Islamophobia won resoundingly tonight. Instead of the first female president, the United States got its first Islamophobia president.
From start to finish, the 2016 presidential election vividly revealed that Islamophobia is alive, and potent and politically resonant as ever. Scapegoating Islam and vilifying Muslims was far more than merely campaign messaging; for Donald Trump it was a winning strategy.
Trump’s full-blown Islamophobia resonated deeply with voters. Moreover, it mobilised more than just a fringe or rabid demographic, but a sizable segment of the American polity to cast votes in his favour.
It helped him carry Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and virtually every battleground state.
Long before election night, earlier numbers indicated that Trump’s deployment of Islamophobia as a primary campaign strategy would pay dividends and register votes.
An NBC poll conducted in December 2015 found that 25 percent of Americans supported Trump’s Muslim ban. A March 2016 poll indicated greater support, with 51 percent favouring Trump’s Ban ” until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on”.
Trump interpreted these staggering figures, which rose as the campaign progressed, as strong support for his Islamophobia campaign.
Trump will bring an administration that is entirely devoid of Muslim Americans and at minimum, individuals without genuine reach into or backing from Muslim Americans. His campaign lacked any bona fide Muslim American involvement, and the Trump administration will likely reflect that.
He delivered what the market demanded, and doubled down on his anti-Muslim rhetoric. He fed the Islamophobia his loud and angry base demanded, and as indicated by election results, a sizable portion of the silent, white majority.
Trump won because he was willing to deliver Islamophobia in the blatant and brazen terms his Republican peers and predecessors would not fully commit to.
Instead of adopting George W Bush’s or Mitt Romney’s cautious Islamophobia, or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton’s exclusive mention of Muslims from the lens of national security policy – Trump went all the way.
He stripped any mitigating rhetoric, aimed to placate liberals and moderates, from his message. He did away with staple qualifiers like “peace loving” and “moderate” when talking about Muslims.
In fact, Trump swept aside every political platitude and carefully crafted talking point for a blatantly hateful grassroots framing.
Instead of “Islam is peace”, Trump declared that, “Islam hates us”, giving disaffected bigoted voters exactly what they wanted.
He embraced the hateful language of Quran-burning rallies, anti-mosque protests, and perhaps most violently, the ugly underbelly that is the comments’ sections of news articles. Trump sounded more like the Islamophobes on-the-ground torching mosques, instead of Islamophobes in political offices supporting surveillance of mosques.
This presidential campaign foreshadows what is sure to follow. Hate crimes against Muslims rose considerably in 2015 and statistics show a similar trend in 2016. If a Trump presidential campaign resulted in an unprecedented number of hate crimes against Muslims, one can only imagine what a Trump presidency will bring.
It will bring an expanded surveillance state, where counter-radicalisation policing in Muslim communities will be more pervasive and far-reaching. This will make it far more difficult for Muslims to freely exercise their faith, and the most benign symbols of Muslim identity will trigger suspicion.
It will bring in “extreme vetting” of Muslim immigrants, and very likely, entirely bar the entry of refugees from war-torn states. Therefore, even if a fully-fledged Muslim ban is not enacted – sweeping, strident policies impairing legal admission of Muslim immigrants will be law.
It will bring an administration that is entirely devoid of Muslim Americans and at minimum, individuals without genuine reach into or backing from Muslim Americans. The Trump campaign lacked any bona fide Muslim American involvement, and the Trump administration will likely reflect that.
Most alarmingly, it will usher in a cultural movement (and moment) whereby the highest office in government authorises discrimination and violence against Muslim Americans. If the president of the US is the very archetype and orchestrator of Islamophobia, then assailing Muslims, torching mosques, and attacking anybody who looks Muslim is fair game.
What seemed a far-fetched idea is in fact America’s reckoning. The absurd is reality. Islamophobia is no longer campaign messaging or strategy, but come January, formal, full-blown White House policy.
I watched the election night returns alongside 200 Muslim Americans in Dearborn, Michigan – the most concentrated Muslim American community in the country.
Fear was palpable. Adults cried. Young people led prayers. What loomed tomorrow was bleak, and the wedge between Muslim and American seemed never stronger.
Enter Donald Trump, American President. Brace yourselves, Muslim Americans.
Originally published on Al Jazeera on Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Focus Keyword: Donald Trump: The Islamophobia President