If there ever was a time to ask What Would Jesus Do, this is it. But Jesus’s head would explode, and not from the belt of a suicide bomber. From some of his own Christian worshippers-turned-jihadists.
In the wake of President Trump’s executive order banning refugees and potentially hundreds of thousands of immigrants, including certain Green Card holders, from entering the U.S., the reaction from decent Americans should shock. Scenes of protesters outside of airport terminals where people were detained should have been unrecognizable as the America we know. But I haven’t recognized it for a while now, ever since a reality TV buffoon with dictatorial aspirations could be taken seriously enough by so much as a third of the country as to become a viable candidate for the leadership of the free world. That was back in June 2015, when we still had a chance to keep the nation out of the loony bin.
We didn’t. His popularity grew just enough, for just enough time, to get him elected. Now we’re paying the price. The Trump administration had manufactured a catastrophic week before Friday’s executive order. Friday’s order foisted a whole new order of shame. The order was expected. The infamy of its execution, on Muslim’s most important day of prayer no less, was not: the detention of travelers at airports on American soil, the removal of travelers from planes, the ban on even Green Card holders—students, professionals, families, children—from returning home, home being, they thought, the United States, all in haphazard ways, the stringency applying in some places but not in others, the cruelty and absurdity evident wherever the new rules were enforced. [Update: late Sunday, Trump retreated on Green Card holders, allowing them in.]
This is not who we are. This is not what we ought to be. But this is what we have become: a nation of fearful cowards with a moral compass closer to the toilets of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard than to the ideals of Ellis and Liberty Islands. It’s no small detail to note that Iran has no such ban. Not even on Jews, whom some of its more rabid turbans want to wipe off the face of the earth. But we now have bans on Iranians (not just Muslim Iranians, but even Zoroastrians), on Muslims and, outrageously, on thousands of our own permanent, legal residents. It’s a matter of time before other nations retaliate: so they should.
A visceral reaction to Trump’s order was inevitable (from both sides). Fortunately, the reaction was largely condemnation, not applause, and the ACLU’s heroic intervention—nothing new for the ACLU—managed to temporarily stay parts of the order, though the effect of that stay are restricted to detained travelers on U.S. soil. And those travelers are still not allowed to enter the country. They are only spared having to return from where they came. So they are all re-apparitions of Ignatz Mezei, the Gibraltar-born cabinet maker who spent 25 years building cabinets in Buffalo, then was imprisoned in 1950 for three years without charge, as a stateless national on his return from trying to see his mother in Rumania, on mere suspicions that he had communist sympathies. He was finally released in 1953 and allowed to go back to Buffalo.
No one can blame today’s prisoners if some realize their home is no longer what they’d assumed it was, and they decide to leave. The more bigoted among us will cheer. Most of us will not, because the order’s contagion affects a lot more than those travelers or even those stranded abroad. It affects us all: it is as local as local gets. It is about who we are. It is also about what concerns us every day in our own communities. It is about the meaning of safety and security, the meaning of the Constitution, and even the meaning of that Pledge so many of you unthinkingly recite at the beginning of school or public and civic meetings: that we would in any way accept Trump’s order shows how meaningless those recitations are. It is also about the meaning of compassion, but let’s not let that exiled ideal divert from more clear and imminent dangers to the nation. No, not terrorists: Trump. His executive order rings the alarm.
Here’s why, point by point. (Fair warning: Alternative-fact faithfuls are kindly asked to leave the page if they find facts, evidence, context and history disturbing.)
The order is illogical, but a boon to the Trump Organization: It targets people in seven countries—Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iran. It invokes the attacks of 9/11 as a rationale. Yet it exempts the nations most connected to 9/11 or to terrorism since, to terrorism financing, terrorist-recruitment and training, or nationals and actual terrorists who carry out attacks: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Turkey. Add the more recent hothouses of terrorist recruitment and nationals who carry out attacks, and you’d have to add Brussels, Paris and Port St. Lucie, Fla. Trump’s order does not appear to restrict travel from St. Lucie County, even to Orlando. Many of the countries the order does not affect, among them Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are countries where the Trump Organization or members of its cabinet have deeply lucrative business interests. Saudi Arabia as a business partner appears to concern Trump almost as little as does Russia, though the Saudis are the chief sponsor of terrorism and chief financier or al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban. (In fairness, none of his predecessors have had those qualms, either, though only the Bush family had similarly direct business ties the Saudis.)
