Words Matter: Don’t Let Trump Limit Violent Extremism to Muslims

Words matter. How we refer to laws, government agencies, and people impact how we (and others) think of them. Which is why I’m terrified about reports that Trump is planning to rename a program from “Countering Violent Extremism” to “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism. ”

This change is not only about name.  It is also a change of focus, no longer looking at violent acts of white supremacy, for instance. I presume those acts would be left to some other law enforcement agency or program. But it is the change of name, and therefore message, that I find scary.

By explicitly limiting the taskforce to Islamic violence, Trump is implicitly sending the message that violence born of other beliefs is acceptable, or at the very least, not in the same category of “badness” as violence originating from Islamic extremism. I would even argue that he is speaking to a part of his base which holds racist, anti-Islamic or anti-semitic views, and telling them that acting on those views is acceptable, or even laudable.

The Dome of the Rock

I would remind people that Kristalnacht was not an official government action, but was a vigilante action which was tacitly condoned by the Nazi government. Changing the name of this program begins to move us a little closer to government policies that tacitly condone violence–as long as it is not perpetrated by Muslims.

You may think I’m overreacting. After all, it’s just a name, right? But what legitimate purpose is served by changing the name? It doesn’t even pass the test of “it’s a simpler name,” since it’s actually a longer name.

A signal is being sent. I assure you there are those among Trump’s base who are hearing it loud and clear. It may seem like it matters far less than appointments to various offices or executive orders that have immediate impact. But a name change such as this scare me far more than many of the practical decisions being made, because it is an explicit religious test.

I have always been a little wary of hate crime legislation–it relies too heavily on the intent behind an act rather than the act itself. Criminalize the act, not the motivation for it. This is a variant on hate crime legislation: Violent Extremism by Muslims is being given a different status from Violent Extremism by Christians. How long will it be before Trump is not only not condemning, but actually praising those who shoot up mosques?

Here I Stand

For years, I have been relatively careful about my postings. As both a freelancer and, at times, an applicant for more permanent positions, it has seemed sensible to keep politics (for the most part) out of my blog. I also believe that there are others who can speak more knowledgeably about politics than I, my field being spirituality and the sacred.

Times change, the rules change. I can no longer keep silent for fear of giving offense or limiting professional opportunities. The threat is too great. Too many of those who are more “expert” than I in politics turned out to be no more correct than I, and in many cases, were far less correct about events to come.

We, as Americans, face an existential threat. I put the odds of a “free and fair” election in four years at less than 50% (and by free and fair, I mean with no more interference than the electoral college, gerrymandering and voter ID laws have already imposed). Our current president truly does not understand the Constitution he swore to defend. More to the point, he doesn’t care. He cares about himself. And how he is seen.

Donald Trump has a need for everything to be all about him all of the time. At the moment, it’s pretty easy for him to garner headlines–it’s the first week and anything he does gets headlines. What happens in two weeks when a simple executive order is no longer as shocking  to us and the media? What will he do in order to draw our attention back to him? If he needs to launch a nuclear strike in order to get headlines, I suspect he will. He needs attention. Not wants it. Not enjoys it. Needs it as an addict needs drugs.

How do we resist? I have no idea. The Republican party has abdicated their responsibility towards America. They have placed winning ahead of achieving their goals. Trump does not represent Republican values–not those of Eisenhower, not those of Reagan or either Bush. Not even those of the Tea Party (which, in truth, weren’t all that Republican so much as socially conservative). Republicans in congress are unwilling to stand up to this president, to protect our democracy. And each day, as he becomes more entrenched, as he demonstrates his willingness to carry out personal vendettas against those who stand against him, fewer will be willing to stand against him.

And that is why I’m writing on politics. If I want federal civil servants to continue to put out truth despite the threat of retaliation, if I demand that Republican congressmen and women vote with their conscience rather than with a megalomaniac who has taken over their party, I must be willing to step forward. To identify this as a moral issue, and one for which I am willing to speak.

We are the resistance. We cannot negotiate. We must not bend. We must be the rocks upon which Trump breaks. Because we must outlast him, and we must be able to take back our Republic when the time comes.