US candidates must restore faith in American values to keep Trump out of White House

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 December, 2015, 9:41pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 September, 2016, 3:08pm

The focus of the terrorism debate in the US should be on President Barack Obama’s address to the nation and whether it conveyed the forceful tone a fearful country expected. To some it was tentative, even if it was an appeal to reason over fear and emotion. But Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has taken the pressure off the president by diverting the conversation with his latest outrageous bid to hold public attention – a call for all Muslims to be banned from entering the US.

Trump remains front-runner for his party’s nomination, despite ridicule of his other extreme ideas, such as the deportation of Mexicans. His latest effort, variously described as unhinged, fascist and un-American, would be welcomed by Islamic State because it feeds into its narrative of persecution and discrimination. What the president and candidates to succeed him say about the IS threat matters globally because America is critical to the fight against terror. What Obama has said will not frighten them; and what Trump has said will energise them.

Trump justifies it by referring to the wartime detention of Japanese-Americans, a painful chapter that sets a loose precedent. His proposal goes against all the values that America is seen to stand for and has rightly been repudiated across the political spectrum. That kind of rhetoric conjures up visions of groups of people being shut out or even interned. Not only is it inflammatory, but it further polarises the US when it needs unity in the face of a genuine threat.

A lot of what candidates say on the hustings does not find its way into policy once they win party endorsement. Hopefully Trump is content with all the attention he seems to thrive on without any serious intent or expectation of pursuing his ideas. Otherwise the world would be a better and safer place if he never gets the opportunity. That said, some conservative commentators insist Trump reflects the electorate’s views more honestly than other party leaders. If that is so, Americans need a leader who restores faith in values worth fighting for.