WASHINGTON — In the spirit of charity prompted by Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S., let’s not call them bigots.
Let’s just call them the clueless, the incurious, the moronic, the dull. In short, ignoramuses.
I refer to those Republican wits who unconscionably demonize a swath of Americans based on their religious views. Haven’t we gone through this sort of thing before? It was all rather bloody, as history recalls.
But each generation seems to need to create its own religious contretemps in order to resolve that which is already resolved, at least in this country. Our Constitution is clear — no religious test shall be required of anyone seeking public office.
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And yet, we do test — again and again — in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Meet the Press whether a president’s faith should matter. The simple answer, the correct one, would have been to cite the Constitution, punctuated with a dazzling, gotcha-back smile. But Carson’s instinct for honesty (and his political inexperience) tripped the “Oops” meter. He told the truth that he would not “advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.”
Too little too late, he clarified that he could support a Muslim if he denounced Shariah law, which is antithetical to a free, democratic society. This is certainly more to the point, but it misses the most important issue.
Faith — or no faith — should have no bearing on whether a person is qualified to be president. We may care individually because we tend to prefer people who share our fundamental values, but voters can draw those distinctions with their ballots.
Other politicians have made similar blunders even as they sought the high road. In 2008 when John McCain was confronted by a woman insisting that then-candidate Barack Obama was really an “Arab,” McCain stopped her, saying that Obama is a “decent family man citizen.” Yes, and according to Joe Biden, before he joined Obama’s presidential ticket, Obama was the “first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean, and a nice-looking guy.”
Whew. I’m sure neither politician meant anything negative by his remarks, but both statements were implicitly racist and underscore how prejudice hunkers down in the subconscious. Consciously, we profess to no prejudice, but our words often betray hidden biases that reflect at least a lack of understanding.
Biden’s remark was intended to compliment Obama, but it was hardly flattering to blacks in the main. McCain’s remark was plainly well intended (and widely lauded), but in saying that Obama is a decent family man, one may infer that Arabs, therefore, are not decent family men.
You have to wonder sometimes whether Republicans even know any Arabs or Muslims. Donald Trump claims he has many Muslim friends. But then, how do you explain his response when an audience member asked when we could get rid of all the Muslims?
Sounding loopy (or like an opposition plant?), the man said: “We’ve got a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims.” (Gee, and I thought it was idiots.) “We know our current president is one. You know, he’s not even an American.”
The man insisted that the country is rife with Muslim training camps “growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?”
Such incoherence deserves only a mute button. But Trump, who has led the charge questioning Obama’s citizenship, lent credence to the query: “A lot of people are saying that,” he said. “ … We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”
Other things like what? Detention centers?
Usually undaunted by decorum, Trump trotted around the question and the obvious answer — your question is ridiculous — in an apparent attempt to avoid offending anyone. But whom? Which voter bloc hung in the balance? Don’t overthink this.
Trump and Carson both missed a chance to be awesome. Carson could have identified a foundational American tenet and at least a glancing familiarity with the U.S. Constitution. Trump could have redeemed himself after a hundred awful comments by saying something like:
“Sir, we are a pluralistic society of many races, ethnicities and creeds. This is both our strength as a nation and our pledge to the future. While I understand your concerns about the threat of radical Islam, I am equally concerned about the underlying bigotry of your question.”
Alas. Ignoramuses. When can we get rid of them?
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.