American conservative identity is at a crossroads. The world has been rocked by terror attack after terror attack, as well as a refugee crisis of massive proportions. In the face of it all, what are we: the land of the free or the home of the hateful?
On Sept. 20, 2001 – just over a week after 9/11 – President George W. Bush addressed an angry, hurting nation:
The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.
In the midst of national mourning, our Republican President made an American promise to defend basic human freedoms. Today, Donald Trump is leading American followers down a road of bigotry and ignorance. In his escalating response to the Paris attacks, catalyzed by the San Bernadino shootings, he has proposed a ban on all Muslim entry to the United States. The loose association of a minority group with military enemies is an eerie reminder of Japanese internment. With him, a chorus of voices are rising to overturn 70 years of progress against state-sanctioned racial profiling, discrimination, and oppression.
I am of the belief that “Trump” himself is a showman spouting nonsense for the cameras. My concern is for his followers, everyday Americans who, exhausted by the establishment and angered by global violence, support the firebrand candidate. To be fair, when it comes to terrorism, we see no shortage of anger-inducing headlines. When a man straps a bomb to his chest, America must respond. When a couple shoots down innocents in cold blood, we must act. When a family fasts for Ramadan, do we reject them from our borders? I turn to President Bush’s words in his address to the Nation on September 11, 2001:
America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil — the very worst of human nature — and we responded with the best of America.
Could he say the same today? We have seen evil, and yet we are responding with our worst selves. We have pointed our media spotlight at Trump’s movement to strip innocents of their basic freedoms, legitimizing mass ignorance and poisoning the well of true conservatism.
American Conservatism, at its core, values personal freedom. It is a philosophy of liberation, of individualism, and of love. We reject one-size-fits-all government because every community has a different story. In our modern, diverse world, we must pursue tolerance through genuine conservatism.
Trump does the opposite with his sweeping generalizations. He and his supporters have projected the actions of a few in their judgement of the many. They have misconstrued a faith they do not understand. They have done so out of fear, out of (an understandable) hope for a simple solution to a complex problem, and to find an end to suffering at the hands of terrorism.
However, in their zeal, they could not be more wrong, and they could not be less conservative. It goes without saying that any Muslim individual is incredibly unlikely to be affiliated with a terrorist group. Not only is Islamophobia offensive, it is is downright dangerous. By focusing on ISIS’ religious identity, Trump overlooks the complex socio-political background from which the group emerged. While ISIS’ fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic scripture cannot be ignored, there are many more variables at play in the communities they affect. A true conservative knows that we need local knowledge, not broad generalizations, to address the terrorist threat.
Trump is no conservative. He is a fear-mongering xenophobe with a penchant for cable news networks. Yet he has played upon the hearts and minds of fearful Americans, taking advantage of the shock of terrorism to convince his followers to abandon reason and decency.
In an ironic twist, one popular public reaction has been to project Trump’s bigoted views onto conservatism as a whole. Again, it is unfair to characterize a vast community by the actions of an individual. Using Trump’s own thought process to accuse all Republicans of Islamophobia is hypocritical, and it alienates those conservatives with rational mindsets. It seems that generalization begets generalization, and we’re tumbling down a slippery slope of stereotyping and infighting that divides us in the face of true threats.
I will close with a quote from President Ronald Reagan:
So, please use your pulpits to denounce racism, anti-Semitism, and all ethnic or religious intolerance as evils, and let us make it clear that our values must not restrict, but liberate the human spirit in thought and in deed.
If we are to recognize the right of the individual to the basic freedoms outlined in the First Amendment, if we are to maintain our strength as a nation, we cannot approach policy with bigoted generalizations. Republicans: we must return to our conservative roots and break the cycle of hatred at home before we can affect positive change abroad.