Guest Editorial: Fear is the problem, not Trump

The Arizona Republic
Dec. 9

Donald Trump is not the problem.

Guest Editorial

He has more than once generously offered to disqualify himself from the race for the White House.

In fact, he did it again on Monday when he called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Those words should have been explosive enough to demolish his campaign.

But Donald Trump is not the problem.

The problem is the popular wind behind him, and there is little evidence it is dying down.

So even as Trump stokes the fears of San Bernardino and Paris to try to wall Americans off from the Muslim world, he enjoys the legitimacy of poll numbers that show him a leader in the Republican Primary.

There is a terrorist threat in the United States. And Americans are properly concerned that among the Muslims who already live here, there could be cells of al-Qaida and ISIS operatives ready to strike. Only a week ago, there was a household in Redlands, Calif., where a young couple was collecting bullets and building bombs. The threat is real. But how large is it?

This is not new territory for us. Our fears today are nothing compared to our fears in 2001. We woke up the day after Sept. 11, 2001, worried we had a fifth column in the United States ready to kill us and our families.

The cable heads warned of al-Qaida cells in American cities and told us a million-plus Muslims now live in the United States.

And so we waited for the worst.

And waited.

And waited.

And in time we realized our fears were unfounded. That those million-plus Muslims were so busy enjoying the blessings of America they weren’t plotting the next terror strike. They were planning their nest eggs and planting their winter gardens.

We need to take a moment and dwell on that. The day after Sept. 11, our imaginations ran wild. If terrorists could take down the World Trade Center and put a plane in the Pentagon, what could they do next?

A dirty bomb in Manhattan. A biological bomb in L.A.? Suitcase nukes? Crop-duster anthrax?

Had you told Americans that by 2015 — in 14 years — the worst terror strike radical Islam could muster would leave 14 dead in Southern California, we would have all exhaled with relief.

In that decade-and-a-half since 9/11 we have lost only 45 people in the homeland to Islamic terror. Those are not just numbers to relieve our fears, they are numbers that attest we were almost certainly wrong if we ever looked askance at a Muslim neighbor or co-worker.

American Muslims are not a fifth column. They are not insurgents. They are largely immigrants living the dream. And it’s time we acknowledge that.

Unfortunately a decade of economic anxiety has created a larger percentage of the voting public who will suspend critical thinking and blow wind into the sail of a demagogue.

Donald Trump is lasting longer than most expected.

But he will not be president.

Americans are better than that. And we are not willing to isolate ourselves from the world.