The Bigger the Lie the More People Believe It

My mother, a German refugee, used to say, derisively quoting Josef Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, who quoted his boss.

The problem in the never-ending presidential campaign is that words matter, and candidate Donald Trump has had an impact on Republicans, and sometimes even the Obama administration, when it comes to refugees and migrants. The nativist repetition about the evils of Islamic foreigners and Hispanic migrants resonates.

First in 2011 came the so-called "birther" lie that President Obama was born in Kenya, after Trump had a chat with Obama's grandmother (sic), and therefore ineligible as commander-in-chief. No intelligent person believes he faked his birth certificate, but polls show at least 20 percent of the Republicans say the president did just that. (Even the usually silent Melania Trump chimed in: "It is not only Donald who wants to see it...It's the American people.").

In 2015, we have a generalization of Mexicans as rapists, Muslims cheering by the hundreds during the 9/11 disaster, just to name a few falsehoods that Trump is spreading.

Trump's front-runner status and its influence on other Republican candidates seem to grow. Texas Senator Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush believe Syrian Christians should be admitted in preference to Muslims. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released in December finds most GOP primary voters oppose Trump's plan to keep Muslims out of the country -- but 38 percent support it.

The usually articulate Florida Senator Marco Rubio was the architect of legislation that would have overhauled the immigration system and given 11 million undocumented immigrants a chance to become citizens. Now he is vague on his proposal and emphasizes border security and the need to begin deportations.

To be fair, Trump was rebuked by Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich (and most frequently by South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham) for proposing a database to keep track of Muslims in the United States.

Obama on deportations:

Not to seem soft on migrants, the Obama administration, despite the president's frequent defense of immigrants, is expelling undocumented people at nine times the rate of 20 years ago, outpacing any previous administration, the Economist wrote in February 2014. The expulsions continued into 2015.

"Border patrol agents no longer just patrol the border; they scour the country for illegals to eject. The deportation machine costs more than all other areas of federal criminal law-enforcement combined," the Economist said. The Hispanic community has noticed.

Republican candidate and Republican congressmen (and some Democrats) voted for a "pause" in Obama's plan to bring in 15,000 Syrians over a lengthy period of time after the kind of slow vetting process rarely even seen for a cabinet nominee.

At the United Nations, Trump is rarely mentioned by name. Jordanian Prince Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has been criticizing European governments, especially Hungary and the Czech Republic ,for blocking immigrants. Even in liberal Sweden Africans and Jews are facing discrimination, he said.

Human rights, anyone?

In a small gathering of correspondents at the UN in New York, this reporter asked him about the GOP. In an unusually blunt statement, he said Trump was "grossly irresponsible" and played into the hands of Islamic militants by proposing a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

"Clearly while there's no love lost for those who perpetrate the violence and the killings of civilians, it's a double tragedy when the innocent have to suffer," Zeid said. "It's grossly irresponsible, given what the aim of the extremists is, to play into their hands at the expense of those who themselves -- the vast majority of ordinary Muslims -- would be viewed as eligible targets by these extremist groups," he said.

"At the very least, you expect that people running for public office will know enough of historical experience and the suffering of those who are going to fall in the crossfire if this escalation in rhetoric and passion eclipses calm and rational thinking about this," Zeid said.

"You cannot retract the words you said. People don't forget after elections. What was previously unacceptable becomes acceptable."

As a first generation American I worry:

First come the African-Americans (voting restrictions in many GOP-led states).

Then come the Hispanics (no proper immigration reform, name calling).

Then come the Muslims (considered a threat regardless of background).

Who's next?