Secure America Now is a non-profit, non-partisan organization. It doesn’t advocate for or against any specific candidate; it just brings “critical national security issues to the forefront of American debate.” Granted, its homepage includes such links as “Footage of Hillary in Prison,” “Prevent Four More Years of Obama’s Terrible National Security Policies,” and “Hillary Clinton is a Foreign Policy Disaster.” But those aren’t election advocacy. They’re just critical national security issues that mention presidential candidates by name. By the same token, the ad warning of an imminent Muslim takeover of the United States that Secure America Now released this weekend isn’t election-related. It’s just Nazi-style propaganda about the danger posed to America by adherents of a particular religion. Video after the jump.
Secure America Now has given us a lot to think about here. For example, why would an organization that welcomes us to the Islamic States of America and describes the success of “our jihadi fighters” also attribute that success to “weak leaders who have allowed unsecured borders?” When a caliphate takes control of America, it will probably not refer to its own practices as “radical Islam.” It seems like we’ve started off by breaking a cardinal rule of satire, which is to write from the perspective you’re satirizing.
But this is not the kind of satire that really makes you think. It’s the kind that really makes you fear, and to that end Secure America Now cannot overemphasize the contrast between Islam and the American way of life. Perhaps cleverly—or just very cynically—the ad counterposes quote-unquote sharia law with American tolerance. Images of separate water fountains marked “gay” and “straight” and a restaurant sign advertising jobs for men only suggest that Muslims do not threaten our Judeo-Christian tradition so much as our recent advances in civil rights.
That’s a bold choice for an ad that is explicitly about how one religion is un-American. If you made a spot called “The Jew-nited States of America” that depicted the Statue of Liberty in a wig and crowds of men with curly sideburns shutting down Red Lobster, you’d be a Nazi. The United States does not conduct its political discourse in terms of religious identity—or it pretended not to, until this election. Back in December, Donald Trump proposed barring Muslims from entering the United States. Since then, the Islamophobia that dressed in polite concern for national security after September 11 has gotten more comfortable going out in public without its mask.
That’s the most frightening thing about this ad: not that someone made it, but that they thought it would convince people. I don’t doubt that there are people in so-called national security organizations across the country who think in terms of religious prejudice. It’s a bad sign, though, that they believe a general audience will respond to this kind of rhetoric. In its last bet before the election, Secure America Now put its chips on explicit bigotry.
At the risk of stating the obvious, there is no danger of an Islamic takeover of America. Muslims constitute 1% of the United States population. Anyone who took even a passing interest in national security and connected it to Islam would know that. This ad is not designed to warn people of a pressing danger. It’s designed to capitalize on a trend, a marketing strategy that was considered off-limits before but might work this year. Trump seemed to do pretty well harping on radical Islamic terrorism, wink wink. Maybe it would work better without the wink.
That’s the problem that doesn’t go away on Wednesday morning. It seems like Hillary Clinton will win tomorrow, and Trump the candidate will be repudiated. But Trump the strategy will still be out there, waiting for more competent people to take it up. The last 18 months have proven that even a buffoon can do it. All you need is a willingness to disregard what people who aspire to the presidency have historically considered decent.
President Trump scares the hell out of me, but maybe this ad should frighten us more. It implies that what he has done to American political discourse is just the beginning. For the last few decades in this country, bigotry has been ashamed of itself. As much as it relied on popular prejudices, it knew it was a minority position. This spot suggests that the bigots are growing more confident—that they don’t feel compelled to hide their real opinions anymore, because they expect people to agree with them. Maybe that’s just one awful 501(c)(3) in a bad election year. Or maybe we’re looking at the first of many.