Of course Donald Trump says he might have backed Japanese internment, isn’t bothered by Hitler comparisons

Following up his proposal to ban ALL the Muslims (now with the exceptions of heads of state, military servicemembers and athletes), Donald Trump told TIME that, if he had been around during World War II, he might have supported Japanese internment.

As he said, “I would have had to be there at the time to tell you, to give you a proper answer. I certainly hate the concept of it. But I would have had to be there at the time to give you a proper answer,” adding, “It’s a tough thing. It’s tough. But you know war is tough. And winning is tough. We don’t win anymore. We don’t win wars anymore. We don’t win wars anymore. We’re not a strong country anymore. We’re just so off.”

Trump’s maybe-approval of Japanese internment puts him at odds with pretty much everyone who thinks that racial discrimination is bad. When the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia referenced Japanese internment as part of his justification for closing the city to Syrian refugees last month, he was nearly run out of town. The legislation authorizing reparations survivors who were interned — legislation signed by Ronald Reagan — reads, in part, “The internment of the individuals of Japanese ancestry was caused by racial prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”

You simply never hear serious, earnest arguments that Japanese internment was Actually Good. We have, practically universally, looked back on it as one of our country’s greatest mistakes. As I wrote when the Roanoke mayor referenced it approvingly:

We are currently having a debate over whether an attack in a European country, in which everyone involved who has been identified so far was a European national, should lead us to close down or otherwise restrict our process for resettling Syrian refugees — a process that is already insanely and insultingly rigorous. In the context of such a debate, one may be reminded of President Roosevelt’s program of Japanese internment.

But Roosevelt is generally understood to be the bad guy in that story. Japanese internment is one of those black marks in American history that we don’t look back on all that often because we like to believe that everything we did during World War II was just and good. But it simply wasn’t. Out of sheer xenophobia, we locked up over 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry simply because they looked different. What’s more, [Roanoke mayor David] Bowers’s claim that everyone we put in camps were foreign nationals couldn’t be more wrong: many if not most were American citizens.

None of this phases Donald Trump in the least. Ronald Reagan’s ghost is calling Trump a racist, hysterical squish and Trump is responding with “We’re at war — get it through your head.”

Kudos to Chris Cuomo here for calling out Trump as the fear-stoking, bigoted, lying fascist for who he is. But let’s be honest: it’s not as if he was going to make Trump or any of his supporters see the light when it comes to the fact that Muslim “no-go zones” in France and England simply don’t exist, that the Obama administration isn’t blocking Christian refugees and that it is wildly irresponsible to claim that there will be more attacks a la 9/11 if we don’t flagrantly violate Muslims’ First Amendment rights. Years of Republican politicians going relatively unchallenged for saying the exact same things made sure of that. To call out Trump for repeating these absurdities really is unfair to him: he learned them from the likes of Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

That said, it really isn’t that big of a step for Trump to go from mass surveillance and special IDs for Muslims inside the United States (along with banning all Syrian refugees) to saying that Japanese internment may not have been such a bad idea and flatly dismissing the question of whether he’s bothered by Hitler comparisons. If you’ve already convinced your supporters that we are at war, and that the threat we face is far greater than our leaders are letting on, and that rank bigotry is the only way to solve the problem, then it’s only fitting that you embrace explicitly anti-democratic principles.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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6 Responses to “Of course Donald Trump says he might have backed Japanese internment, isn’t bothered by Hitler comparisons”

  1. UKExpat says:

    As a life long admirer of America who has spent 30+ years living and working overseas mostly in Muslim countries I came to the conclusion many years ago that Islam is a somewhat barbaric and dysfunctional religion. However that being said and whilst I completely condemn the recent terrorist killings I find Mr. Trump’s outbursts both extremely disturbing and totally shocking. I do not know whether he really believes what he is saying or it’s just a cheap and tacky publicity stunt. If he believes it then heaven help America. Grossly insulting nearly a third of the worlds population who happen to be Mulim because of the actions of two disturbed terrorists is a clear example of extreme paranoia that has no place or justification in a civilized country.

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  3. mark_in_toronto says:

    Trump is a plant by the radical left.
    After he loses the nomination, he will admit to deceiving everybody just to prove how stupid Americans really are. What other explanation could there be to this?

  4. Zorba says:

    Exactly. They used to be semi-hidden, they feel free to let their racist freak flag fly now.
    Not to mention, every time Trump says something outrageous, he gets more supporters, and he gets plenty of new coverage. He doesn’t have to spend a dime of his own money on political campaign ads, he’s getting plenty of free time from the media.
    I’m not sure that the 1% and the Old Guard of the GOP can deal with him. And which of the other clowns in the Republican Clown Car would they chose as their nominee? They’re all awful.

  5. BeccaM says:

    Trump — and the rest of the Republicans — seem determined to enact every way proven in history to create more terrorists. Torture? Already been there, Trump will bring it back without even the tissue-thin cover of claiming it’s necessary and not really torture. Oppress an entire group of people based on their religious beliefs–going there, too. And now for some bizarre reason, Trump, his supporters, and much of the GOP seem to think there will be fewer new terrorists if their families are slaughtered.

    But Nicho is right: Trump is merely saying clearly what the Republican party has been dog-whistling for decades now. He’s just dispensed with the dog-whistle and replaced it with an air-horn.

  6. nicho says:

    I’m getting a real kick out of everyone getting the vapors over Donald Trump. He is saying nothing that hasn’t been said by Republicans for years. The difference is that they said it in private — or in public in code words and dog whistles — or by their actions or inaction. Apparently, most Americans were too dense to read between the lines or connect the dots. For them to wake up it took The Donald revealing the GOP agenda in public and in plain speech. The down side of the situation is that it will allow other Republicans, who actually agree with him, to exhibit mock horror and claim some non-existent moral high ground.

    Trump has the cat out of the bag. Among the One Percent, that is the unpardonable sin. It will be interesting to see how they deal with him.

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