You've heard of the slippery slope argument? Donald Trump is its human embodiment.
As Trump loves to point out, if you're going to deny illegal immigrants the chance to become citizens or even to become legal someday, as he and other Republicans demand -- if you're going to insist that they can never have a place here -- then at least have the cojones to take the obvious next step and deport their butts. All 11 million of 'em - vamoose!
Likewise, if you're going to go through the trouble of launching an unnecessary war of conquest in the Middle East, as we did in Iraq, setting off all kinds of instability in the process, then Trump argues that you should at least have the guts to stay and steal the oil that's the real reason that you went there in the first place. Otherwise, why bother?
And as he pointed out Monday, if you're going to ban Syrian refugees because of an attack on Paris perpetrated by no Syrian refugees, then at least admit that what you really really want to do is ban all Muslims, period. Have the guts to say it loud, say it proud.
That last statement has of course been greeted with predictable expressions of shock and outrage, but it's the response from Trump's fellow Republicans that I find downright precious. Ben Carson, who says Muslims should be barred from the presidency because their faith contradicts the Constitution, wants every visitor to the United States monitored but "we do not and would not advocate being selective on one’s religion.”
Cuz apparently that would be wrong.
The hapless Jeb Bush, who has personally advocated accepting Christian Syrians while banning their Muslim counterparts, tut-tutted on Twitter that “Donald Trump is unhinged. His ‘policy’ proposals are not serious.” Sen. Rand Paul's campaign suggested that Trump is merely following Paul's lead, which happens to be true. Paul had earlier proposed an amendment that would ban all visas from some 30 Muslim countries. And Sen. Ted Cruz, that bold defender of American values, was one of 10 senators to vote in favor of Paul's amendment and has sponsored legislation of his own banning Syrian Muslim refugees. He now says blandly that Trump's policy "is not my policy."
But of course it is.
If Syrian Muslim families are too dangerous to be allowed to set foot on our soil even after a two-year vetting process -- and that has become the GOP's basic position as a party -- by what peculiar logic are Iraqi Muslims or Turkish Muslims or Nigerian Muslims or Indonesian Muslims or even French Muslims any different? Hell, what makes American Muslims any different?
That's basically the question that Trump has now posed to his fellow Republicans, and they have no real answer. They have no answer because every single one of the candidates mentioned above has in one way or another enthusiastically, publicly embraced the position that the 1.3 billion Muslims around the world must be judged not by their individual actions, statements or character but by the worst actions of the extremists who claim to share the same religion. They have deemed Muslims collectively guilty, as a religion, until they prove otherwise, and they say the assumption of guilt is so strong that it cannot be overcome even with a two-year grilling and investigation by U.S. authorities.
How is that different from the position taken by Trump?
Because once you've taken that position -- once you have embraced the principle that people can and must be judged by their religion and treated accordingly by our government -- then there's really nothing to stop your slide to the bottom. I would love to hear Bush, Carson, Paul, Cruz and others try to articulate the real difference between their own positions on Muslim immigration and that taken by Trump. They cannot, because there isn't one.
In the wake of this latest outrage, we're once again hearing predictions that this time Trump has finally gone too far. This time, what he has proposed is so outrageous and so counter to American principles of religious tolerance and decency that it's going to doom his candidacy. Back in my days as a younger, more naive man -- say, back in July -- I might have believed that.
But in a Rasmussen poll taken last month, 60 percent of likely voters and 82 percent of Republican voters said they oppose the settlement of Syrian refugees in their state. Some 65 percent of conservative voters believe that the correct number of immigrants from the Middle East -- read, Muslims -- is zero. So somehow, I don't think they're going to abandon a candidate who actually says that out loud.