So there has been this whole dust-up about Ben Carson saying that a Muslim shouldn’t be president because, “I do not believe Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country.” And then Ted Cruz — Truest Defender of the Constitution™ — pointed out that there is no “religious test” for holding public office. As Martin Longman pointed out, this is true but hardly relevant: Carson wasn’t saying that Muslim’s shouldn’t have a legal right to be president — just that they shouldn’t be president in the same way that Nazis shouldn’t be president. And wouldn’t Ted Cruz agree with that vile comparison? I think he would.
PM Carpenter made a wonderful point about this. Carson also said, “Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.” This is the very definition of bigotry: lumping all Muslims together. But this is also a mighty ironic thing coming from a guy who wears his Christianity on his political sleeve. And it’s not just him. All Republicans of recent years have gone out of their way to say that their Iron Age religious beliefs would be the basis of their presidencies.
But as I’ve written about too many times to list, modern American Christianity — and conservative Christianity most of all — is all about cultural signifying. There isn’t much theology going on. It is about Christianity being what the Good Guys believe in. And as such, it is tribal. And that’s why it is totally okay to dump all over Muslims, even if Islam and Christianity aren’t that different theologically. But it is more than that. Hatred of Muslims is pretty much the same as hatred of Mexicans. The Republican Party has the power it has because of deep-seated bigotry on the part of much of its base of voters.
Jonathan Chait wrote an excellent article Monday morning, How Conservatives Explain Away Republican Islamophobia. He mentioned several examples of Republicans making the argument that all this bigotry doesn’t say anything about their party. It’s really annoying, actually. I have no doubt whatsoever that people like Kevin Williamson aren’t personally against Muslims. But they are all firm supporters of the Republican Party as it is. And that is a party that depends upon courting these bigots with subtle and not-so-subtle rhetoric.
As Rick Santorum said about the man who wanted us to do something about the problem of Muslims in this country, “People are entitled to their opinions. We have a First Amendment for a reason.” That’s very much like Ted Cruz’s statement about the religious test: no one questions the man’s right to say those things. The question is whether Republicans are willing to correct this kind of vile thinking. And they aren’t. And the reason they aren’t is the same reason that so much of the base believes this nonsense: the Republican Party has spent decades pushing it, because it is the only way to get more than 50% of the country to vote for its vile economic policies.
Over the weekend, Frank Rich wrote, The Importance of Donald Trump. He summed it up well:
All that Trump shows is that for most of the Republican base, the issue is just bigotry and a vague anger at the world. It isn’t about all the “great” ideas that the Republican Party has for solving America’s problems.