How Is The Arab American Community Responding To This Year’s Presidential Race?

By Focus Washington, Special for  USDR

It is unlikely that Donald Trump will get even twenty percent of the Arab American vote this election. Whether or not people like Hillary Clinton, the Arab American community will maintain its historically support for democrats over republicans, James Zogby said in an interview with Focus Washington host Chuck Conconi.  With candidates on both sides of the aisle making mistakes, this election seems to be impacting how American’s view the Arab American  community.

Jim Zogby, President and Co-Founder the of the Arab American Institute and member or the Democratic National Convention Platform Drafting Committee, said he is has seen an increase in the practice of profiling since 2002, despite positive statements from American politicians like President Bush and President Obama. “As the negatives have gone up, the positives have gone up,” he said in regard to support from other ethnic communities. “Groups that wouldn’t give [the Arab American community] the time of day twenty years ago now embrace  us.”

Zogby expressed frustration with the distinction between Christian and Muslim Arab Americans in campaign organizing, and the tendency in campaigns to prioritize religious identity over ethnic identity. “We have to be able to define ourselves,” he said about Arab Americans, rather than allowing others to conflate religious and ethnic identities for political purposes. “I do not think religion and politics belong  together”

Zogby, who travels extensively, said that throughout the Middle East and even in Europe, he gets a similar response with regard to the reputation of America abroad, “What the hell’s wrong with you people?” America is not putting its best foot forward in this election cycle, he called this “a ‘hold your nose’ election,” and he said, “frankly, you know, we can do better as a country, and we’re  not.”

While he said Donald Trump has caused irreparable damage to America, it did not start just with this election cycle, but, much to Zogby’s concern, America has been in a “steady downward spiral.” He suggested that the damage began under Former President Bush, who he said, tarnished the view of America, and continued with President Obama, who built up expectations he could not fufulfilland now, with Donald Trump, who Zogby agreed, “is, as Hillary Clinton says, a great recruiter for Isis.” Looking at the election overall, Zogby said, “It troubles me deeply that we [are] presenting to the world a flawed  system.”

“The fact [is] that you cannot view America either as fundamentally good or fundamentally evil. We are both,” he said, “We’re the Statue of Liberty and we’re Donald Trump… We’re not just Donald Trump, but we have produced Martin Luther King, we’ve produced people who have taken us to great heights and shown us great promise and done great  things.”

Zogby, who is a first generation American, points out that his father was an illegal immigrant, and hanging on the wall in his office are his father’s naturalization papers and a parchment from President Obama, appointing him to a post in the government. To Zogby, that the son of an illegal immigrant can serve the President of the U.S. is the unique story of America. “Never forget we’re capable of doing bad things, but we’re also capable of doing great things,” he  concluded.

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CHUCK CONCONI: Welcome to Focus Washington. My guest today is Jim Zogby, who is President and Founder of the American Arab Institute, which I see is described as the political and research arm of their Arab American community. Now you spent some time, because you’re on the Democratic National Committee, at the Convention and you’ve been watching this incredible campaign that’s been going on. But what effect do you think Donald Trump’s anti-Arab drumbeat will have on the Arab American community on the short term and on the long  term?

JAMES ZOGBY: Well, it continues a process that we’ve seen actually since 2002 when the gap began to open up between party ID, those Democrat and those Republican, all through the 90s when we polled the community like other ethnic communities leaned Democratic by three, four, five points depending upon the year. In 2002, it began to open up and today – in the last poll we did which was 2014, we’re doing another one later in September – the gap was more than 2 to 1 Democrat, 47 to 21. And the voter turnout, the voter engagement, was 3 to 1 Democrat. So our voter patterns today and our party ID pattern is like Hispanics or like Jews – we’re a Democratic constituency. I see nothing that’s happened in the last two years to change that dynamic. And whether people like Hillary Clinton or not, that doesn’t matter, the Republican party has deflated their numbers rather significantly, and Arab Americans will not vote for the Republican candidate beyond the 20 percent range, I  think.

CC: But what happens to the attitude of Americans about Arab Americans because of  this?

JZ: Well we’re seeing it. I mean there have been killings, there have been hate crimes, there’s nothing new – again, that is a phenomenon that we saw develop after 9/11. And while President Bush did, I think — said some very important things about not discriminating and not striking out – his policies, and the policies of his Justice Department, worked in the exact opposite direction. And so, if you’re saying don’t target all Arabs and Muslims, but we’re doing special registration and you’re doing the kind of massive profiling and rounding up and deporting and the call-ups and all of the things that the Ashcroft Justice Department did, you’re sending the signal that you do fear all Arab Americans. And even President Obama, I mean after the Northwest Airline almost tragic bombing situation there, literally said all passengers coming from these countries, 13 or 14 countries, have to be specially screened at airports before they come to the U.S. So the practice of profiling has encouraged this behavior and  so.

And yet what’s happened is as the negatives have gone up, the positives have gone up. We’ve won support from more community groups, from more – from African Americans and Latinos and from the mainline Protestant Churches and from the civil liberties organizations and immigrant rights organizations. Groups that wouldn’t give us the time of day twenty years ago now embrace us. So I feel that we’ve survived this challenge and will continue to survive it and will do well in terms of the alliances with those that have been built up who defend us and protect  us.

