The damage that Donald Trump has already done to our democracy in the two and a half years of his presidency is incalculable. The list of his offenses against our republic is long, but one of the most egregious of those offenses is the way he intentionally tries to set Americans against each other, to make us suspect, fear and hate each other for his own political gain.
These efforts began even before Donald Trump decided to run for president. Before 2011, Trump was a six times-bankrupt real estate swindler with a reality TV show. But then, in 2011, he inserted himself into the political debate by promoting the lie that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. The very clear subtext of this conspiracy theory was that Obama was a foreigner, and perhaps even a Muslim.
The correct response to this, as Colin Powell memorably said in 2008, is, “What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no. That’s not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be president?”
Since announcing his candidacy, Trump has targeted Muslims with vile hatred. He claimed that “Islam hates us.” He pushed for the surveillance of Muslim houses of worship and the creation of a database of Muslims in the United States. He smeared the parents of Army Capt. Humayun Khan, an American Muslim who was killed serving his country in Iraq. Trump campaigned on “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” and tried to implement that ban immediately after his inauguration.
The Muslims that Trump insults are our friends, our families, our neighbors and our fellow citizens. Muslims have been part of our country’s story since the moment of its birth, and even before. The first recorded arrival of Muslims to this continent in the 1600s, brought as enslaved people from Africa. Muslims have fought for this country in every war since the American Revolution. Muslims have contributed to American life in every possible way, in every profession — in art, science, politics, business, and more. Muslims are not foreigners.
Our country was founded by many groups who were fleeing religious persecution in other countries. Over the years, our country has struggled, and continues to struggle, to overcome prejudice against many minority groups – African-Americans, Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Irish, Italians, Asian, Latinos and others.
As a member of the Mormon faith, I know what it is like to be part of a religious minority that has faced persecution and prejudice for its beliefs. My wife, Landra, a daughter of Jewish immigrants, understands this. This is why we are both especially troubled by the fact that the president of the United States, before the eyes of the world, rejects not only core American values, but the central values of our religious faith.
The Institute for Social Policy and Research (ISPU) conducts an annual poll to chart the attitudes and policy preferences of everyday Americans. In 2019, they found an increase in the level of public endorsement of the five most common negative stereotypes associated with Muslims in America. While this is a disturbing trend, the survey also found that knowing a Muslim, having knowledge of Islam and holding positive views of other minorities is linked to lower levels of anti-Muslim perception.
Last month at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I convened a conference on the role of Islam in America, which brought together leading scholars, journalists and advocates to discuss the history of the Islamic faith and the role that the Muslim community has played, and continues to play, in the story of our country. The event also focused on the tenets of faith shared among the Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — and beyond.
In the Bible, Matthew 22:39 exhorts us, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Similarly, in the Quran, chapter 49 verse 13, tells us, “We made you into nations and tribes so that you may better know one another." These are values that ring true for believers and non-believers alike.
President Trump would do well to consider those words.
Harry Reid is a former United States senator from Nevada, serving from 1987 to 2017. He led the Senate’s Democratic Conference from 2005 to 2017 and was the Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015.