Trump not the first to question “true” allegiances of Americans for political gain

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during press conference at Trump Tower to announce he has signed a pledge not to run as an independent candidate, Sept. 3, 2015 (iStock photo)

“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down,” Donald Trump told a crowd in Birmingham, Ala., on Nov. 21. While “the phenomenon of internalizing rank falsity on behalf of presumably greater goals is bipartisan,” as Daniel Henninger observed recently in The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Trump’s assertion that he witnessed “thousands” of people (mainly Muslims, one presumes) cheering as thousands more died in Lower Manhattan marks a new low in a campaign that seems to have no basement. 

For starters, it never happened. The police chief and the mayor of Jersey City have repeatedly denied such an event took place. Not a single news report from the time recounts such an event. Chris Christie, the current governor of New Jersey and Mr. Trump’s fellow contender for the Republican presidential nomination, told The New York Times, “I think if it had happened, I would remember it.” Indeed, we all would remember it; thousands of people cheering the deaths of their fellow Americans would be an appalling scene. 

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On the other hand, perhaps Mr. Trump’s point is that these people who were supposedly cheering weren’t “real” Americans, even if many of them were “technically” U.S. citizens. If that’s the case, then this is political déjà vu. Questioning the patriotism and “true” allegiances of people is a proven political tactic. The most notorious example, of course, is the experience of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. Both U.S. citizens and resident aliens were taken from their homes and forcibly interned in remote camps simply because, the U.S. Constitution be damned, they were deemed insufficiently American. 

“The broad historical causes” of that manifest injustice, wrote the members of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in 1983, include “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” Sound familiar? Rumors of subversion and sabotage abound. The demagogues, those cynical chaplains to the fearful and outraged, assemble their congregations and deliver their stem-winders. Suspicion leads to fear, which then metastasizes. The panic ends where it always ends: the mob finds a scapegoat and does the voodoo it does so well.

As my predecessor Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J., wrote in this column shortly after the release of the commission’s report in 1983, “the fever of war poisons our imaginations, inflates our assumptions and distorts our vision. Hindsight should not make us feel superior to those who went before us. It should, though, give us a few sobering second thoughts about our present imaginations, assumptions and visions.” Those sobering second thoughts should extend to our views of Mr. Trump, yet as of this writing he enjoys a comfortable lead among Republican primary voters nationwide.

Let me be clear: I don’t know who I’ll vote for next year. Most likely, I’ll do what I’ve done for the last several elections and write in a name, a kind of “pox on both your houses” from a faithful citizen. What I do know, however, is that Mr. Trump’s claim that he witnessed this “event” on the Hudson can mean one of only two things: Either he knows that it never happened and he is engaging in an odious form of demagoguery akin to shouting “fire” in a theater and then pointing the mob to a would-be arsonist; or he truly believes that it happened and that he witnessed it. If that is the case, then he is teetering on the brink of clinical derangement. Either way, he shouldn’t be president. 

