Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Fri, Sep 18th, 2015

Trump the Tramp and Trash Talk

There is no doubt that militarily and economically the United States of America is the strongest country in the world. One would think, and hope, that someone seeking to be president of the USA would be someone who people could trust as a leader willing to govern according to the ethical values on which the country was founded. Anyone familiar with the history of democracy in America knows that elections have always been a circus act.

Trump Tower in Istanbul, Turkey (photo: Daniel Martin Varisco).

Trump Tower in Istanbul, Turkey (photo: Daniel Martin Varisco).

Crazies can indeed run for president, although in theory the voting population should be able to weed them out. And dynasties do exist, as seen in the office-seeking of the Kennedy and Bush clans, despite the lack of a royal family or strong-man dictator. Whoever the assumed “front runners” are in the major parties at more than a year before the next presidential election, it is doubtful they will be the ultimate nominees. This cycle is especially Barnum and Bailey, especially with the party of the elephants. It would be hard to trump Donald Trump as the main act in this electoral carnival.

As I write this commentary, billionaire narcissist Donald Trump, is leading the polls for the Republican (GOP) nomination after two widely viewed televised “debates” on the media-frenzy road show. When Trump first announced, it was taken as a media stunt. His media persona matched his wealth and not only in the United States. While in Istanbul this summer I passed by a “Trump Tower.” Yet, despite inflammatory comments that offend Latinos (especially Mexicans), women, media personalities, fellow candidates and recently Muslims, he is ahead of the pack. Realistically, his chances of surviving the grueling primary contest without a major ground team in all states are minimal. Yet his current appeal says something sad about the level of prejudice in America, especially by those who tend to vote Republican.

Trump’s latest problem, which will endear him to the Islamophobic crowd in America, stems not from a direct statement he made (like calling “illegal” Mexican immigrants rapists or saying a fellow female candidate was ugly), but his naiveté as someone running for public office. When someone in the audience at a “town hall” event asked him when America would get rid of the Muslims and insisted President Obama was a Muslim and not born in America, Trump said this was an issue he was thinking about. Unlike John McCain, who corrected a woman claiming Obama was an “Arab” (i.e. Muslim) in the 2008 election, Trump more or less nodded in agreement. This is appalling, of course, but hardly a surprise for anyone familiar with Trump’s previous rhetoric. More appalling, however, is the fact that there are so many Americans voters, especially self-identified Republicans, out there who still insist Obama is a Muslim. Although Fox News is willing to push the Trump wagon for all it’s worth, some news analysts are actually hitting back. Whether such push-back will be enough to sink “The Donald” Leviathan remains to be seen.

Islamophobia, like anti-semitism and racism against “Blacks” and “illegal aliens”, is deeply engrained in the American ethos. Many of the waves of immigrants at the end of the 19th century and early 20th faced deep prejudice, including my Sicilian grandfather. This is partly due to the fact that so few Muslims came to America in the early stages apart from those Africans who were forcibly brought here and largely converted to a colonialized Christianity (in which all God’s children did not have shoes). But a major boost to Islamophobia in the past several decades has been the unending media attention to “terrorism” which has become a synonym for the Islamic faith of a billion and a half adherents. The fact that the Middle East in particular is plagued with militant battles between Muslims, in addition to a few major terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States, feeds the news cycle. The fact that much of this is due to past colonial control of the region and the continuing damage following the American invasion of Iraq is mostly avoided.  The fact that the humanitarian crises in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya have political roots is elided by the focus on Islam as a causal factor.

As politicians like Trump ramp up their trash talk, unlike the Lebanese who face a more material trash problem, the visceral hatred of those seen as “others” and “enemies” is encouraged. This is hardly unique to the United States. The rhetorical maelstrom that pits Sunni vs. Shi’a within the Muslim world is literally getting rid of many fellow Muslims. There are now millions of refugees from the crises in the Middle East and North Africa, on top of those from Somalia. A few have been lucky to achieve asylum, but the numbers are so vast that many more have little or no future outside the countries they fled from. The welcome mat is no longer out across the Bosphorus.  The burden of absorbing Syrian refugees now rests on its neighbors, thus increasing the overall instability in the region. It is past time to throw out all this trash talk, but I fear the political circus is far from over. Trump the tramp is but the tip of the prejudice iceberg that is not going to melt away soon.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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