Montel Williams: Why 2016 race has me wondering if America's best days are behind us

Montel Williams

In the post-Citizens United landscape, I didn’t expect the 2016 election season would showcase the best America had to offer. There is simply too much money poisoning the political discourse. That said, what I’ve seen since the Paris attacks has shaken me to my core – to a point in which I no longer recognize the America I devoted 22 years of my life to protect. 

Many of the candidates, especially those on the GOP side, claim to have a magic recipe for unifying America. “Make America Great Again,” reads Donald Trump’s slogan.  But the rhetoric I’ve been hearing in the past two weeks from my former party leads me to wonder, for the first time in my adult life, if America’s best days are, in fact, behind us. 

Before discussing the root cause, let’s examine the symptoms.  After the Paris attacks, many lost sight of what once made America the greatest nation on earth.  Senator Cruz, pandering to the hardcore GOP base, hinted we should only accept Christian refugees from Syria.  Governor Christie, in a total reversal from his position a few months ago, announced he wouldn’t allow Syrian children under 5 who had lost their parents to re-settle in New Jersey.

The rest of the GOP ominously followed suit, oblivious to the reality that, by doing so, they were handing ISIS a win. ISIS recruiters RELY on convincing disaffected young people that the West is at war with Islam. These candidates handed ISIS a major propaganda win.

Too often, as Americans, we blame politicians for the malaise and division in this country. But that is a cop out. Fifty percent of this country would destroy it to depose President Obama. The other 50 percent views ALL conservatives as mortal enemies. It’s a shame. And it’s a reflection of what “we the people” have allowed ourselves to become.

Little changed later in the week when Dr. Carson inexcusably likened Syrian Refugees to “rabid dogs.” For a man who has made his Christian faith the thesis for his candidacy, he is ignoring the foundational teachings of Christianity – to love all of God’s children; and to help the downtrodden.  That comment is eerily reminiscent to Nazi propaganda likening Jews to rats. 

Not to be outdone, Donald Trump suggested to a reporter that he would consider a database for all Muslims in this country, an idea offensive to every principal on which this country was founded. You could almost hear the sound of the Constitution being ripped to shreds.

In the past, I could rest easier, knowing the overwhelming majority of Americans would see this for what it is – bigotry—playing to the irrational fears of a portion of the population to curry favor, which takes a page out of a very dangerous playbook the world answered with “never again” some 60 years ago.  The fact is, we can no longer rest easy because polls show a huge majority of the Republican electorate currently supports Trump, Carson or Cruz. 

Fast forward to a week ago Sunday, when Trump inexplicably re-tweeted a meme, widely circulated in white supremacy circles, claiming 81% of white homicide victims were killed by black assailants listing, as its source, an agency that doesn’t exist.  In fact, the FBI numbers from 2014 reveal that 82% of white homicide victims had white assailants, while 89% of black victims were killed by other black people.  The message in that meme is ominous. It speaks to his core constituency – disaffected white Americans, who are angry at the world and wish to take it out those who looks or think differently.

This meme validates their worry and anger, suggesting “blacks” are going to kill them – when the reality is that they are 8 times more likely to be murdered by a white person.  That is, quite frankly, as racist as it gets. But the more bigoted and more outrageous he gets, the higher Trump’s numbers rise.

Apparently needing a new line of paranoia to exploit, Mr. Trump has now spent a week selling a lie – that large numbers of Muslims celebrated on 9/11 in New Jersey in tailgate style parties despite overwhelming evidence the claim is false.  He’s no fool--he’s simply tapping into a previously untapped vein of support. I’m ashamed people who think like this exist in our country.  He’s no fool – let’s remember his “big break” in politics was being the last man standing on birther paranoia – his supporters don’t care about the truth – for them, there seems a very guttural validation in his bigotry and the lies he tells (like the non-existent 9/11 tailgate parties) to justify it.

Too often, as Americans, we blame politicians for the malaise and division in this country. But that is a cop out.  Fifty percent of this country would destroy it to depose President Obama. The other 50 percent views ALL conservatives as mortal enemies. 

There are candidates on the GOP side that have serious ideas.  But not one of them is in double digits in the polls because they’re unwilling to engage in the wholesale hate that has rocketed Trump and Carson to the top. 

It’s a shame. And it’s a reflection of what “we the people” have allowed ourselves to become.

At its core, the problem we face is power-hungry individuals, spewing hate, in an effort to grab headlines.  America has always welcomed refugees, as we should.  These men and women have survived hell on earth and want a new life, free from fear. “Give us your tired, your poor,” reads the plaque on our Statue of Liberty. 

ISIS is as radically different from American Muslims (and most Muslims worldwide) as Westboro Baptist Church members from Christians.  Muslims serve in our military, in elected office, as first responders, doctors, nurses and teachers. We hand ISIS a HUGE win by recklessly engaging in this shameful Islamaphobia.

We have to be honest about who is behind most of the terrorism that occurs on American soil – of 74 terrorism related deaths in America since 9/11, only 26 came at the hand of jihadi inspired terrorists – far more deaths (48) came at the hands of home-grown extremists – we saw that play out Friday in Colorado Springs. 

I think there’s something deeply human, albeit flawed, in how easy it is to tell ourselves that the “terrorists” are those who look different than us, who have a different faith – the truth is, often times they look like Robert Lewis Dear.

The danger we fear from the outside – of jihadi terrorism, of another September 11, is real.  But, in my eyes, the far greater danger is what we are doing to ourselves, as a nation. Time to get brutally honest about what we are doing to ourselves in this country.

Montel Williams is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy who served 22 years in the Marine Corps and the Navy. He went on to host the Emmy award-winning "Montel Williams Show" for 17 seasons and is now a noted activist on veterans issues. Follow him on Twitter @montel_williams and on Facebook at