Why do we have this problem? William Saletan's answer: it's not Trump per se. The problem is embedded in one of our two major political parties:
Together, these polls paint a sobering picture of Trump’s party. Forty-three percent of Republicans say the government should monitor most Muslims. Fifty-four percent say they wouldn’t vote for a qualified Muslim for president, even if that candidate were nominated by the GOP. Fifty-seven percent say Islamic values are at odds with American values. More than 60 percent say not only that mosques should be closed based on suspected ties to extremists, but also that Muslims in general think they’re above the law. As for Trump’s proposal to bar Muslim refugees, it’s not even close. When the question is presented without cues, 5 of every 6 Republicans agree with him.
So let’s stop pretending the problem is Trump. The problem is the base—and by many measures, the majority—of the Republican Party. If you think we can’t elect a government in 2016 that would target a religious minority, you’re underestimating Trump. And you’re overestimating America.
Why do we have this problem? As Michelle Goldberg points out, hate groups like Frank Gaffney's ACT! for America have been spending millions of dollars in recent years to organize grassroots groups throughout the U.S. blaming Muslims for our problems and seeding Islamophobia.
Why do we have this problem? Jamelle Bouie's answer: the Donald is simply making explicit — he's lifting into text — the subtext of the entire GOP slate of candidates for the presidency:
Once again, Donald Trump has taken the subtext of the Republican race for president and made it text. . . . Trump is just skating to where the puck was going. Nothing here is qualitatively different from what Republicans have been saying for the past month or longer.
Can it happen here? Michael Winship — yes:
The candidate's latest round of Muslim bashing is a reminder of Sinclair Lewis' book about fascism in America and the danger of an ill-informed public.
Can it happen here? Of course it can, Bill Boyarsky insists:
"It Can’t Happen Here" was the title of Sinclair Lewis’'novel about a loudmouth populist who was elected president, seized control of the government, ignored the Constitution and established a dictatorship. In "The Plot Against America," Philip Roth wrote a fictionalized tale about how Charles Lindbergh, who in real life was a Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite, rode a tide of anti-Semitism to become elected president and then hooked up with Hitler.
Anti-Islam feeling is rampant, and all it needs is a leader.
I know that, not just from reading Lewis and Roth, but from my experience as an American Jew and as a journalist who has spent a lifetime examining the ugly undercurrents of American life. Trump is stirring up hatred and fear and anxiety and shaping them into a political movement, as Hitler did in the 1930s.
This should be a warning to progressives who dismiss Trump as a buffoon. His campaign should wake up cynical liberals inclined to sit out the election because they feel that Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders aren’t up to their standards.
Sitting this one out is not an option. Because it can happen here.
Why can it happen here? As Joshua Eaton points out, low-income white voters motivated by racial animus, who feel economically stuck and who are poorly educated, are looking for someone to blame — and racial and ethnic minorities are a handy target:
In July an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that Trump's support is concentrated among working-class Republicans. Just 8 percent of likely Republican voters with a college degree supported Trump at that time, with his support among those without a college degree was about 30 percent. Last week those figures jumped to 18 percent and 46 percent, respectively, according to a CNN/ORC poll, and 40 percent of registered Republicans earning under $50,000 per year said they supported Trump.
Trump's strong support among largely white working-class Republicans and among opponents of immigration is no coincidence, according to Susan Moir, the director of the Labor Resource Center at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
"It is difficult to talk about Trump and his appeal to frightened white voters without either dismissing him as a crazy fascist or using deeply rooted — and forgotten — concepts in the American experience," she explained. "He is a classic nativist, a direct descendant of the Know-Nothings, who feared Catholic immigrants in the 1840s."
Why can it happen here? Again, an entire generation of low-income working-class white voters has been deliberately undereducated and miseducated in this country. It relies for "information" on news media that have with malice aforethought poisoned the minds of these Americans, suggesting that racial, ethnic, religious, and other forms of diversity are the problem and not the solution to our social problems.
But as researchers Sheen S. Levine and David Stark find, dealing with people different from oneself on a regular basis hones our intellectual skills — while interacting only with people like us has the opposite effect. They write,
Diversity improves the way people think. By disrupting conformity, racial and ethnic diversity prompts people to scrutinize facts, think more deeply and develop their own opinions. Our findings show that such diversity actually benefits everyone, minorities and majority alike.
And so, once again, can it happen here? Elias Isquith's answer: absolutely! Mix racial animosity, lack of education, disinformation campaigns lavishly funded by economic elites, economic stagnation, and you have the same formula for fascism in the U.S. that you have anyplace else in the world:
What Trump's campaign is doing, in effect, is make Americans acknowledge something about themselves they’ve long preferred to ignore. Namely, that they're not so different. In the era before Trumpism, we Americans used to tell ourselves that far-right authoritarian nationalism was other people's problem. We used to think we were immune; that it couldn’t happen here.
Lately, however, the conversation we have about ourselves has started to sound a bit different. A certain self-confidence in our own dedication to liberal democracy — an innocence, really — is now missing. In the end, that disabuse may be what we most remember about this campaign. For perhaps the first time ever, self-awareness is on the rise thanks to Donald Trump.
And so can it happen here? For Amanda Marcotte, the question is a no-brainer, when a lot of us are Donald Trump. He's not leading us down this path. We've led ourselves there:
Trump is a big, orangey object that’s fun to look at, but the real story is why there is an actual proto-fascist movement forming in this country. Trump isn’t the beginning of anything. He’s the end result of years of conservatives growing angrier and angrier — and taking pre-Trump steps like forming the Tea Party and pushing ever more radical Republicans into Congress — about the diversification of America. And if he went away tomorrow, that anger would still be there and someone, likely Cruz, would be the next guy in line to start trying to channel it into political victory.
Once again, why can it happen here? Because, as Willie Dwayne Francois reminds us, we Americans love our guns. Guns are the American god especially for the segment of the U.S. population that loves it some Donald Trump — low-income, undereducated, white voters stuck in economic stagnation and looking for someone to blame:
The gun is one of the American gods, and its holy canon is the Second Amendment. We look through the warped window of the religion of America and find guns affixed to its throbbing heart. In 2013, Public Religion Research Institute reported that only 38 percent of white evangelical Protestants favored the passage of stricter gun control laws, while 59 percent opposed them. In contrast, stronger legislation to limit public access to guns was favored by 57 percent of white mainline Protestants, 76 percent of Black Protestants, 67 percent of Catholics, and 60 percent of the "Nones." These statistics squarely point to the trend that white Evangelicals are the only Christian subset in America with a majority opposition to increased regulation of firearms. Even in the immediate aftermath of last week's shooting, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University—one of the collegiate hubs of the religious right—incited applause from the student body as he cast a vision to "end those Muslims" in the event of an attack at the university by arming themselves with concealed handguns.
Why can it happen here? Because we have religious leaders who claim to be all about leading people to Christ who can, without an ounce of shame, exhort followers of Christ to end those Muslims. This link points to a petition where you can make your voice heard, if you wish, about that statement. I did so yesterday, leaving a comment that states,
In my wildest imagination, I simply cannot imagine Jesus Christ saying, "End those Muslims." To hear an influential Christian pastor who claims to lead people to Christ utter those words is bone-chilling to me, precisely because I'm Christian.
Do slacktivists make any real difference in movements for critically important social change? Listen to what University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communications has discovered: