It’s a tale of two Republicans. On one hand, there’s President Donald Trump who made demonization of Muslims one of the central themes of his campaign with statements like “Islam hates us” to lying that “thousands” of Muslims cheered in New Jersey on 9/11 to calling for a complete ban on Muslims from entering America simply because of their faith.
On the other hand, there’s Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who just gave us a profile in leadership by standing up to anti-Muslim bigotry directed at one of the Democratic candidates seeking to unseat him in the 2018 election.
Flake’s potential Democratic opponent, Deedra Abboud, is a lawyer and the founder of a leadership consulting firm. Abboud is also a hijab-wearing Muslim woman and as such has been subject to hateful anti-Muslims comments since she announced her candidacy in April.
But Tuesday a more alarming wave of the cyber cowards came after Abboud. It all started after Abboud posted on the Facebook page for her campaign a picture of the US Constitution with a statement that praised the Founding Fathers’ embrace of a separation of church and state. She wrote in part, “In their infinite wisdom, the Founding Fathers decreed that this nation would separate church and state, and in doing so protect both institutions. Government would be free from religious overreach, and religion would be free from government interference.”
For some reason, Abboud’s advocating separation of church and state angered the bigots. (To be honest, in my own experience, the bigots tend to be angry all the time.) The trolls then lashed out with a wave of vile comments such as, “Sorry no room for Muslims in our government. Nice try though you are quoting the Muslim brotherhood.” Another coward wrote: “F*#k you Muslim b*#%h.”
Flake, upon hearing about this display of hate, didn’t remain silent. Instead he tweeted his support to Abboud: “Hang in there @deedra2018. Sorry you have to put up with this. Lots of wonderful people across AZ. You’ll find them.”
Flake didn’t have to get involved in standing up to bigotry against one of his political opponents. But as opposed to what we’ve seen from Trump, Flake has a record of leadership in opposing intolerance.
In December 2015, shortly after Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, Flake travelled to a Scottsdale, Arizona, mosque to stand shoulder to shoulder with the local Muslim population. He told the Muslim community there, “My hope and prayer today is that the isolated voices calling for division are overwhelmed by the chorus of voices, like those in this room today, calling for acceptance, for tolerance and inclusion.” Flake, who is Mormon, even noted common ground between Muslims and people of his own faith.
In contrast, Donald Trump not only stoked fear of Muslims, Mexicans and others during the campaign, but he infamously refused to denounce former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke when asked to point blank by CNN’s Jake Tapper. It took a media firestorm before Trump offered any criticism of the former white supremacist leader.
In response to Flake’s expression of support, Abboud responded via Twitter, “Thank you @JeffFlake for leadership in rejecting behavior that doesn’t reflect our American values. AZ’s amazing people deserve more of this.”
Abboud is right. America does deserve and need more elected officials — and particularity Republicans — like Flake who stand up to hate. My hope is that Donald Trump can learn a thing or two from Flake about leadership and embracing American values. But sadly, his track record — and the fact that he’s having conversations with Republicans about challenging Flake in the primary as well — offer little hope he will ever change for the better.