America’s choice in next November’s federal election is very simple despite the complexities of the problems the country and next president face.
An epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings, displaced Syrians seeking refuge in the United States from terrorism and genocide in their homeland, threats to women’s health and marital rights already bestowed by the Supreme Court, and state laws cloaked in religion to deny minorities their rights while shielding practitioners of discrimination from accountability and liability.
The list goes on.
America’s choice in next November’s federal election is very simple despite the complexities of the problems the country and next president face. Do we as a country accept or reject the message of fear and hate, of no hope, a message that panders to the fears and paranoia of America’s electorate? The message that, so far, is being peddled by Republicans and conservatives – a message that parades America at its worst both at home and on the world stage.
“Make America Great Again” is the theme of Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. But The Donald’s concept of greatness is a country with walls to keep out illegal Hispanic immigrants although Trump put thousands of them on the payroll of his numerous business enterprises. Now Trump wants to keep any and all Muslims from entering the United States because he perceives them as terrorist threats – apparently ignoring it was a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that destabilized the Middle East sufficiently to set off the mass exodus of Muslims and Syrians from the terrorist cell, ISIS, that rose to power after the invasion.
Trump’s challengers for the White House are evenly divided on his vision of America as a Muslim-free zone in a recent national poll. But more than half of respondents weren’t. Fully 57 percent of 495 people surveyed in the NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey Dec. 8-9 rejected Trump’s proposal. Among Republican respondents, however, 38 percent backed the plan and 39 percent opposed it. No such even split existed among non-Republicans: 75 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents opposed the plan.
Foreign governments also have denounced Trump’s ideology, none perhaps more strongly than Great Britain. An online petition to ban Trump from entering the United Kingdom reportedly got more signatures than another petition ever, and Scotland severed all its multiple business ties to Trump while a Scottish university rescinded a honorary degree it bestowed on him.
The NBC-WSJ poll also detected a subtle but telling statistic on America’s perception of Muslims as a group. Nearly six in 10 Americans – 59 percent – held a favorable view of Muslims while 29 percent viewed them unfavorably. But a distinct divide was found along party lines: 48 percent of Republicans saw Muslims in general unfavorably and 43 percent favorably while, among Democrats, fully three-fourths perceived Muslims favorably and 14 percent unfavorably.
And therein lies a defining distinction between conservatives and non-conservatives in their message to American voters. For conservatives, the world is a dark and dangerous place from which the country should be isolated and “outsiders” banished as threats to individual and collective security. Nor does America have a moral and ethical responsibility to give refuge to the very people it victimized by invading their country and empowering the terrorist group they now flee.
Trump’s plan to ban Muslim entry to the United States is problematic deep beneath the surface. It represents ethnocentrism at its worst, ethnocentricity being the sociological theory of perceiving and judging an entire society based on the actions of the few. And if intelligence experts are to be believed, Trump may have unwittingly endangered the entire country by arming radical Muslims with a reason to work toward another terrorist attack on U.S. Soil.
The dire warnings by Republicans of threats to U.S. safety by foreign enemies have all but trumped the basic threat within: America’s blood lust for guns and mass killings. Republicans, apparently intimidated by the conservative base that sees any control of gun ownership as an infringement of the Second Amendment, have offered solutions ranging from putting guns into the hands of more people to protect themselves from other people who also have guns to making access to mental health services easier.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that monitors and documents incidents of gun violence based on FBI and media reports, published a report last August of a comprehensive analysis of mass shooting between January 2009 and July 2015. Mass shootings were identified as incidents involving the deaths of four or more victims.
Certain categories of people – felons, certain domestic abusers and the “severely” mentally ill are prohibited by federal law from possessing guns. Everytown’s study found guns that were used by people who weren’t supposed to have them in 116 of the 133 incidents – 87 percent. In only one case was the shooter prohibited by federal law from possessing guns due to severe mental illness.
Despite saturated media coverage of mass killings, however, less than 1 percent of all killings by guns qualified as mass shootings in 2012. Further, in the entire period studied – January 2009 through July 2015 – 44 percent of guns deaths were suicide, and another 15 percent linked to domestic violence.
Those findings lend little logic to the thought of giving guns to more people but certainly validate the need to make mental health services more accessible to the suicidal and to families in crisis.
A third threat to America’s security and stability, according to Republicans and conservative, apparently are individual rights and freedoms. In Republican terms, that means gay marriage and LGBT equality. And their defense is religious freedom or exemption, the theory that government employees who don’t like gay people have their religious beliefs denied if they’re required to issue marriage licenses or officiate same-sex weddings.
Trump, to his credit, has said that while he does not approve of gay marriage privately, the Supreme Court has decided otherwise and, if elected, he will not move to amend the federal Constitution to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples. Three GOP rivals, however – Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Marco Rubio – have gone on record as saying Americans who don’t accept the Supreme Court’s ruling last June that same-sex marriage is a federal right can simply ignore it.
Their logic seems to be that the high court’s ruling is an example of “judicial tyranny” that can be rejected by dissenters. Telling constituents to ignore laws they don’t like may be great political pandering, but it opens the door to the dangerous proposition that individuals can ignore and defy laws they simply don’t like.
On the other side of the political aisle, the Democrats’ two leading presidential hopefuls – Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders – have denounced refusals to assist admit Syrian refugees and Muslims into the United States and have pledged themselves to LGBT equality and protections.
Terrorism, gun violence, gay marriage and LGBT equality. The issues that seem to driving the country’s political discussion, at least among conservatives, and each a threat to the nation’s safety and stability – and each void of hope for a better America both at home and abroad.
A simple choice for voters next November. Do we accept a vision of America as a dark, foreboding and hopeless country? Or do we look beyond the darkness and believe we can be a better people?
Photo Credit: Paul Sableman/flickr