The Donald goes down — or does he? Whatever the wash-up from last week’s Republican debate, much of it was almost immediately superseded by Donald Trump’s Q and A at a New Hamsphire “town hall” meeting and the uproar that followed. Trump took the first question, and it was a doozy:

“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?”

Trump responded by saying:

“Right … well, we’re going to be looking 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 meejasphere then went batshit, and then meta-batshit. Batshit initially because Trump hadn’t corrected the dingbat’s assertion about Obama’s nationality — and then sections of the media went batshit at those sections of the media who hadn’t also noted that Trump hadn’t corrected the implication that Muslims and Americans were mutually exclusive categories. Team Trump handled it badly, initially saying that Trump hadn’t heard the first part of the question — even though he had said into the mic (and ruefully amused, I thought) “This is the first question; we need this question …” — and it was only two days later, on the Sunday morning news shows, that Trump went into an “anti-PC” defence: “Look, it wasn’t Swedes who took down the towers”, etc, etc. Realpolitik speaking, he should have done that from the start — especially given that he tried to launch an aborted 2012 campaign by becoming the birther supreme.

To me he appeared to be acknowledging that — and what a con it was — in his reaction (“This had to be the first question!”) to the speaker’s opening remarks. I took it as Brooklynese, i.e. Jewish ironic diction — “hadda go and be the party room casting vote for Tony Abbott in 2009! This we needed!” — but others took it more literally. It’s an interesting measure of how Trump’s appeal can be underestimated. Odious as he is, there are moments when he seems more of a regular human being — capable of being self-amused, trying it on and getting caught — or talking in a way that non-Tea Party batshit crazy people would recognise as everyday politics: CEOs should pay more tax, there should be a minimum wage, we need a public option in healthcare, I don’t ask God for forgiveness, I just try and be a better person, etc.

Studded among the crazy, and light on the “This is America — everyone can make it!” rhetoric, I think it’s a part of Trump’s appeal, and differentiates him from the rest of the field. It’s a message to the “Nixon/Reagan Democrats” who haven’t come back yet to come back to him. It might work, but he has currently fallen to 24% from 32% in the polls, with Carly Fiorina rising to 15%, Ben Carson is level at 15%, and Marco Rubio up at 10%. Forced to start introducing some concrete policies, his magic-dust effect — “Don’t worry about it; we’re gonna be so great you’ll get tired of being great” — is wearing off. But that may leave the Republicans with an even greater headache: five or six leading candidates, each capable of winning a few states, and no one prevailing.

Mind you, it is in the air. Running parallel to Trump’s imbroglio was, sigh, clockgate, where a 14-year-old high school student in Irving, Texas, brought a home-made electronic clock to school — and was promptly arrested and detained for a couple of hours after an English teacher called the cops. Kid’s name was Ahmed Mohamed. Irving’s in a district where the mayor had run on a “no sharia law in the US” ticket (don’t ask).

Outrage then ensued, asking whether a kid without that name who bought in a clock would have got the same treatment — Gawker found seven of them. Obama invited Mohamed to the White House. Then the pushback began. The photo of the clock was shown — an electronic thing in what looked like a briefcase. This appeared to mitigate the case somewhat ’cause the thing did look like a bomb. Then, it was revealed that the “briefcase” was a pencil case styled like a briefcase, and the photo was out of scale. Then it turned out that Mohamed had shown the thing to four teachers, three of them sciencey, and it was only the fourth who freaked out. Previous crazy security alerts — a seven-year-old who bit his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun being suspended, etc — were raised, first by liberals. Then the right used those incidents to suggest that Mohamed was getting special treatment — even though none of the other kids had been handcuffed, perp-walked and questioned for two hours without a parent present. The police tried to defend their actions by pointing out that the damn thing looked like a bomb. It did, but the cops didn’t exactly go into defcon mode. Not only did they not evacuate the school, they questioned Mohamed inside it. Chief Wiggum lives. You couldn’t help but think that what they were really worried about was a smart, techy, Muslim.

But there is no situation so bad that the arrival of Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher does not make it worse. Maher, on his Real Time panel/diatribe show, ignored the obvious security gap and noted:

“It’s not the color of his skin. Excuse me, somebody look me in the eye right here and tell me. Over the last 30 years, if so many young Muslim men … and he’s young, 14, but that’s not like it’s never happened before, hasn’t blown a lot of shit up around the world. And this guy, this kid deserves an apology, because he wasn’t one of them … For the last 30 years, it’s been one culture that has been been blowing shit up over and over again.”

Yes, all those school shootings by Muslim kids in the US. Maher was trumped — le mot juste — by Dawkins, inevitably on Twitter, asking whether Mohamed had done it to create a media storm. Given Dawkins’ prating on about how people should worship the beauty of science, you’d have to say he’s come down firmly on the side of Islamophobia first. And so it goes on. Mohamed will go the White House, MIT invited him to visit and Texas schools issued a statement saying that schools were not the place for such things, i.e. science.

And to end a busy week and start a new one, darling of everyone Ben Carson suggested that a Muslim being president would be “incompatible with our constitution” … which suggests he hasn’t finished reading it.

Project Fear rides again …

Peter Fray

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