Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Is a reality-based political debate really too much to ask of America?

So this happened ...

For those who can't view the video, a questioner wearing a Trump shirt, at a Trump rally in New Hampshire, says to Donald Trump:

"We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims. You know our current president is one. You know he's not even an American. Anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That's my question: When can we get rid of them?"

To which Trump of course responds:

"We're going to be looking at a lot of different things. You know, a lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening. We're going to be looking at that and many other things."

The video above tells us a lot about Trump's character as a person and also the character of his presidential campaign. It's an ugly reminder that the origins of the Trump 2016 campaign go back to his peddling of birtherism, which brought him a lot of attention and applause from certain quarters. And the reaction of the Trump campaign when criticism began to build?

"The media wants to make this issue about Obama. The bigger issue is that Obama is waging war against Christians in this country. Their religious liberty is at stake."

Not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton issued a statement condemning Trump, as did the Democratic National Committee. But to my knowledge, none of Trump's fellow Republican candidates have done so. They've allegedly been looking for opportunities to distance themselves from Trump, to expose him as an extremist peddling hate and nonsense rather than actual policy. They supposedly want to stress the fact that what Trump represents is not representative of the Republican Party as a whole.

Well, here's their shot: All they have to say are two things, neither of which ought to be controversial:

1.) President Obama is not a Muslim;

2.) Muslim-Americans have just as much right to be here as everybody else, and it's dangerous bigotry to suggest otherwise. To remain silent or even imply support when somebody publicly suggests that we need to "get rid of" a group of Americans based on their religious faith is unacceptable.

Instead, silence. And why? Because as a CNN poll found earlier this month, 43 percent of Republicans agree that Obama is a Muslim. A mere 30 percent is willing to concede that he is Christian.  (Another recent poll found that 54 percent of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim, with just 14 percent accepting that he is Christian.) And apparently, a Republican candidate for president isn't going to risk offending that demographic by challenging its ridiculous notions.

(UPDATE at 10:31: To his credit, Chris Christie has stepped forward: "I'll just tell you what I would do, and I wouldn't have permitted that. If someone brought that up at a town hall meeting of mine, I would've said, 'No, listen. Before we answer, let's clear some things up for the rest of the audience. And I think you have an obligation as a leader to do that.")

As I've said all along, Donald Trump is not the real problem. He is a symptom of the problem, a personification of the problem, a sly charlatan who recognized the problem as an opportunity and pounced. But the problem itself lies deeper, it is growing, and it is not going to go away when Trump does.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.