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ed gleason
2 years 10 months ago
"a campaign that seems to have no basement." Trump is the basement......any lower you can't get.
Douglas Fang
2 years 10 months ago
Thank you Father Malone - Thank you for this article. I cannot agree more. Trump is the biggest troll in the whole world right now - and yet - he has the highest level of support from the Republican voters… It painfully and frightfully reveals the state of the Republican Party today.
Thomas Olsen
2 years 10 months ago
Hillary isn't frightening? Aborting babies isn't frightening? Not to liberals. Abortion is sacred to Democrats. Sickening that this website passes itself off as Catholic.
Edward Stansfield
2 years 10 months ago
Correction: The event Trump described, of Muslims in Jersey City cheering the attack on the World Trade Center actually did happen, and it was reported in the September 18, 2001 issue of the Washington Post. Others have since come forward to say that they saw similar displays elsewhere. It seems ridiculous to accuse someone of "clinical derangement" simply because he remembered something that you forgot.
J Cosgrove
2 years 10 months ago
My guess is that it did happen but not in any number approaching thousands and Trump probably did not witness any of it. It was reported and the rumor mill probably exaggerated the extent. Jersey City has a large Arab population and was the center of terrorist activity in the 1990's. See a snapshot of the Washington Post article from 2001. http://www.scribd.com/doc/290767616/Northern-New-Jersey-Draws-Probers-Eyes As for
Either he knows that it never happened and he is engaging in an odious form of demagoguery akin to shouting “fire” in a theater and then pointing the mob to a would-be arsonist; or he truly believes that it happened and that he witnessed it. If that is the case, then he is teetering on the brink of clinical derangement. Either way, he shouldn’t be president
There are several other possibilities. One is that it did happen (it probably happened to some extent) and he is embellishing it by saying he witnessed it. There seems to be no video of it but there may have been other reports. If Fr. Malone is going to admonish someone for embellishing something, then let the flood gates open. How about a president that recommends bringing guns to a fight.
Douglas Fang
2 years 10 months ago
If you want to defend the extraordinary lie of Trump, you have to do better than that. As you mentioned WP, here is the story in WP about Trump outrageous claim: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/11/22/donald-trumps-outrageous-claim-that-thousands-of-new-jersey-muslims-celebrated-the-911-attacks/ In this article, WP did mention about the WP article on 9/18/2001. Anyone with some tiny bit of honesty left can see for themselves. “Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering… It was on television. I saw it…Either most of us are trying to suppress our collective memory about something that we did see on television and now we remember nothing about it… or Trump and his supporters do suffer a severe case of “clinical derangement”. Extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence. In this age of internet and information, such a footage can be easily be shown again as a simple evidence for all eyes to see.
Tim O'Leary
2 years 10 months ago
Absolutely, Trump should never be president - and he won't be. I think Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey described him well: "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." http://hotair.com/archives/2015/11/20/trump-would-certainly-implement-requirement-for-muslims-to-register-with-government. The problem I have is that Trump is like a suicide bomb for the Republican party, getting just enough idiots to say yes on a poll to keep him blocking several good candidates. He is a huge gift to Hillary Clinton (another person I could never vote for, with all the lies, her sense of above-the-law entitlement and her own propensity for demagoguing as well). While there are contemporary reports of small Muslim groups in Jersey City celebrating, the only televised celebrations I remember (still online) came from the Palestinians (dancing in the streets) and Iraq. Not that he is honest, but, I don't think Trump is smart enough to be lying - he is just mixing up the two, and is now too bull-headed to correct himself.
Richard Booth
2 years 10 months ago
I don't know whether it happened as Trump described it or not, but I would certainly like someone's denial besides that of the Jersey City mayor and police chief. They have at least an implied investment in its being untrue in their city. However, since Trump seems to have poll numbers that remain quite impressive, he must have a number of followers, however informed (or not) they may be. I surely would not follow the author's inclination to write a person's name on the ballot who is doomed to lose. We have to make some kind of choice or we opt out of our responsibility. Of course, the author could himself run. At least one Jesuit has tried it before!
Stanley Kopacz
2 years 10 months ago
I wonder if any Catholics cheered during the gunman's siege on the Planned Parenthood facility.
Tim O'Leary
2 years 9 months ago
I don't know how many died by abortion that day in that place, but compounding the killing of innocents by a terrorist-like act is anathema to the pro-life cause. Just as the murders by the slavery abolitionist John Brown in the 1850s in no way invalidated the just opposition against slavery, or the killings by the Black Panthers didn't invalidate the civil rights movement, these murders in no way invalidate the justice of the abortion abolitionists. Keep in mind we do not yet know what the killer's motives were.
Stanley Kopacz
2 years 9 months ago
My question was not about the moral validity of the anti-abortion access movement. It was whether some Catholics cheered upon hearing it. Given human nature, I'm sure some did. My point is that you can't necessarily make judgements about any group, Muslim or Catholic, based on the behavior of some subset of adherents.
Tim O'Leary
2 years 9 months ago
I don't know why some Catholics would cheer this terrorist act, including the killing of at least one pro-life police officer. Conceivably, a pro-abortion/choice Catholic could cheer the event for political reasons, hoping for a deflection of criticism away from PP, but I think that also extremely unlikely.

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