran into Sarah Palin Republicans and Bill Maher Democrats who had eerily similar things to say about Muslims.
To summarize: A lot of Americans (about half, maybe a bit more) dislike Muslims. ➡️ Republicans have tapped into this sentiment by highlighting “Radical Islamic Terrorism” in order to fundraise and mobilize voters. ➡️ Republicans in office, pass a few resolutions, but mostly try to cut taxes and spending, while paying lip service to national defense and other images strongly associated with white nationalism. ➡️ Rinse and repeat in the next election cycle. This can work for a while, but it’s certainly not a process that can sustain itself.
Republican strategists seemed comfortable operating in his pattern, concluding that they could ride this anti-Muslim sentiment (not to mention racism towards all other non-white groups) to electoral success, but never have to go as far as supporting a Muslim ban, or deporting/rounding up Muslims. The GOP knew what they were doing, but they still felt like they could stay in control of it. The 2016 Presidential Primary proved that theory false. This Mike Pence tweet embodies the idea that they were in control.
I want to make a caveat that this isn’t entirely the fault of Republicans. Americans don’t need a political party to help them come to racist conclusions, people are good enough at doing that on their own. However, Republicans did not do enough to try and stamp out the Islamophobic fervor that has animated their party since 2001, and many GOP leaders stoked it for national prominence. It was certainly going to take a shameless, racist, power-hungry, imbecile to capitalize on this opportunity, but even ignoring Trump, it wasn’t as if Governor Huckabee, Ben Carson, Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum weren’t dabbling in the same racist pools as Trump. Republicans helped create this monster, not the Trump monster, I mean the seething white-nationalist masses that are comfortable with deporting/banning people based on race, religion, or national origin. This sentiment was always present, as the paranoid style of American politics always is. But Frankenstein lost control of his monster, and he’s seemingly washing his hands of any responsibility over it. Conspicuously silent Speaker Ryan is seemingly willing to trade tax cuts for people’s lives. I just hope he’s knows that’s what he’s doing.