President Donald Trump’s most recent provocation – suddenly issuing an order banning the admission into the United States of refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries – created chaos and fury that had to be expected.
Airports across the world were engulfed with demonstrators. Judges issued emergency orders staying enforcement of parts of the order. Families found their children studying abroad unable to return home, or their loved ones attending a funeral stranded in an airport. Translators who had risked their lives for American soldiers in Iraq suddenly found their green cards useless and their lives at great risk. Both intelligence professionals and State Department diplomats have protested the order.
Trump clearly revels in this chaos. He proves to his voters that he’ll fulfill his campaign promises, despite opposition. He shows them that he’s getting things done. He postures strong on securing Americans against foreign terrorists. He defines his opponents as bleeding heart liberals, more concerned about rights than security, more internationalist than nationalist. He views this all as a win.
Trump’s act is based on a lie: that America is not careful in vetting those refugees from battle zones that seek refuge in our country from violence or persecution. In fact, our vetting is already among the most stringent in the world. Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network that Christians would be given preference over other religious groups, asserting falsely that under Obama, “If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible.” In fact, last year we admitted virtually as many Christian refugees as Muslims, despite the fact that far more Muslims are at risk and seeking refuge. But this president has shown that he’s prepared to act on the basis of “alternative facts” when he so chooses.
The real problem is that the unintended consequences are likely to be far more dangerous than doing nothing. For ISIS and al-Qaida, the order is a gift. It feeds their argument that the Muslim world is facing a war on Islam led by the Great Satan (the U.S.) intent on persecuting Muslims.
The anger and hatred generated will make it more difficult for moderate Muslim leaders to cooperate with the U.S. At home, a Muslim community under siege – and faced with rising hate crimes – is likely to become more closed, not less, and less cooperative, not more. If we will not respect their rights and security, they will be less likely to be concerned for ours.
Across the world, the order reveals an America that is frightened, not strong, and insular, not expansive. Trump has just mocked his own argument that our allies should bear a fair share of the defense burden, for he’s made it clear the U.S. will not do its part in offering refuge to the displaced – many of them driven from their homes by wars that we started or continue. And America’s claim to be a champion of human rights has just been weakened by our own actions once more.
The irony here is that Trump gets the threat wrong. Seven countries were singled out for special prohibition – a ban on all travelers, not just refugees for 90 days, visa or no visa. Not one person from those countries has killed any Americans in a terrorist attack inside the U.S. The perpetrators of American terrorist attacks in Boston, San Bernardino, Calif., Fort Hood in Texas, and Orlando, Fla. did not come from the countries banned, and all were radicalized homegrown individuals.
Similarly, the hijackers of 9/11 did not come from the countries that are banned. They came from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon, none of which are on the list.
There must be some other reason than terrorist threat for the selection. It may not simply be coincidental that the countries listed for bans are those where Trump’s company does no business, while the nations from which the 9/11 attackers came – and yet are exempted – are places where Trump has done or tried to do business.
Democrats have said they would try to get the order rescinded for its trampling of human rights, its lack of preparation, and confused definitions. The real question is whether Republicans embrace this action or make their opposition known. Trump is happy to mock Democrats. His aides know that he has to learn to work with Republicans who control majorities in both houses of Congress.
Thus far, Republicans such as Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Jeff Flake have risked Trump’s wrath by objecting to the order. It is revealing that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell chose to duck – saying the courts would decide whether the order is constitutional – while House Speaker Paul Ryan chose to embrace the order rather than criticize it. These are not profiles in courage.