Damn, I would have expected a full-blown national crisis to have taken at least a year or two, but here we are at the end of Week One of the Trump era, in which we appear to have passed the critical threshold whereby the Resistance has become the Uprising.
Trump issued an executive order that immediately banned citizens of seven (mostly-Muslim) countries from entering the US, for a period of 90 days. This isn’t just a matter of tourists visiting the US and so on, but rather a blanket ban on all non-US citizens from those countries (with exceptions for diplomats and certain other cases), regardless of whether they were already legal US residents with a green card.
The order went into effect immediately, meaning that even those who had grown up nearly their entire life in the United States, had legal permanent residence, and were already in the air at the time the order was issued were met immediately upon arrival with handcuffs and detainment cells. In some cases, they were met with deportation.
Travelers who had gone home for the holidays, attended a funeral, visited family, or were sent on a business trip are now discovering that they might never be able to return. Some of them have jobs, mortgages, university placement, and other obligations which they’ll likely be forced to abandon altogether.
Some of them have children.
“It’s only 90 days,” defenders say, as if landlords are lenient enough to put up with that kind of delinquency like it’s no big deal. Not only is that guaranteed to cause financial ruin to quite a few innocent people, but there’s also the rapidly-approaching possibility that it won’t be just 90 days, as Rudy Giuliani has openly said Trump asked for a Muslim ban, in general, rather than a country-specific, short-term hiccup. It was also an overt statement during the campaign. The problem is not just what is happening now. The problem is what will happen down the road, if and when the proposed Muslim registry goes into effect, and they’re rounded up and banned outright.
Reports indicate that Steve Bannon, Trump’s Rasputin-like string-puller who now holds a seat on the National Security council despite having no national security experience, personally overruled the Department of Homeland Security’s recommendation that the immigration ban shouldn’t apply to anyone already a legal resident of the United States. Though it still would have caused collateral damage to innocent people (it bans most refugees, for example), at least it wouldn’t have caused pointless collateral damage to legal US residents, who were caught up in a storm they couldn’t possibly plan to avoid, as they were literally in the air at the time.
To be fair, I don’t exactly have a problem with immigration protocols, including strict ones, or even measures targeting specific countries, all of which is fairly standard. But any discussion of whether or not this will keep anyone safe is immediately dismissible by reviewing the simple fact that forging a passport from a non-banned country will immediately circumvent the ban. Furthermore, since the ban allows Christian refugees into the US with no problem, all they’d have to do is say they’re Christian, prove it with a few recently-memorized Bible verses and church attendance photos, and thus it becomes clear how this whole ordeal is far more likely to cause unnecessary collateral damage to innocent people than it is to protect anyone, especially as it includes life-long, law-abiding, agnostic, fully legal US residents who have never visited those countries at any point in their lives. Cue the World War II Japanese internment camp comparison.
As a little side note, it will also mean that anyone currently thinking about moving to the US right now, whether Muslim or not, will quite likely have second thoughts, pick Canada instead, and thus several of the next billion-dollar tech companies will emerge up north. This has probably already caused several billion dollars worth of damage merely by shrinking the talent pool from which the US can draw from 7 billion to, like, 2.
Speculation is now swirling about whether this was merely a display of sheer stupidity, or a deliberate stunt to create a public fiasco, so that it could later be spun into a PR victory for the current anti-immigrant administration. Personally, I have a hard time believing that this is the sort of thing that can be successfully spun. Trump himself said during the campaign that if immigrants come here legally, then they’d have nothing to worry about. Anyone watching at this point knows this is nonsense. Stories of mothers who took their children to visit family back home and who are now separated from their husbands by an entire planet are being dismissed as an “inconvenience.” It’s hard to imagine the blowback from all this being desirable.
See, if you want to push for a fascist regime (which I don’t think was originally Trump’s goal, but I certainly can’t imagine he’d be upset if he were to just kinda slide into it at this point), you have to move gradually, especially if you’re being so heavily watched. You can’t just immediately cause a personal catastrophe for thousands of people and hope the fallout just works itself out somehow. You take baby steps. Issue a ban on new visas, for example. Limit the number of people who can apply for them. Ramp up surveillance measures. Start with orders that are mostly agreeable, or that are even good. Not too many people would object to enhanced vetting procedures, especially during an international refugee crisis. I probably wouldn’t, either.
It’s the next step where you move past the point of tolerable. Make people go along with each step, little by little, so that by the time you’re at Step 9, it’s just a baby step away from Step 8, and doesn’t really seem like such a big deal.
For the record: It is not my intention here to provide recommendations for implementing a fascist regime. If that’s what you want, just read 1984. It is rather to provide a critique of how Trump is simply doing it wrong. At this point in his presidency, with protests popping up all over the place, this is a gross miscalculation. He had to know that he’d suffer a massive backlash from all this, even among his own party, unless he just wasn’t bothering to pay attention. He was either too stupid to care, or wanted to pick a fight…and although massive protests are the sort of thing that can be used as an excuse to implement a police-state crackdown, it’s a lot easier to handle if they’re relatively small, don’t have a whole lot of public support, and don’t have social media documenting every moment.
So, is it better to have a smart fascist than a stupid one? Or just an impulsive, irrational buffoon, which is more likely the case? Meh, hard to say. But if Trump can’t even get this right, there’s no reason to have any faith in his ability to handle, let’s say, a nuclear standoff.
Now would be a good time to watch Dr. Strangelove, too.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better.