x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

I was wrong about Donald Trump ... and I don't mind admitting it

Donald Trump is not an option for America, argues Khalaf Al Habtoor

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves during a campaign event at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Willis Glassgow / AP Photo
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves during a campaign event at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Willis Glassgow / AP Photo

I was wrong and I do not mind admitting it. My support for America's front-running Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was a mistake. Initially, I admired his outspokenness and his record of turning losses into wins. I believed – and still do – that America is lacking strong leadership. But when strength is partnered with ignorance and deceit, it produces a toxic mix threatening the United States and our world.

In light of his recent bigoted statements and behaviour, I am amazed that he retains a double-digit lead in polls over his almost as poisonous main Republican rival Ben Carson, who wrongly stated a Muslim president would be unconstitutional and compares Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs”.

Each time Mr Trump came out with statements attacking or ridiculing minorities, political commentators used to predict his political demise. Not so today. The more outrageous his comments are, the more his popularity with certain sections of the American public grows, which does not bode well for race relations.

I understand that Americans are tired of Barack Obama, but if Mr Trump gets to the White House they will be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Mr Trump has referred to Mexican immigrants as “criminals, drug dealer and rapists”, described African-American youth as having "no spirit" and stereotyped Jews as the ones he would want to count his money. Now he has directed his tongue-lashing towards Muslims, pledging to close down mosques and reintroduce torture. “I want surveillance of these people,” he said.

Worse, he has taken to spouting downright lies, proven lies.

On Saturday he told a campaign rally that “thousands” of Arab-Americans in New Jersey were cheering as the Twin Towers came down on September 11, 2001. “I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it," he said, "but there were people cheering as that building came down.” Mr Carson piped up to say he had seen the very same video, only to retract his assertion when a slew of US officials called it untrue.

There is not one scrap of evidence suggesting Arabs were celebrating 9/11 in New Jersey. Washington Post’s fact checker delved deeply into Mr Trump’s claim giving it “four Pinocchios”. Politifact called it “pants on fire”.

However, there is something the US media has chosen to bury. The only Middle Eastern-looking people known to have been high-fiving on that terrible day were five Israelis working for a removal company, as reported at the time by ABC News and Fox News. Their celebratory behaviour led to them being arrested and detained for two months before being deported.

ABC quoted their lawyer Stephen Gordon admitting that his clients’ actions might arouse suspicions.

“You got a group of guys that are taking pictures on top of a roof. They’re speaking in a foreign language. They got two passports on them. One’s got a wad of cash on him, and they got box-cutters. Now that’s a scary situation,” he told the network.

When it comes to accepting Syrian refugees, Mr Trump does not have an ounce of compassion. They are a “Trojan Horse”, he says, and that if he wins, he would send them all back or make them carry special ID cards.

If there was a competition among Republicans for vindictiveness, the award would go to another candidate, Chris Christie, who says the US should not even accept orphans under five years of age. A man who has nightmares about toddlers has no business running for president.

What is going on here? Mr Christie is the grandson of Sicilian and German immigrants. Mr Trump’s mother was an immigrant from Scotland, his paternal grandfather was German. Marco Rubio, who has called for all places where Muslims gather to be shut down, is the son of a Cuban hotel maid and a barman. Ted Cruz, whose father fled Cuba in the 1960s, has introduced a bill preventing Syrian asylum seekers from entering America.

Their collective stance makes a mockery of the Statue of Liberty, which is inscribed with the words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Mr Trump would have crossed everyone’s red line when he supported a group of fans who kicked, choked and punched an African-American heckler during a rally calling the victim and his companions “monkeys”.

Hillary Clinton has stressed that “we are not at war with Islam, but with extremists”. She is tough in the right way. She is experienced and, most importantly, one of the few in this race who sounds sane. She is the one I will be rooting for on November 8, 2016 with the hope that Mr Trump will be forgotten as the bigoted big mouth he clearly is.

Khalaf Al Habtoor is chairman of the Al Habtoor Group