The U.S.S. Yorktown is a big, imposing piece of steel, with a lot of muscle and a lot of history, permanently moored in Charleston Harbor. Politicians come from near and far to visit this World War II icon, hoping it will impart some dignity to their bluster and blather.
Donald Trump took his turn on the Yorktown recently, when he spoke to some 2,000 fans in the cavernous hangar of the aircraft carrier. As you probably know, The Donald has been carrying his presidential campaign circus around the country in recent months, igniting white nationalist passions and building his front-runner status among GOP voters with his angry, xenophobic rhetoric.
In announcing his White House bid in June, he famously said of Mexican immigrants, "They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists...."
He has since turned his paranoid fury on Muslims, telling a cheering crowd on board the Yorktown that he would seek "a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States...."
The recent murder of 14 people by a Muslim couple in Southern California plays into Trump's anti-Muslim narrative. All of this rage and fear have pushed Trump to the front of the pack in the GOP primary race. One recent poll had him leading his 13 rivals with 42 percent of likely Republican voters. In a recent Winthrop Poll of likely GOP voters in South Carolina's February primary, Trump leads the pack with 24 percent. His closest rival, Ted Cruz, garnered only 16 percent.
This country was not built by fearful men and women, yet millions of Americans today cower beneath Trump's banner, seeking his protection. His success at playing the fear card has led his rivals to embarrass themselves trying to emulate him. Jeb Bush and Cruz, for example, want to accept Christian, but not Muslim, refugees from Syria. Several candidates have suggested registering Muslims and monitoring their mosques.
My wife, Maryam, views all the tough talk with a mixture of amusement and bafflement. She understands the meaning of fear, and she knows it is different from mindless panic.
She is from Iran, and she was a child in 1979 when the Islamic Revolution destroyed the country's fledgling democracy. A few months after the revolution, two family friends — teenage girls not much older than Maryam — were executed for participating in public demonstrations against the Islamic government. Their family learned of their fate when their names were scrolled on national television along with thousands of others in a daily ritual the government performed as a public service to inform families as to the whereabouts of their loved ones — and to warn all others.
Shortly after that revelation, Maryam's parents sat her and her brother down for a stern talk on how to survive the reign of terror that had overtaken their country, a lecture not unlike what generations of black parents have given their children on how to survive in the American police state.
Yes, Maryam understands what real fear is about, and she understands that her country was not destroyed by immigrants or terrorists, but by homegrown thugs on a religious mission to turn back the clock on social and cultural change.
Over the last 35 years, Maryam, her extended family, and many friends have slipped out of Iran and found new homes in America, Canada, Australia, and the U.K. Their reasons for leaving were complex and multifarious, but they are grateful for the freedom, security, and opportunity they have found. Like generations of immigrants and refugees before them, they have brought their talents, energy, and passion to their new home. Now the Republican Party seeks to shut down this source of national wealth and power.
I look forward to the coming year because it promises to be a watershed. The Republican Party is headed for a monumental, cataclysmic crack-up in the November elections. This toxic, fear-mongering party has been feeding on hatred and intolerance since Richard Nixon created the so-called Southern Strategy in 1968. Now as American culture and demographics change, the GOP seems frozen in time. It must always have fresh meat and the beast has begun to feed on itself. We see this as the candidates snarl and growl at one another in nationally televised debates; as audiences cheer and howl as if they were watching gladiatorial games, rather than an exercise in democracy; as the party drifts ever farther to the right, away from the heart and soul of the American people.
Whatever is left of the GOP after Nov. 8, 2016, it will not be the same party that has dominated national politics since 1968, that has wreaked havoc on public policy and national security with its fear, superstition, and intransigence.
America deserves better than the Republican Party, and we will have it.