very vigilant, very smart, very rigid and very vigilant, very, very strong and very, very smart

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Let’s pull for  a moment on a single thread in the tapestry of hellish horror that is the Donald Trump campaign for president of United States. 

So today the Republican front-runner, to pretty much nobody’s relief, kinda sorta said that he did not support internment camps for Muslim Americans. The exchange came in a segment on ABC’s This Week: 

KARL: So let me ask you, you said that Islam is at war with us. A lot of people wonder, given some of your proposals, whether or not you would go the next step towards internment camps. And I know you’ve never proposed that. But let me just ask you here now, would you categorically rule out the idea of internment camps for American Muslims? Is that something —

TRUMP: — rule it out but we would have to be very vigilant. We’re going to have to be very smart. We’re going to have to be very rigid and very vigilant. And if we’re not very, very strong and very, very smart, we have a big, big problem coming up. We’ve already had the problem. Check out the World Trade Center, OK, check out the Pentagon. We’ve already had the problem. But I would — I would say you have to be extremely strong. You have to keep your eyes open.

And by the way, Muslims in our country have to report bad acts, OK?

There are many little things about this exchange that should make you sit up and pay attention. Not least, as many on Twitter noted, the fact that such a question needed to be asked at all. It should be right up there with would you consider not gassing the Jews? or do you think we really need  to have elections?

This passage is interesting in that it is at once Trump caught a little off-guard and at the same time him using his boilerplate messages. This is obviously not a downright rehearsed line and the question comes at him a little unaware. And yet, this is a virtuoso performance by Trump, replete with dog whistles and complicated, strategically vague messaging in declarative, seemingly simple words. While he flails and pivots to things he knows, some ideas might slip by that he would normally guard. So let’s quickly parse some of the meanings in what he said.

Islam is at war with us.

First off, there’s the distressing fact that the Republican front-runner openly thinks Islam is at war with the West. This is an idea detached entirely from reality. And, logically, it means that Donald Trump believes that roughly 1 % of the US population is at war with the US – and that, consequently, the US is also at war with a segment of its own population. “There’s a tremendous hatred there”, he has said. “Islam hates us”.

… rule it out but we would have to be very vigilant

So, we shouldn’t have internment camps, but note the choice of words: “but we would have to be very vigilant.” He’s saying it would be easier and more expedient to have camps. But since we’re not going to do that, we’ll have to make an extra effort since we’re not doing that. So Trump is signaling to his far-right voters that he sees use for things like internment camps, sees that they achieve his goals, and notes that it would take extra effort if we want to not have internment camps.

We’re going to have to be very smart. We’re going to have to be very rigid and very vigilant. And if we’re not very, very strong and very, very smart, we have a big, big problem coming up.

This passage is classic Trump. Simple words. Dumb, feel-good, macho adjectives used without any kind of arguments to back them up: smart, rigid, vigilant, strong, smart. All propped up by nothing except the empty word “very”, sometimes “very  very”. And here comes the second dog-whistle: Muslims are a big, big problem. The problem is getting stronger. The idea that  Muslims represent a growing, eclipsing threat, demographically and culturally, to the West is a classic racist trope.

We’ve already had the problem. Check out the World Trade Center, OK, check out the Pentagon. We’ve already had the problem.

But wait,  we’ve already had the problem? But you just said – okay, never mind. So we’ll have more terror – if we’re not  rigid, vigilant, strong, etc. What Trump is doing here is communicating that he wants to introduce authoritarian measures against Muslims. He’s already asking for a ban on Muslims entering the US (except maybe not) and a whole host of other things. He wants you, the listener with the anti-Muslim prejudice, to hear that there’s more of that coming. That will make you feel strong, smart, vigilant.

But I would — I would say you have to be extremely strong. You have to keep your eyes open.

So probably surveillance and police forces will be the first part of these more draconian measures.

And by the way, Muslims in our country have to report bad acts, OK?

Meaning: Muslims don’t talk to law enforcement about terrorism – which, by the way, is not true – and you can’t trust Muslims. Any Muslims you see you could be a terrorist. Think about voting for  me, Donald Trump, the next time you see someone scary and foreign.

To sum up, according to Donald Trump:

  • Muslims are soldiers in a war with the West.
  • Muslims are dangerous and a growing threat.
  • Muslims can’t be trusted.
  • He does not agree with having internment camps, but thinks that they would accomplish his goals.
  • He will introduce authoritarian measures against Muslims.
  • Increased surveillance, monitoring and intelligence will probably be the first wave of this effort.

Let me end on a little prayer for conservatives or people who know conservatives in my readership:

When the election rolls around, whatever your values, if Donald Trump is running, there is no conservative candidate. There is a right-wing radical authoritarian demagogue who could potentially fundamentally disrupt the world order. And there is either a fairly normal centre-right or a leftwing socialist (in Europe we would think of Sanders as a centre-left, moderate social democrat). That means the true conservative or democraticc move is the same: you support the Democratic candidate, whoever he or she is.

You need to go to the polls and vote  for the Democratic nominee, whether it’s Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. Don’t think of it as voting for the issues they support. Don’t think of it as voting for whoever is not Trump. This is not what this is about. You vote for or against fundamental democratic values. You vote for the greater likelihood of not having internment camps  in the US. You vote for the greater likelihood of there being elections in the future.

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