The tragedy and futility of Trumped-up solutions (COMMENTARY)

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Demonstrators shout during a "Freedom of Speech Rally Round II" outside the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, Arizona on May 29, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Nancy Wiechec
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-PALLY-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Nov. 3, 2015.

Demonstrators shout during a "Freedom of Speech Rally Round II" outside the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, Arizona on May 29, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Nancy Wiechec *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-PALLY-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Nov. 3, 2015.

(RNS) Pigheadedness is on a roll. At the end of October, we were assured by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that harassing Muslims by parading severed pig heads around a Muslim festival is protected by our constitutional rights to free speech.

Now Donald Trump proposes to forbid all Muslims from entering the U.S. Jerry Fallwell Jr., president of conservative, Christian Liberty University, wants students to carry concealed weapons to protect themselves from Muslims. And just last Sunday (Dec. 6), a severed pig head was hurled from a pickup truck to land at the door of a Philadelphia mosque.

So far, the pig-head hurlers are not claiming First Amendment rights. Playing Frisbee with a pig head with the intention of desecrating a mosque doesn’t obviously fall under our free speech rights. It more likely falls under our vandalism and hate crime laws.

But one thing it certainly does — is feel good.


READ: Trump’s religious bigotry is as American as apple pie (COMMENTARY)


Real estate developer Donald Trump prepares to go on stage to speak during the Freedom Summit in Greenville, South Carolina on May 9, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Chris Keane *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP-FAITH, originally transmitted on June 17, 2015, or with RNS-PALLY-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Dec. 9, 2015.

Real estate developer Donald Trump prepares to go on stage to speak during the Freedom Summit in Greenville, S.C., on May 9, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Chris Keane
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP-FAITH, originally transmitted on June 17, 2015, or with RNS-PALLY-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Dec. 9, 2015.

And Trump and Falwell’s belligerence feel good too, which is why people get a kick out of it.

What’s the kick?

Only small percentages of Americans consider Muslims to be dangerous (29 percent), promoters of violence (26 percent) or spiritually evil (19 percent), according to a recent Lifeway Research study. Fifty-one percent view Muslims living in the United States the same as any other community living here (according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll last week).

But enough Americans to keep Trump the top GOP candidate are sorely looking for what he’s offering. When people grasp at extreme solutions, it means there is a problem.

America is coming off of the worst economic slump since the Depression; millions haven’t really recovered. Even without the 2008 financial crash, the economy is changing in deeply unsettling ways for some. In 2009, Pat Buchanan said of the white working and middle classes: “America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right.” Middle-class purchasing power has been declining since the 1980s, and millions of people, even with two parents working, see their kids’ lives being tougher than their own (see the Dec. 9 Pew study). Not only a way to make a living but a sense of control over life — a sense that you know how to get around in America and that your home, the US of A, is going to stay your home — all that is unraveling.


READ: Detroit newspaper decries Trump for Islamophobia on front page


Shortly before that, we had a war in Iraq and Afghanistan that we couldn’t win. Before that, a few guys with box cutters blew up our sense of physical security. Now we have wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen that we don’t know how to win. And the wars are coming stateside.

This is daunting. People don’t like feeling daunted. They want to feel effective. America, a young nation without centuries of wars and failures, has an especially hard time of it. With our can-do-ism and prevailing narrative of upward mobility, we want to marshal that rough energy that made the country, throw the bastards out and set things right.

It’s when we don’t know how, when the problems are complex and daunting, that quick fixes have their special lure. The best ones know we’ve been wronged and make us feel right to fight back. Against whom? The best targets are ones that are already a bit illicit, “other” and alien. The usual “usual suspects”: those of different religion, race or sexuality — the Jews, blacks, immigrants, homosexuals. People who aren’t “people like us.” We “sense” they’re trouble. So when we’re told that they are the source of present troubles, it “clicks.” It feels right. Throw the bastards out.

After the 1980s farm foreclosure crisis, millions lost their livelihoods, security and sense of at-homeness. The results included substance, wife and child abuse — and a spike in membership in far-right, white supremacist, nativist groups.


READ: Hunting nun with a trophy deer misses the mark on Catholic teachings (COMMENTARY)


Marcia Pally teaches at New York University and is a regular guest professor at Humboldt University’s theology department in Berlin. Her new book, "Commonwealth and Covenant: Economics, Politics and Theologies of Relationality," will be out in early 2016. Photo courtesy of Marcia Pally

Marcia Pally teaches at New York University and is a regular guest professor at Humboldt University’s theology department in Berlin. Her new book, “Commonwealth and Covenant: Economics, Politics and Theologies of Relationality,” will be out in early 2016. Photo courtesy of Marcia Pally

Trouble is, quick fixes don’t solve complex problems. After the high of efficacy subsides, the problems remain as before, tragically pushing people to the next Trumped-up solution promising to set things right. Or worse, aggravating the problems at hand.

