When the first “Travel Ban” executive order was announced a week into the Trump administration some 4600 years ago, some of the key pillars of a free society made their impact felt in a way that shocked even the most optimistic observer. The legal system had a two-pronged effort. Organizations like the ACLU protected the victims of the order’s cruelty and brought their cases to an independent judiciary, which treated the order as what it was: a legal measure subject to review; not the blessed fiat of a New Dawn.
The other pillar, of course, was public protest, which stunned anyone who expected obsequiousness after the snowflakes of the women’s march melted. It is doubtful that legislators, and possibly even the courts, would have reacted with the swiftness they did were in not for spontaneous acts of disobedience, compassion, and righteous fury. Protests were shown again to not be movements of self-expression or sideshows to politics; they are a vital part of civil society.
So, the reaction to the travel ban, and its being held up by the courts, led to the rollout of a newly revised order yesterday. This was supposed to be rolled out last week, but it was delayed so that news of it wouldn’t step on the reception to Trump’s Congressional address last week.
Now, it is a good demonstration of how deeply dumb the President and his people are that they genuinely thought the rest of the week–month?–should revolve around him garnering praise for clearing the lowest possible bar. Trump was reportedly livid that the news of Sessions misleading Russian testimony and subsequent recusal took away from what I promise you he believes is regarded as the finest speech in American history. That’s partly what led to this weekend’s insanity.
But more importantly, as everyone pointed out, the delay for some good ol’ self-gratification contradicted the fierce urgency with which the initial rollout happened, and made Trump’s truly dangerous tweets about how judges were making our country less safe even more reckless. But that hypocrisy is just one of the many contradictions that shows how pointlessly self-defeating (not to mention cruel and un-American) these travel bans really are.
For one thing, and most immediately, the ban won’t go into effect until the end of next week (maybe coincidentally when we’re all distracted by the tournament, but I might just be projecting). Obviously, if they were confident that this was the only way to keep bad dudes out, and that more and more were pouring in by the minute (as they consistently claim), they’d be implementing it sooner. That they are actually being rational about its rollout shows that at some level they know it is bunkum.
It’s bunkum because, as the Soufan Group points out, the Executive Order does not at all address the fact that refugees from the six banned countries have a nearly two-year vetting process. The ban “ignores the extensive and lengthy approval processes already in place for visa issuance from the remaining six banned countries.”
So already, it is doubtful that this is truly making us safer against the genuine threat of radical Islamic terrorism. There are about a billion easier ways to attack than waiting in a refugee camp for two years. Indeed, it is probably making the world more dangerous, by doing nothing to ease the boiling horror of the refugee crisis, and by making more people see America as a cruel and indifferent place.
Indeed, the one nod to that reality shows the hypocritical pointlessness of the entire process. Iraq was removed from the initial order, after rightful outrage that those who helped American troops and were subsequently targeted were being denied refuge in a country they gave up their lives for. That was obviously cruel. And it wasn’t cruel just in retrospect. It was stupid because it discouraged other people in Iraq from acting as translators, guides, middlemen, and more.
Most people recognized that, as we continue to fight ISIS, it was dumb to alienate the people of Iraq. But that obviously leads to the bigger question: why are we then alienating the people in the other countries? If we admit that the refugee ban can turn friends into enemies, why create more enemies? If this truly is a multinational war against a global threat, why purposely create the narrative that America won’t help people who want to get away from ISIS or AQAP of the theocrats of Iran?
There are only a few possible reasons for this, and they aren’t mutually exclusive.
- The administration really has no idea what it is doing, doesn’t understand the reality on the ground in any of these countries, has no idea what its impact is, and probably believe Iran is funding ISIS or something. This seems like the case for some people–including the President–but obviously not Mattis or McMasters. But this isn’t really their realm, and the President seems to enjoy segmenting his administration. So while they want to “make us safe”, the limits of their knowledge force them to do it in the most ham-fisted way possible.
- The ban isn’t really about preventing terrorism, per se, but about battling Islam in general. Flynn might be gone, but Bannon and Gorka and Miller and others remain, who see “the enemy” not so much as Islamic terrorism, but Islam itself, which to them is indistinguishable from terrorism.
- So the ban is about sending a message. Sure, that message had to be massaged so as to not be a flagrant “Muslim ban”, but even with that, it was loud and clear: you aren’t welcome here.
- The message then was also to the people of America. Any refugee is suspect. All Muslims should be treated as hostile until proven otherwise. The ban, like the wall and the deportation force, like the empowerment of ICE and CBP, is part of a broader ethnonationalist campaign. Its power isn’t protection, but symbolism and encouragement.
I think that’s really where we’re at. It was evident throughout the campaign, when Trump used a consistent formulation when talking about American Muslims: they “they” should help “us” fight terrorism. He very deliberately (or instinctually, which is about as deliberate as Trump gets) segmented them off. Even citizens were not quite “us”.
And the travel ban reinforces that. I’ll leave it to the ACLU, to JustSecurity, and other experts to talk about whether this new order is on firmer legal (as opposed to moral) footing, and essentially, if they can get away with it. But the Iraq exception, the basis of which can easily be extended to every country on the list (with the possible exception of Iran), shows that to the extent that this is designed to keep us safe it is pointless and self-defeating and reckless. To the extent that it is designed to further divide the United States and white nationalist Europe from the Muslim world, it is an enormous success.