The Order is bigoted against Muslims: Trump’s claim that his executive order does not target Muslims is as believable as his lie at CIA headquarters last week that he’d never targeted the intelligence community, after likening that community to “Nazis” just days before. The order doesn’t target Christians, Hindus, Shinto, Wiccans or Branch Davidians. It targets Muslims and Muslim countries. It is bigoted in aim and execution, particularly as it also aims to give preferential treatment to Christians, though that provision is one of many that expose the order’s revealing sloppiness. To wit:
The order is absurdly contradictory: Once refugees are to start being re-admitted into the United States, the Department of State has been ordered to “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” That means every brand of Islam must be allowed into the United States: Sunnis are a minority in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and Bahrain (where the Sunni minority monarchy rules with an iron fist, American weaponry, and the U.S. Fifth Fleet headquartered in its waters). Kurds (whose Kurdistan Workers Party is on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations) are a minority in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Lebanon. Sunnis, Shiites and Druze are all minorities in Lebanon, where there is no single majority (Shiites have a plurality), and where each of these minorities can easily claim to have been the target of religious-based persecution. Shiites in the UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are minorities and are routinely targeted by the Sunni governments there. Shiites are important minorities in every North African country, and are to those countries’ prisons what blacks are to ours: disproportionate tenants. The list can go on: there is no such thing as a monolithic “Muslim” world anymore than there is such a thing as a single definition of “American,” “media,” or “Christian.” But Trump, who does not read books, seems unaware of an Islam more complicated than a cartoon of his own doodling.
The order re-institutes McCarthy-era ideological tests: “The United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles,” the order states, which implies that Muslims, bearing the brunt of the ban, are therefore an inherent threat to America’s founding principles. It’s astounding that we’re at the point where we have to even defend against such statements. But here we are, however demonstrably false the assumption is. (American Muslims, only half of whom are native-born, are generally a mirror of the American economic mainstream as business owners, job creators and professionals). Let’s leave silent for now the part of the pussy-grabber’s order that claims to seek to protect Americans from people inclined to violence against women. The revival of ideological tests to enter the country is a McCarthyist retread of far broader consequence, reflecting this administration’s attitude not only against the world (UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s “we’re taking names”) but against Americans who are not in line with its edict (Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s snarl to media to “keep its mouth shut”). The U.S. Supreme Court spent the 1960s cleaning up the rampant and, as it turned out, useless and discredited abuses of the McCarthy era. Trump either did not get the memo or thinks he can rewrite it with the legally intellectual depth of a tweet. Friday, he did.
The order is alienating to allies: Without Iraq, the war against ISIS is unwinnable. American troops are assisting Iraq, whose own troops are the front-line warriors in an ongoing campaign to retake Mosul from ISIS, and go from there. The United States spent well over $1 trillion and lost 4,500 soldiers’ lives (not counting American contractors and mercenaries) in a war to “liberate” Iraq. To ban its nationals from American entry is to consider it an enemy even as it is being used as a battlefront ally. Iraqis will not take the contradiction quietly.
The order is a terrorist recruitment marketer’s dream: The order is titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” a title clearly inspired by the lyricism of USA Patriot days (originality is not a Trump forte). If protection is the intent, it will have the opposite effect. It sends the most explicit message since the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq that the United States is at war with Islam. The wars on Iraq and Afghanistan spawned a new, more numerous and more cruel generation of terrorists (even Al-Qaeda has distanced itself from ISIS). Trump’s order reinforces the perception—and now, the fact—that he does not distinguish between Muslims and terrorists, and indeed sees the two as synonymous, a slur on 1 billion Muslims, whatever their sectarian stripes. Terrorist recruiters thrive on portraying themselves as defenders of a faith under siege. They have been mostly wrong, though their enemies are primarily fellow-Muslims, who, unlike Trump, know the difference between a Muslim and a murderer. Trump is now an ISIS marketer’s ally, turning invented fears into demonstrable fact and making recruiters’ job once again as easy as it was when American forces occupied Iraq.
