In his interview with Yahoo News published yesterday, Donald Trump gave the impression that he would consider requiring Muslims to carry special identification and using warrantless searches against them, without actually and specifically endorsing either idea. In this impromptu Q&A with NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard, Trump appeared to double down on those contentions — or failed to comprehend the questions. When asked whether he would require Muslims in the US to register with the government, Trump answered that “they have to be,” and that he “would certainly implement” such a system. But Trump seems to be talking about immigration, a subject Hillyard never raises:
Donald Trump “would certainly implement” a database system tracking Muslims in the United States, the Republican front-runner told NBC News on Thursday night.
“I would certainly implement that. Absolutely,” Trump said in Newton, Iowa, in between campaign town halls.
“There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases,” he added. “We should have a lot of systems.”
When asked whether Muslims would be legally obligated to sign into the database, Trump responded, “They have to be — they have to be.”
Allahpundit remarked yesterday that he couldn’t tell if Trump was being serious, or if Trump was in effect trolling the reporter. In this exchange, Trump is serious, but possibly confused between what Hillyard asks — registering all Muslims — and what Trump seems to answer, which is registering Muslim immigrants. When Hillyard catches up to him the second time, Trump stops answering his questions when asked to explain the difference between his proposal and the registration of the Jews in Nazi Germany, as the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” plays surreally in the background. It appears that Trump has no idea what Hillyard means.
The problem with assuming that Trump’s only talking about Muslim immigrants is the interview yesterday, when Trump at least did not object to special IDs and warrantless searches for Muslims regardless of their status. Two days ago, he was talking about having the government shut down mosques, which also doesn’t sound like Trump’s limiting his actions to Muslim immigrants. But even if this is a case of two people talking past each other, the questions from Hillyard aren’t terribly difficult to figure out. Instead of listening to them, Trump just seems to uncork a series of platitudes that are non-sequiturs to the questions, without bothering to reframe the question first. He looks lost, and then even more so when Hillyard makes the obvious comparison to the Nazis and the Jews.
Either way, it’s an appalling idea, and one that flies in the face of the First Amendment. First off, what’s the need for a special database for Muslim immigrants, even if Trump is just talking about immigrants? All legal immigrants get “registered,” and fixing the visa system would ensure that they get tracked along with everyone else. Putting Muslims in a special class is not just unconstitutional, it’s unnecessary, and proposing it is needlessly provocative politically.
What’s more bizarre about this is that Trump is supposedly the anti-establishment candidate in the GOP field, in a season driven by mistrust of institutions. Republicans have spent the last three years fighting for religious liberty in fights like same-sex marriage and the HHS contraception mandate, and the candidate leading their primaries thus far now wants a government registry for Muslim immigrants (at best) which might include sign-ups at mosques, etc, combined with his earlier statements about the government closing down mosques. The cognitive dissonance has to be monumental, which means the defense of Trump for this among his supporters will be especially irrational.
A few commentators have seized on this to proclaim Trump a fascist, but that’s overstating matters. It looks a lot more like Trump doesn’t think much about his proclamations at all, or even pay attention when reporters ask questions. He’s just emoting to please the crowds. There isn’t any substance to Trump; he’s mainly an untethered id with unlimited resources and no boundaries. He makes broad statements about what he’ll do, and assure people it will be “great” and “elegant,” and that’s it, When pressed for how he plans to do it, Trump offers the same basic response — trust me. One of the world’s richest men is asking people to give him the nomination on credit alone … and at least until now, it’s working.
Cognitive dissonance aside, will this damage Trump in the polls? Come on, man. Most of his supporters will ride this train to its end, or at least the (very substantial) core of them will. When the rest of the field consolidates down to two or three options, it might put Trump at a disadvantage. Until then, the id reigns.