Offense of the Month: July 2016
I never supposed a top Republican could outdo Candidate-Presumptive Donald Trump in offending American citizens with political rhetoric, but I’m willing to name Newt Gingrich as just that man, and declare him to have delivered the Offense of the Month in calling for a national test of “every person” in America “who is of a Muslim background,” to be deported if “they believe in Sharia.”
On the face of it, this repulsive call, issued on Fox News on Bastille Day, is unconscionable and unconstitutional in equal measures, and across the board. It’s unconscionable in inciting hatred of innocent people — and on the basis of fuzzy religious criteria. It’s unconstitutional, by violating five major provisions:
(1) equal protection, by singling out a group of people both overinclusively (“Muslim background”) and underinclusively (Gingrich is not concerned, evidently, about non-Sharia believers who wish to kill or overturn governments);
(2) due process, because it is fatally vague (“believe in Sharia,” since what constitutes Sharia and belief in it is hugely contested; “Muslim background”: does Gingrich mean to re-import into American law the old one-drop-of-blood-labels-a-person test?);
(3) the First Amendment, by punishing belief;
(4) the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment (if Gingrich really means to exile natural-born citizens); and
(5) the constitutional right to travel.
But the really insidious part of Gingrich’s absurd tantrum is that it seduces us into actually considering it by forcing us to point to constitutional problems (as I just did), validating it by inviting debate over the precise kind of anti-Americanism with which terrorists wish to woo their followers and win over dissidents around the world. Though the major pundits won’t spend quality time debating the constitutional issues, read any set of comments to newspaper accounts of Gingrich’s proposal to see just how debased (and unintelligent) a debate he has stirred up within the voting public.
Gingrich’s prescription for preserving us has no chance of being adopted, and he pretty clearly didn’t issue it thinking that it would be. It seemed to be a last-minute shout-out to his would-be boss: “Hey, look at me, I’m just as tough as you are.” That a man of his intelligence and with a Ph.D. in history would abase himself in so public and provocative a fashion just to get himself on the national ticket manages to stand out, even in this year of over-the-top offenses.
On the other hand, maybe I err; maybe it’s not really offensive; maybe it’s just disgusting.