American politics touched a new low this week when Donald Trump, a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, called for a “ > total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”. Mr. Trump’s controversial remarks in the past, including offensive statements about undocumented Mexican immigrants being rapists, insults to war veterans and sexist attacks on women in the media, drew expected criticism from Democrats and other liberals. Yet, this time even fellow Republican candidates and mainstream Republican Party heavyweights distanced themselves from Mr. Trump’s views on Muslims. The property mogul’s comment contradicts, morally if not legally, the > First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution , which requires that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Islamophobia in the U.S., which surged after the 9/11 terror attacks, appears to be on the rise again. This time it is coterminous with soaring worldwide anxiety about Islamic State, which has been linked to the Paris terror attacks of November and last week’s shooting in San Bernardino, California. Little wonder then that the numerically significant cohorts of the U.S. conservative fold are lapping up Mr. Trump’s incendiary, divisive proposal. Their support is manifested in the one polling trend that has baffled campaign analysts, Mr. Trump’s evergreen lead over all other candidates, which shows no sign of withering in the face of his increasingly reckless provocations. After this week’s foray into apparent bigotry, a rolling five-day poll by Reuters placed his support vote at 35.6 per cent, giving him a comfortable lead over Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio, a distant second at 14.9 per cent.
> The Trump phenomenon begs questions both tactical and strategic. Tactically, he has made a stark choice in the matter of battle-versus-war and it could well win him the Republican nomination. His steady march to the far right of American politics is a safe bet that he will emerge, or has already emerged, as the favourite of those who championed the cause of the Tea Party, of immigration hawks, pro-lifers, white supremacists, gun-lovers and all manner of conservatives. However, that leaves the rest of America unaccounted for, especially the elusive median and swing voters. Unless Mr. Trump abruptly changes tack post-nomination, a move that could prove politically costly in itself, he may have handed the Democratic nominee, likely to be Hillary Clinton, the keys to the Oval Office next year. Beyond the nomination battle, the broader strategic link between the rise of IS and the worldwide proliferation of Islamophobia is paramount. Perhaps mindful of this link, Ms. Clinton has moved in exactly the opposite direction, towards the political centre. She has taken a firmer stand against IS than President Barack Obama did, yet spoken expansively about fostering an attitude of inclusiveness. Depending on which paradigm prevails, post-2016 America will either continue to welcome minorities to its shores, or emerge as a source of recruitment propaganda for extremists.