Atlanta airport, T-Gates. A radio talk show features a debate on President Trump’s executive order banning travelers from several dominantly Muslim countries. A legal expert is trying to patiently explain that the courts will not interpret this as a ban on Muslims. An increasingly irate activist accuses him of supporting a ban on Muslim. He reiterate that he opposed the order, but that those who are going to fight it need to understand its real legal meaning. And the activist gets more irate.
The lawyer is right. The President did not ban Muslims from entering the US. The executive order makes no mention of religion. The full text may be found here: http://www.npr.org/2017/01/31/512439121/trumps-executive-order-on-immigration-annotated.
Nor, I note, does the order specifically favor Christians. I mentions only priority to those suffering religious persecution. And that has long been US policy with regard to refugees.
Indeed, reading the order, with its multiple exceptions, discretion given the Secretary of State, and so on it becomes clear that its biggest overt problem is the haste with which it was drafted and the chaos that ensued when it was issued without warning to those charged with implementing it. That is reflective of the chaos in the White House and Washington DC in general. It is bad for the nation, but it isn’t a specifically religious bad.
But what is worse is that the executive order, taken in concert with President Trump’s public statements and those of his white supremacist advisors (Steve Bannon) and their Republican allies (such as Ted Cruz) is a strong, public anti-Muslim gesture. It perpetuates fear and hatred while carefully using words that suggest it is merely a rational, objective effort to increase security.
Moreover, the ways it grants discretion to the State Department and Customs and Border Patrol agents frees consular officers and CBT officials to enact their prejudices against a particular religion. Discretion in the context of government power is almost always dangerous.
We need to realize that hiding racism, misogyny, and bigotry behind apparently rational and objective efforts to increase efficiency and public safety is one of the oldest games in the despot’s playbook. Right alongside a slogan like “America First” that really means “my people’s American First.”
In politics it looks like “This policy doesn’t target blacks, it just targets high crime neighborhoods that happen to be all African American.” Or “This wall isn’t directed against Mexicans, just some bad hombres that the Mexican government hasn’t got under control.” Or “This law doesn’t target LGBTQ people, it just inhibits pedophiles and assumes LBGTQ people are pedophiles.” Or “If we have a register of all Muslims then the good Muslims will be more secure knowing we can more easily identify the terrorists.” Or “These laws support women, as long as they fulfill their womanly vocation of having children.” Or “We don’t oppose freedom of religion, we just have zoning laws that happen to forbid your religious building.” Or “We’re not against Muslims, we just don’t want them to be able to set up institutions to advise them on Islamic law.” And so on.
Only the most overt forms of this will be against Muslims, African Americans, and Latinos. Women as a group will be next. But most pernicious and hypocritical in the long run will be entrenching the long-standing animus of fiscally successful elites against the working poor. And this is where the presidents policies will most affect religious and ethnic minorities. Because as the working poor, and the rural unemployed find that they are day by day more marginalized, poorer, and vulnerable they will become even more receptive to islamophobia, racist hate speech and thus even greater manipulation by unscrupulous politicians.
Look at another executive order, one that at first glance appears to encourage freedom of choice and take away the fiscal burden of mandated insurance. http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/20/politics/trump-obamacare-executive-order/. The two groups most empowered here are state governments (that can now be released from the onerous burden of providing their citizens medical care) and insurance companies (who can go back to only insuring the healthy wealthy.) Individuals can no longer be punished for not purchasing insurance. Rather, in the name of freedom they will have a range of choices that they cannot possibly afford. Now they can opt out, but as a practical matter they’ll never be able to opt in. They’ve been given freedom; the freedom to become sick and die in penury. That’s what makes America great again in the vision of Donald Trump. We’ll see if the Republican congress shares his views.
In the meantime expect politicians to tell the newly uninsured that it is the fault of Blacks, Latinos, immigrants, and liberated women that they can’t get health care.
The long ark of discovering what the constitution of the United States means when it promises equality and freedom has for two hundred years steadily exposed the overt and hidden bias that keeps those promises from US citizens. From the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement we gradually learned how apparently rational laws perpetuated injustice and inequality. We learned that justice is never blind when there is endemic bigotry and that this requires that all the rest of us have our eyes wide open as well.
President Trump’s executive order didn’t ban Muslims. It was much worse, it justified the irrational fears of the ignorant, encouraged the hatred of bigots, and moved us yet another step away from the America imagined by our founders.