Allow us to begin with a simple premise, one upon which all Americans should agree: The federal government must, indeed, work to keep this country safe from terrorist attacks. The question then becomes the best manner in which to do so, and it is there that President Trump’s controversial travel ban involving seven Muslim-majority nations falls short.
In issuing an order of questionable constitutionality, Trump has triggered debate about the competence of his administration, the ethos of the United States, and the effectiveness of such a ban. The constitutionality question is destined to be answered by the courts; on Monday, Washington became the first state to file suit against the ban, which puts a 90-day halt to people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen entering the country.
As for the competency of the new administration, that question unfortunately has been clearly answered. Trump’s action was poorly formulated and was carried out in a shamefully clunky manner. The immediate result was to strand numerous American citizens who were traveling abroad, in many cases separating them from their homes and their families by preventing their return. While Trump and his supporters often criticized President Obama for being overly cautious and for weighing nuance too heavily in his decisions, such nuance is necessary in dealing with complex international issues. Obama’s thoughtfulness is preferable to Trump’s demagoguery, which inevitably results in unforeseen consequences.
Among those consequences was a weekend filled with sizable protests at many airports throughout the United States. With some travelers being temporarily detained upon arrival, the airports became spontaneous symbols of Trump’s persistent demonization of otherness.
Therein lies the question about the very nature and meaning of the United States. Trump, to be sure, ran on a platform of preventing would-be terrorists from entering the country, and he sees this latest action as a step in fulfilling that promise. So do his supporters. But in saying that Christian refugees will receive priority for entry over Muslim refugees, and in claiming without proof that Muslims long have received preferential treatment, Trump violates a basic tenet of this nation that says no religious test is necessary in order to be embraced by the United States.
In so doing, Trump reinforces the propaganda of Muslim extremists. As Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said: “It also plays into the al-Qaida and ISIS narrative that the West is no place for Muslims and that we are engaged in a war of civilizations.” Or, as researchers Nour Kteily and Emile Bruneau wrote for The Washington Post: “By dehumanizing minority group members in word and deed, Trump’s rhetoric and policies may promote the very actions that they purport to prevent.”
In giving voice to the xenophobia that helped get him elected, Trump may be emboldening homegrown jihadists, which ignores a threat more dangerous than the countries identified in the travel ban. According to the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, “Since 9/11, no one has been killed in this country in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated from any of the seven countries.”
Trump’s executive order requires thoughtful examination — something that seems to in short supply given the vitriolic response to it. Such an examination will show that while the president rightly is intent upon protecting Americans, his actions in that area are counterproductive.