The other night on Twitter, I was bemoaning a recent Internet phenomenon. It's not unheard of for online commenters to veer into politically incorrect waters, but just in the last few weeks I'd noticed more blatant racism from more readers, more often. I called it the Trump Effect. It was as if the racist and xenophobic GOP presidential frontrunner -- who's paid no penalty ,and in fact basked in the glow of increasing support, from the day he entered the race by branding Mexicans who cross the border as murderers and rapists -- has given them permission to say the most hateful things from deep within their tortured souls.
This week (and it's only Tuesday afternoon...sigh) Trump has gotten much, much worse, and so has the Trump Effect. By now you know all about "The New Furor" -- as the Daily News, on the very first day of the rest of our lives, so aptly put it this morning -- over Trump's highly impractical, highly unconsitutional, and highly immoral call to at least temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., which would end the 239-year-old American experiment in religious liberty as we know it. The chattering classes are in a tizzy, which probably means that Trump is about to rise another 3-4 percent in the polls, on the backs of his growing base of a low-information, xenophobic and often racist voting bloc that's larger than anyone cares to admit.
In case there's any doubt where this thing is headed, Trump's campaign co-chair in New Hampshire rationalized the proposed Muslim-to-U.S.-travel-ban by explaining it was "no different than the situation during World War II, when we put the Japanese in camps" -- a reference to one of the ugliest and most unfortunate events in modern American history.
As the Trump Effect magnifies, these two things happened in Pennsylvania, a state that was founded by William Penn to foster his belief in "liberty of conscious." In Pittsburgh last week, a Muslim cab driver was asked by a passenger all about ISIS and if he was "a Pakistani guy." The passenger then said he needed to get his wallet inside his house but instead came out with a rifle, allegedly striking the driver in the back with a bullet as he attempted to speed away. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, is calling for a hate crimes investigation.
In Philadelphia just yesterday, the FBI and other agencies began investigating an incident in which a bloodied pig's head was tossed at the front door of a mosque in North Philadelphia, an act which prompted Mayor-elect Jim Kenney to say that "[t]he bigotry that desecrated Al Aqsa mosque today has no place in Philadelphia."
Kenney is right...and this week Pennsylvania has the perfect opportunity to say 'no' to Islamophobia and to hate. On Friday at lunchtime in New York, as part of that bizarre annual tradition known as the Pennsylvania Society weekend, Trump is slated to deliver the keynote address at a major fundraiser for the state Republican Party. The Pennsylvania GOP is charging $1,000 a head to hear the short-fingered vulgarian speak at the Commonwealth Club in Manhattan, and $2,500 a pop to get your picture taken with this man whose campaign has been littered with lies like "thousands of people" celebrating 9/11 in New Jersey.
This would be an ideal time for Rob Gleason, the state party leader, and for other Pennsylvania Republicans to make a principled stand, to say that there are certain lines in American politics and discourse that simply cannot be crossed. A cancellation of Trump's appearance would make a powerful statement -- that Republicans from the Keystone State believe you can stand up for conservative ideals and reject hate at the same time.
Unfortunately, the state GOP isn't seeing this opportunity. "Over the course of the past year, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania has allowed a number of presidential candidates to speak to voters at our events," the party's communications chair Megan Sweeney emailed me yesterday. "It's up to the voters to decide who they support."
We are living in extraordinary times that require extraordinary measures. Donald Trump's political movement has clearly crossed the line into fascism. Some time back, the acclaimed Italian writer Umberto Eco published a landmark essay on the traits of fascism -- a list that was summarized in a recent piece on Slate by its chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie:
They are: A cult of "action for action's sake," where "thinking is a form of emasculation"; an intolerance of "analytical criticism," where disagreement is condemned; a profound "fear of difference," where leaders appeal against "intruders"; appeals to individual and social frustration and specifically a "frustrated middle class" suffering from "feelings of political humiliation and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups"; a nationalist identity set against internal and external enemies (an "obsession with a plot"); a feeling of humiliation by the "ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies"; a "popular elitism" where "every citizen belongs to the best people of the world" and underscored by contempt for the weak; and a celebration of aggressive (and often violent) masculinity.
Does that sound like anyone in the 2016 presidential race? Trump's blatant appeals to racism and xenophobia, his increasingly alarming proposals to create a registry of Muslims in America, to close down mosques and now to ban new Muslim arrivals, his appeals to middle-class fears and to "make America great again," and the thuggery that has become a hallmark of his campaign rallies, are all signs of a fascist movement in this country, something that never should have reached this point.
And now the Pennsylvania Republican Party is about to take blood money on the back of this grotesque carnival. And the genial faces of the GOP ballot in 2016 -- folks like Sen. Pat Toomey and U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, among others -- are accomplices to this travesty if they accept one dollar of the funds that are raised on Friday. I never thought I'd be writing these words, but if the state GOP goes ahead with this event, it is endorsing fascism, pure and simple.