Banning Muslims from America or indulging in religious vigilantism won’t address whatever is pushing people to terrorism. But it just might recruit a few more to ISIS’ cause.

(Marcia Pally teaches at New York University and is a regular guest professor at Humboldt University’s theology department in Berlin. Her new book, “Commonwealth and Covenant: Economics, Politics and Theologies of Relationality,” will be out in early 2016.)

  • Ted

    “Trumped-up solutions” would be a great description of religion. Just sayin…

  • Atheist that I am, I want more Muslims to come to the USA! PLEASE!
    Bring the refugees here. We need them and it happens to be the humanitarian thing to do.

    Muslims in America*:
    1. Educated. They comprise less than 1% of the population yet 4% of the professional services in medicine and technology.
    2. Professional. They adapt to American life more quickly than any other religious group and begin paying taxes sooner.
    3. Freedom. The presence of Muslims strengthens separation of church and state vis-a-vis Christianity.
    4. Secularism. Believe it or not, Muslims who leave the totalitarian regimes where religion is strictly enforced and settle in America lose their religion faster than any other religious group.

    Every day they are not on their way to our country is our loss; of prestige, of humanity and of decency.

    *Pew Research.

  • Scott Shaver

    If we learned anything from The Crusades, religious wars and their manifestations are still “war” by any other name. Tit for Tat has been and continues to be the prevailing modus operandus on earth.

    Just the way it is.

    One side declares Jihad on non-muslims, especially the west and Europe, the other side begins its variations of cherem, (the ban/devotion to destruction).

    Trumps views on immigration as a U.S presidential candidate fall into line and are, in many cases, duplications of what other world leaders, including past U.S. presidents have either proposed or enacted in times of world stress.

    I don’t think the outcry and demonization of his views on this matter, especially by Christians who may find themselves needing protection, is any indication of progress in either the moral or intellectual evolution of America.

  • Larry

    The silliest part of “Trump”ed up solutions is his lackadaisical approach to how to implement anything he is talking about.

    It always comes down to “I don’t know, we have experts to handle that”. Meaning he is more or less admitting to saying outrageous stuff just to grab headlines and appeal to the ignorant cretin bigot crowd. A voting base that was largely untouched by the other candidates until now.

    Ever since the comprehensive Immigration and Nationalization Act, we have never come close to the kind of nonsense Trump is discussing.

    We do not vet people coming into the country based on their religion. It is impossible to implement, is damaging to the nation and a violation of the first amendment on many levels.

    We do not have the resources to wall up the Mexican border.

    We also lack ability deport 5-10 million people at a clip without destroying all civil liberties in the process. Nazis and Soviets were good at that, we aren’t.

  • Scott Shaver

    “We don’t have the resources to build a wall at the border”.

    Would love to see the stats reflecting that. We just sent more than enough for a wall to Iran.

  • Larry

    Do you need a geographic survey of the several thousand miles of border to be satisfied here? Trump can’t figure out how to do it. Hence his dodging of such questions. He is playing to the gullible and excitable here.

    “We just sent more than enough for a wall to Iran.”

    Would love to figure out your reference and thought process here, but I don’t speak wingnut. Plus Iran usually pays for the stuff we send them with that sweet sweet oil money. 🙂

  • Scott Shaver

    “Iran ususally pay for the stuff we send them with that sweet sweet oil money.”

    Larry obviously doesn’t work in the O&G sector.

    Pretty obvious who the “wingnut” is now 🙂 Delusional even.

  • Scott Shaver

    Larry, do you need a calculator to measure the amount of excessive spending already pouring out of this country, or would you be able to read it if you had one? A wall from Florida to California could be built several time over without making a dent…….if we even had to pay for it.

  • larry

    Appealing to completely unrelated hyperbole does not make the wall suggestion any less stup1d. Even Trump acknowledges he is pulling that out of his posterior for effect and has no clue how it could possibly be done. This is from a professional builder.

    We don’t have the manpower or money to keep our national infrastructure functioning right now, and you suggest some gigantic boondoggle make work project is viable?

    Trump is really playing to an I’ll informed crowd.