At one point in Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s ringing dissent from last week’s Supreme Court decision upholding Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from a group of nations, most of them with Muslim-majority populations, she recounts his many insults against followers of Islam. Though most of us can likely recall his bigotry clearly enough without a refresher, it’s worth quoting at some length to appreciate the stunning depth, breadth and constancy of Trump’s prejudice.
“During his presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump pledged that, if elected, he would ban Muslims from entering the United States. Specifically, on Dec. 7, 2015, he issued a formal statement ‘calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.’ “
“On Dec. 8, 2015, Trump justified his proposal during a television interview by noting that President Franklin D. Roosevelt ‘did the same thing' with respect to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“(A)t a rally in South Carolina, Trump told an apocryphal story about United States General John J. Pershing killing a large group of Muslim insurgents in the Philippines with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood in the early 1900s.”
“In March 2016, he expressed his belief that “Islam hates us. … (W)e can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States … (a)nd of people that are not Muslim.’
“That same month, Trump asserted that, ‘(W)e’re having problems with the Muslims, and we’re having problems with Muslims coming into the country.’ He therefore called for surveillance of mosques in the United States, blaming terrorist attacks on Muslims’ lack of ‘assimilation' and their commitment to ‘sharia law.’ “
“One week after taking office, President Trump signed (an) executive order entitled ‘Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.’ As he signed it, President Trump read the title, looked up, and said, ‘We all know what that means.’ “
Remarkably, there is more – much more – but space is limited and there’s a point that needs making. It has to do with privilege. That is, the inherent advantages that accrue to members of a favored group – the assumptions they get to make, the treatment they get to expect – and the things they get to not see.
You'll seldom find a more compelling example of that willful blindness than this. To approve the travel ban, after all, the Court had to take Trump at his word that it was based in national-security concerns and had nothing to do with his animus toward Muslims. And the Court did. It put aside overwhelming evidence of religious bigotry. It even put aside the fact that Rudy Giuliani says Trump told him he wanted to ban Muslims and was seeking “the right way to do it legally.”
In choosing to believe Trump’s actions were unimpinged by his seething Islamophobia, the court chose to not see what was as obvious as an elephant in a stairwell. In so doing it has delivered one of the worst decisions in its 229-year history.
All of us who value human dignity should be appalled. But perhaps Muslims and others who know how it feels to be on the receiving end of systemic bigotry might be forgiven an extra measure of dismay at this reminder that some of us have the ability – and privilege – to put such things aside.
Must be nice.
Reach Leonard Pitts Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.