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Opinion

Republican references to 'real Americans' incite division and fear

America is changing in ways Sarah Palin's 'real Americans' don't like. As the US diversifies, to remain relevant, the GOP must abandon divisive language that Michelle Bachmann and others have used recently and instead embrace a more unifying message.

By Bassam Gergi / July 31, 2012

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio participates in a swearing-in ceremony for then-Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) of New York, with his wife Huma Abedin in Washington January 5, 2011. Mr. Boehner called Rep. Michelle Bachmann's recent allegations that Ms. Abedin, aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodhman Clinton, had connections to the Muslim Brotherhood 'dangerous.' Op-ed contributor Bassam Gergi says 'a continued strategy within parts of the Republican Party to vilify those from diverse backgrounds as “un-American” is incredibly shortsighted.'

Charles Dharapak/AP/File

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Oxford, England

Rep. Michelle Bachmann and her cohort of right-wing Republicans are using identity, religion, and race as a permanent wedge issue – most recently in their unsubstantiated attack on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Muslim aide Huma Abedin. When Ms. Bachmann was criticized for her suggestion that Ms. Abedin be investigated for potential ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh rushed to her defense.

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By tapping into the powerful undercurrents of race and religion, Ms. Bachmann and others are using language to satisfy their immediate political ends, by dividing Americans and thereby America into pro- and anti-American parts.

In a diverse country built by immigrants, why are some Republicans taking this divisive approach?

At its most fundamental level, politics is about the creation of ideological communities where an individual can find a home. These political homes provide a sense of belonging and a safe place for individuals in a political and physical environment that can often seem hostile or confusing.

As documented in the 2010 Census, the United States is in the midst of a demographic transformation. Minorities, now roughly one-third of the US population, are expected to become the collective majority before the middle of the century. These changes will have a long-term cultural and political impact, but they are also fueling an immediate backlash.

It appears that a small group of Americans have met these demographic changes with a mixture of fear and anxiety. America is changing too quickly and too uncomfortably for some, and it seems they have looked to their political home for reassurance and guidance.

It is this fear of the “un-American” that undergirds the persistent assertion by 17 percent of registered voters that President Obama is Muslim. Others label him a socialist. Such mistrust has also led to the ongoing “birther” movement – those who question the validity of Mr. Obama’s birth certificate, alleging he was born in Kenya. Republican celebrities like Donald Trump have at times tacitly or overtly endorsed such groups.

Instead of reassuring their members, this fringe group of Republicans has exploited the environment of mistrust to secure votes and fill their campaign coffers. By fashioning themselves as defenders of what Sarah Palin once termed “real America,” these melancholic preachers have used nostalgia to contrive a vision of a homogeneous America that is supposedly slipping away.

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