CC: Well of course, you’re a Christian Arab, which is different but no one makes that  differentiation –

JZ: And shouldn’t. And  shouldn’t.

CC: Well, obviously shouldn’t. But what about in the Arab community? Is it a dissention being created between the Christians and the  Muslims?

JZ: Well look, there are those who would like to do that, especially among the very recent immigrant who bought in either to the Islamic political identity or the ‘I’m not Muslim Christian’ political identity. But for the generation born here, the generations born here, who form still the overwhelming majority of the community, it’s an ethnic identity. It’s an ethnic identity that doesn’t know divisions even sometimes between countries. I remember an ambassador coming to see me – an Arab ambassador asking me – how do you organize your staff? And after we went back and forth a number of times I said by function, for God’s sake; this is the organizing unit and the research unit. And he said no no no, I mean the young man out front, he’s Shia from Lebanon right? I said frankly sir, I have no idea, I never asked him. It’s not on the job application, and we don’t think that way and we deliberately try not to think that way even when others push us to do  that.

I’m frustrated with the development of some of these Muslim political groups because they’re pushing an agenda that is in effect – they actually call us Arab Christians. That’s not our self-identity. And I reject it, and I reject those who use religion as a political identity, I think it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous, whether it comes from Jews, it’s dangerous if it comes from the moral majority and the Pat Robertson types, and it’s dangerous when it comes from Muslims. I do not think that religion and politics belong  together.

CC: And it comes from the political campaign. I mean, Trump is very much making it a religious  issue.

JZ: And the Clinton people, unfortunately, are doing the same thing. They’re organizing Muslims without respect to their ethnicity. And I think that ethnic groups have different – I mean, African American Muslims have very different concerns than Pakistani Muslims. If you try to conflate them all as one group, you in effect are saying ‘I’m defining you this way.’ We have to be able to define ourselves. And that’s a struggle we’ve had with the Bush administration, with the Obama administration, and we’re still having it  now.

CC: Well speaking internationally then, is there an irreparable damage being done to America by this political  campaign?

JZ: Oh, irreparable damage has been done. You know, I think that it began in the Bush administration in a very serious way. And the President – President Obama did his best to create expectations but he allowed those expectations to come crashing down to earth. When I saw his interview in the Atlantic with Jeffrey Goldberg, I actually said to him one time, I said – Mr. President, you don’t want that to be your legacy from Cairo to Goldberg. You don’t want to have your disappointment and your blaming the Arabs for your disappointment. At one point earlier I remember he said to me ‘their expectations of me were too high’ and I said back to him ‘but you created those expectations.’ So from Bush who did everything he could to tarnish the reputation of America, to Obama who tried to elevate it but then left everything that he promised undone, to Trump who is sort of re-aggravating the situation, I think that we’ve been in a steady downward spiral and it concerns me, a great deal it concerns  me.

CC: Well what are you hearing form the Middle East and Arab countries? I mean, you’re in constant  contact.

JZ: I mean it’s not just there, when I travel in Europe etcetera, I get the same thing: what the hell’s wrong with you people? This is not our best – we’re not putting our best foot forward in the world you know. And I think most Americans feel that way too. It’s an election, I call it a ‘hold your nose’ election. I think Hillary Clinton is very smart, she’s very qualified, but frankly you know, we can do better as a country and we’re not. I mean, it troubles me deeply that we have – we’re presenting to the world a flawed process, a rigged process that in many ways guarantees the establishment will win, or in the case of Trump, that what I think is viewed in the world as a brown shirt movement will win. Does Trump do damage? Of course he is. He is, as Hillary Clinton says, a great recruiter for ISIS and there’s no question about the fact that those who hate America look at Trump and say that’s why we hate  America.

I continue to manifest though, in all the positions I make, the fact that you cannot view America either as fundamentally good or fundamentally evil. We are both. We’re the Statue of Liberty and we’re Donald Trump.  And if you forget the one, the Trump, then you run the risk of being vulnerable when they exploit fear and create the movement they do. But if you forget the other, the Statue of Liberty and all it represents, then you forget the greatness that we’re capable of and the good that we’ve actually done in our history. We’re not just Donald Trump, but we’ve produced Martin Luther King, we’ve produced people who have taken us to great heights and shown us great promise and done great things.

I have on the wall of my office my father’s naturalization paper, which for me is important, because he came here illegally in the twenties when they zeroed out quotas and said Syrian trash aren’t welcome, that was what the Senate said. He became naturalized after amnesty during the Roosevelt era and I have my parchment from President Obama appointing me to a post in the government. And so, that’s the story for me of America. The son of an illegal immigrant can serve the President of the United States. That won’t happen anywhere else in the world. That’s who we are, but we’re also Trump. We’re both. There’s kind of a schizophrenia to America and we have to recognize that, deal with it, never forget we’re capable of doing bad things but we’re also capable of doing great  things.

CC: Such enthusiasm, which I didn’t expect. Thank you, Jim, for being here  today.

I’m Chuck Conconi, and this has been Focus  Washington.

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