An exchange in last night’s debate revealed the deep divide in this country over who should be allowed in the country. Audience member Gorbah Hamed posed a question to Donald Trump:
There are 3.3 million Muslims in the United States, and I’m one of them. You’ve mentioned working with Muslim nations, but with Islamophobia on the rise, how will you help people like me deal with the consequences of being labeled as a threat to the country after the election is over?
Well, you’re right about Islamophobia, and that’s a shame. But one thing we have to do is we have to make sure that — because there is a problem. I mean, whether we like it or not, and we could be very politically correct, but whether we like it or not, there is a problem. And we have to be sure that Muslims come in and report when they see something going on. When they see hatred going on, they have to report it.
And [Clinton] won’t even mention [radical Islamic terrorists] and nor will President Obama. He won’t use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” Now, to solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name. She won’t say the name and President Obama won’t say the name. But the name is there. It’s radical Islamic terror. And before you solve it, you have to say the name.
Moderator Martha Raddatz asked Clinton to respond, and she launched into a predictable critique of the “divisive, dark things said about Muslims” during the campaign and concluding “we’re not at war with Islam.”
Raddatz then turned to Trump and asked him to explain whether his pledge in December to ban all Muslims from coming to the United States was still in effect. “Your running mate [Indiana Governor Mike Pence] said this week that the Muslim ban is no longer your position. Is that correct? And if it is, was it a mistake to have a religious test?”
Trump answered as follows:
The Muslim ban is something that in some form has morphed into a extreme vetting from certain areas of the world….We are going to areas like Syria where they’re coming in by the tens of thousands because of Barack Obama. And Hillary Clinton wants to allow a 550 percent increase over Obama. People are coming into our country like we have no idea who they are, where they are from, what their feelings about our country is, and she wants 550 percent more. This is going to be the great Trojan horse of all time.
We have enough problems in this country. I believe in building safe zones. I believe in having other people pay for them, as an example, the Gulf states, who are not carrying their weight, but they have nothing but money, and take care of people. But I don’t want to have, with all the problems this country has and all of the problems that you see going on, hundreds of thousands of people coming in from Syria when we know nothing about them. We know nothing about their values and we know nothing about their love for our country.
I predicted on Twitter that both campaigns would use Donald Trump’s answer to this question in advertisements. Trump’s response appeals to his hard-care supporters who were never troubled by the prospect of a Muslim ban, and who likely believe that “extreme vetting” is the same thing. Trump supporters, the latest polling clearly shows, believe that immigrants (including refugees) pose a “critical threat” to U.S. security. That this belief is utterly erroneous will not be rectified by facts. Some go so far as to wonder why there are any Muslims in the United States in the first place.
Though Hillary Clinton doesn’t revere the Constitution as much as Trump claims to – she notably didn’t mention respect for the Constitution as a key factor in judging potential Supreme Court nominees (h/t Matthew Feeney) – she presumably interprets Trump’s “extreme vetting” as synonymous with a religious test, which the Constitution explicitly forbids.
In a campaign marked by divisive rhetoric, Trump and Clinton’s answers mainly revealed the very deep chasm separating the people in this country, one that will not be healed after November.