A (Sort Of) Defense of President Trump's Travel Ban
Perception can be More Important than Policy
Let me start with a quick disclaimer. I am not a fan of Donald Trump. I never have been, and I probably never will. I also don’t think that this recent executive order banning the entry of people from certain countries is a good idea. It is not going to do much of anything to make our nation safer, therefore alienating unnecessarily people around our nation and world. It will make it more difficult for our nation to find people in predominantly Muslim countries who are willing to work with us, and it feeds into the jihadist narrative that there is a holy war going on between Muslims and the West. President Trump continues to be one of the most effective terrorist recruiters the world has ever seen.
But in spite of everything I just said, I do not share the same level of outrage about this travel ban that has quickly exploded in the streets, on the internet, and apparently, on awards shows. I do not think that this executive order in itself represents the end of American democracy, values, freedom, or whatever. Having listened to a few people attempting to justify it, I can almost see the logic of this executive order. In spite of what many critics say, Trump has not issued a ban on Muslims in general. It is instead a temporary ban on travelers, immigrants, and refugees from seven particularly unstable countries, countries with governments that are unable to carry out the types of measures that would provide some assurance that people coming in from these chaotic places are not potential terrorists. You could make the case, in fact, that Trump’s opponents are engaging in the same type of hyperbole that we saw from Republicans who seemed to describe everything that President Obama did as pure evil simply because he did it. Obama was no socialist just as Trump (thus far) is not a Nazi.
But politics is often not about the executive orders or laws that are actually carried out. Just as important is the sales pitch. Every president in history has probably felt on multiple occasions that he was being criticized unfairly, attacked for things that he did not actually say or do. In the end, political perception is often more important than political reality. And while Donald Trump did an excellent job of spinning narratives that gained him just enough support to get to the White House, his more extreme statements turned off at least as many as they galvanized in his favor.
During the campaign, candidate Trump made calls for an immigration ban on all Muslims and for some sort of a Muslim registry to be set up. Thus far in his short presidency, he has not attempted to take such extreme actions. But those extreme anti-Muslim statements during the campaign garnered a great deal of attention around the world, so any future actions he might take as president that appeared to put any restrictions on Muslims was going to be interpreted in that light. No matter what he might say or do as president, many are convinced that his ultimate plan is to target and exclude from America people of the Muslim faith. This may not be entirely fair, but hey, that’s what happens when you make a bad sales pitch.
It has not taken long to see what happens when you elect an amateur to the presidency. As I and many others said throughout the presidential campaign, the skills that win a person an election do not necessarily translate into governing. Donald Trump the citizen and candidate could get away with a lot more than President Trump. Presidents who wield real power tend to make people far more nervous than candidates spewing divisive rhetoric, although that campaign rhetoric can definitely come back to bite them. And it is also important to keep in mind that the formulation of policies needs to go through a political and legal process. Unlike a candidate speaking off of the top of his head during a campaign speech, a president can’t simply whip out policies on his own whenever he feels like it.
So as much as I dislike Trump, I don’t think that the attacks being leveled against him in regards to his travel ban are entirely fair. But that’s fine with me. After eight years of watching Republicans attack President Obama in all sorts of unfair ways, it will be fun to watch Republicans squirm for a while. This is how the game is played, particularly in a country as divided as it is today. It’s open season on Donald Trump – metaphorically speaking of course – so let him have it.