The order has nothing to do with a terrorist threat to the United States: Not a single admitted Syrian refugee has been connected with a terrorist attack in the United States. Not a single admitted refugee from any of the countries Trump targeted has been associated with a terrorist attack on the United States. Not a single child refugee from any of 51 countries with Muslim majorities or pluralities has ever been associated with a terrorist attack on the United States. That’s because to gain entry to the United States, refugees are vetted more deeply than, to pick one familiar example, Trump was before becoming president. More to the point: terrorism is not a problem in the United States (or even in Europe). It is an extremely rare if spectacular and reprehensible occurrence, but it is dwarfed by the ongoing domestic terrorism that affects Americans’ lives every day. Charles Kurzman, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, publishes an annual study of “Muslim-American Involvement with Extremism.” By his count, as the Times reports this morning, “123 people have been killed in the United States by Muslim terrorists since the 2001 attacks — out of a total of more than 230,000 killings, by gang members, drug dealers, angry spouses, white supremacists, psychopaths, drunks and people of every description. So the order addresses, at most, one-1,870th of the problem of lethal violence in America. If the toll of Sept. 11 is included, jihadists still account for just over 1 percent of killings. ‘My advice to the new administration would be to declare victory,’ Mr. Kurzman said. For the average American, he added, ‘your odds of being victimized by a terrorist attack are infinitesimal.’” But that’s solid evidence. Trump does not operate on the basis of evidence but fear and expediency, without which he could not keep hold of the now-barely one-third of Americans who still approve of Hugo Chavez shrine he calls a presidency.
The order is unconstitutional: To make this point will sound a little queer after a year and a half of hearing Trump speak as if the Constitution were either an optional document or something he alone will interpret according to whatever judicial opinions can fit in his 140-characters. But it’s worth noting: We’re not a country of religious tests. We’re not a country that considers due process arbitrary. For that matter we’re not a country that considers arbitrary edicts permissible. (Obama heard calls of impeachment from Republicans when he signed his executive orders. Trump hears heavy breathing.) The First Amendment forbids religious tests. Trump’s order is predicated on a religious test. The 5th and 14th Amendment require due process. Trump’s order ignores it. Yes, refugees and many immigrants are not citizens and are not covered by the Constitution. But the administration of immigration policies and rules falls under constitutional requirements, and Green Card holders are as protected by the Constitution as citizens are. Circuit Judge Ann Donnelly is getting raves for staying at least parts of the Trump executive order. But it’s difficult to imagine any judge not ruling as she did: the Trump executive order appears not to have been written by seasoned or serious lawyers but by campaign hacks who think national security policy is still no different than ribeye applause lines to the Supreme Leader’s mob. The style of Kellyanne Conway, who is, after all, the president’s counselor, comes to mind.
For all this, there has been near-monolithic silence from Republicans about the order. A few have spoken out, not exactly against it—none is calling it bigoted, unnecessary, shameful, un-American, though it is all of that—but to call it overly broad. The rest are complicit in silence. It’s a familiar mode for them. They were silent when Trump framed his rise to relevance with the Obama birther myth, so rich in bigoted appeals to Muslim and foreign-born prejudices. They were silent when he lied about a federal judge’s nationality to discredit him, again on a smear of bigotry. They were silent when he lied about an opponent’s father’s association with JFK’s assassin. They were silent when he compared the intelligence community to Hitler’s Germany. They were silent when, on Dec. 7, 2015, he called for a total ban on Muslims entering the country, before he later muddied up the promise so he could get elected.
We know what recklessness and infamy to expect from Trump. It’s no different today than when he was a sleaze in Manhattan’s bonfire-of-the-vanities gossip scene in the 1980s. He delivered then. He’s delivering now. We have a right to expect better from the reigning party in an entire branch of government. True, it hasn’t delivered in years, and maybe that’s the problem: Trump wouldn’t be where he is had Republicans been more like statesmen and policymakers than shills. But checks and balances aren’t synonymous with blind collaboration, unless congressional Republicans are taking their cues from what their own legions so often referred to as “surrender monkeys.”
It seems they are. If Washington is unrecognizable, it is because it is increasingly bearing resemblance to Vichy France.