The only serious news this long weekend seemed to be the ill-conceived and poorly administered blanket ban on immigrants and refugees from seven selected countries.
Portland-based British Olympian Sir Mo Farah, newly knighted, was fearful he may not be able to rejoin his children. Iranians freeing their country’s regime were returned. A British vet was unable to fly home from holidaying in Costa Rica, told her dual nationality was a problem. Green Card holders were sent back. A Yale professor’s family were barred from re-entry. A British MP had to change travel plans, his own dual nationality a problem. Just a few of the millions of folks affected by the sudden ban, including scientists, researchers, protestors of theocratic regimes now resident in the States, refugees who had sold their all to travel, and former victims of both Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Said Iranian-American Hossein Khoshbakhty, weeping at LA airport as his brother was deported, “I don’t know what I have to do. We ran away from Iran to this country (because) there they do something like this, now we have the same situation here.”
No refuge. Instead, just a decree promising random cruelty. (“Contrary to what many Trump supporters think, as Hayek pointed out, arbitrary commands subvert the rule of law.”)
This is the worst thing about the order [says Brendan O’Neill at Spiked]: its lack of thought, its elevation of theatre over the reasoned political business of talking and thinking. The order does not suggest, as some of its critics claim, that the Trump administration is hatching a 1930s-style plan to impose a fascistic new world order. On the contrary, it is the chaos of the order, its immaturity, that is most striking. People at the Department of Justice didn’t know the details of it until the last minute. Immigration officials weren’t told in advance what to expect. It isn’t a big sinister plot; it’s an act, a pose, a tweet with menaces. It’s government by trolling. That should concern us greatly: government shouldn’t be conducted like this.
As many have pointed out, being announced on Holocaust Day the ban brought back horrible memories of the American refusal to give refuge to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany – including the family of Anne Frank, whose later fate is well known. (The only humour being the tweeted request over the weekend from Trump Hotels for customers to “Tell us your favourite travel memory - was it a picture, a souvenir, a sunset? We'd love to hear it!” Senior Google exec Laszlo Bock tweeted his own story in reply: “That time I fled Communist Romania to a refugee camp in Austria, came to America, & years later became an exec
@Google creating 10ks of jobs.”)
Nothing could be more important for the future of the United States than preventing radical Islam washing up on US shores, recognises John Podhoretz at Commentary magazine, but “nothing could be worse than enacting policies that are theoretically designed to serve that purpose but which complicate it immensely instead.”
The so-called ‘Muslim ban’, he says, is a policy based on feelings, not facts.
The facts do not support it. The facts since 9/11 do not offer the hint of a suggestion that refugees who have already gone through a vetting process pose a terrorist threat, either here or (as yet) in Europe. The most horrifying recent acts, the ones that triggered Trump’s initial announcement he wanted a total ban on Muslim travel to the United States, involve radicalized home-grown native-born citizen terrorists. Omar Mateen of the Orlando massacre was born in New York. Tafsheen Malik of the San Bernardino slaughter was born in Chicago (his wife, who came into the country because she married a citizen, was from Pakistan, not any of the countries named in Trump’s executive order). The Bataclan killers in Paris were born and raised in Belgium, not in Syria. And so on. Only the Tsarnaev brothers, who committed the Boston Marathon bombings, count as refugees, but they came after securing political asylum from Russia—another country not on the list, obviously.
So what does this tell us? It tells us this is a policy based on feelings. It is the very partial fulfilment of a wild and radical campaign promise made hurriedly after the San Bernardino killings to ban all Muslims from the United States. Given the very partial nature of it, the policy is simply an immigration-restrictionist version of the classic liberal approach to problems; just do something. And do it big.
It’s the Humphrey Appleby political solution writ large: something must be done; this is something, so we must do it – and if you disagree, then you’re with the terrorists.
It’s a slap in the face for the rights of association and movement America was once supposed to stand for.
Will it be effective?
There are only two solid defences of it [says Podhoretz]. One is that the United States posture toward refugees is entirely voluntary; we need not accept them if we don’t wish to. The problem there is the harsh judgment of history when we haven’t, though we could have. While it’s a solid argument, it’s an awful one, morally and, indeed, politically.
The second is that the political correctness of the Obama administration made it impossible for prior officials to do the kind of screening we need—screening to ensure not just that terrorists don’t enter our country and stay here, but that radical Islamists who believe in the supremacy of sharia and promote a specifically non-American view of the proper political order of our liberal republic are kept out as well. That, I believe, is the theory undergirding the baffling decision (apparently by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller at the White House) to suspend all entry even by permanent residents with green cards who have travelled to the seven banned countries and are there now. The speculation is that this has been done to close a sharia/terror loophole as follows: Someone who goes back to visit can get radicalised and could be the next terrorist so if you want to dot all the “i”s and cross the “t”s you’ve got to keep them out, too.
But in both these cases, it appears even the Trump administration is too politically correct to say any of this out loud, so how are its people going to prevail in an argument about it?
That’s why I say this is a policy about feelings—about feelings relating to terrorism and sharia and Islam itself. It is a policy that, in its most dangerous iteration, conflates Islam with radical Islam precisely because it is not accompanied by an argument that separates the two.
Nor any recognition there is any difference. And without that recognition, the Trump administration is left flailing around at everyone anywhere bearing a burqa.
So if the policy will be demonstrably ineffective, why do it?
One possibility is that is simply “a form of virtue-signalling to those who support such wild ideas”; “a way the president who got their vote flatters them for their seriousness of purpose and their uncompromising understanding of the need to pursue the truth no matter the cost” – even if the ban is hardly the full Muslim ban those people voted for, but only on those predominantly Muslim countries without whom Trump has any business ties.(Else why exempt countries like Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, this last being the source of most of the 9/11 terrorists.)
Podhoretz is adamant that this is a policy not of fact but of feelings. Feelings ruled:
In the end, Trump wanted this to fulfil his campaign promise—to show he’d follow through [at least partially – Ed.]. Bannon and Miller, it seems, want to use it to send an ideological message about the new, harsher, more no-bull foreign policy approach they are championing. What the people who will actually have to implement the policy and defend it think—people like the secretary of state and the secretary of homeland security and the like—was not taken into consideration. The feelings ruled.
So if this is a policy about feelings, feelings about building a wall not only between the U.S. and Mexico but between the U.S. and a whole bunch of other places around the world.
Building a wall because, being attacked by a small number of literal death-worshipping zombies, people in the west have been too scared (or too cowed) to properly confront what motivates these zombies. How can a civilisation cowed by campus millennials truly summon either the understanding or resolve to defeat Islamic terrorists? So build a wall instead.
It is shameful [concludes Podhoretz] that liberal culture in the United States is no longer willing to say those who come into this country need to become Americans, and indeed, that is the kind of PC that “helped give us Trump.” Living here is a gift to those who were not born here, and it confers an obligation to become part of the American idea and the American experiment.
But if Trump and his denizens are unwilling to make that argument—and they are because, after all, in their eyes this country isn’t great any longer and is a disaster and makes bad deals and is awash in crime and carnage—then they are justifying the argument against them that they are making horrible policy for naked political advantage based in disingenuousness. And that’s no way to run a country.
No, it isn’t.