Many in this country are currently outraged by President Trump’s Executive Order (EO) Friday, which temporarily has thrown our immigration system and refugee admittance programs into chaos. The idea that we in America would turn our backs on needy and deserving individuals for highly attenuated concerns about the potential for a handful of them to be terrorists (see, e.g., Trump Jr.’s sad Skittles bowl analogy) feels wrong, and it offends the basic sense of decency many purport to hold. Protests have erupted at airports across the country while the EO was being implemented and enforced in slapdash fashion, which the White House has at least now clarified in part, thankfully mitigating its impact. Protesters are chanting, among other things:
- “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.”
- “No hate. No fear. Refugees are welcome here.”
- “The power of the people is greater than the people in power.”
- “Hey hey, ho ho, the Muslim ban has got to go.”
- “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA.”
It’s good to see so many citizens mobilized to oppose what they perceive to be executive overreach and inequitable treatment of individuals in the immigration context. It’s sad – actually, it’s maddening – that this outrage for so many is farcically selective.
In 2011, ABC reported that “[s]everal dozen suspected terrorist bombmakers, including some believed to have targeted American troops, may have mistakenly been allowed to move to the United States as war refugees, according to FBI agents investigating the remnants of roadside bombs recovered from Iraq and Afghanistan.” The Obama Administration’s response? “[T]he State Department stopped processing Iraq refugees for six months in 2011, federal officials told ABC News – even for many who had heroically helped U.S. forces as interpreters and intelligence assets.” The result? “One Iraqi who had aided American troops was assassinated before his refugee application could be processed, because of the immigration delays . . . .” No hate. No fear. Refugees are welcome here.
With respect to this incident, the New York Times reported further about some of its tragic consequences. “The logjam has put numerous Iraqis, like the Aeisa family, in a potentially dangerous bind. Their story is a common one: a brother was kidnapped and tortured, and the children were bullied in the schoolyard, accused of being spies even by the principal. . . . Their visa applications were approved . . . . [but t]he week before the flight, another phone call came, this time with bad news. The departure was delayed indefinitely and without explanation. ‘It hurts me even more than all the threats we received,’ said the father . . . .” As immigration activists pointed out then, “Not enough people in the Obama administration care about this topic.” Indeed, it seems not many people outside that small circle of activists cared or even paid attention, and the NYT piece says nothing at all about how terrible the Obama Administration was for this policy, except by quoting one critic. What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.
How about this gem that was noticed after the EO was announced? “According to the draft copy of Trump’s executive order, the countries whose citizens are barred entirely from entering the United States is based on a bill that Obama signed into law in December 2015. Obama signed the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act as part of an omnibus spending bill. . . . Though outside groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and NIAC Action . . . opposed the act, the bipartisan bill passed through Congress with little pushback.” As the Mic.com author observed, “in a nutshell, Obama restricted visa waivers for those seven Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen — and now, Trump is looking to bar immigration and visitors from the same list of countries.” Xenophobia for me but not for thee.
Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s intrepid “fact checker,” came to the defense of the disparity with respect to the media’s (and the left’s at large [is there a difference?]) comparative silence then versus the current outrage now. His defense is telling:
But the story wasn’t classified, and the “we didn’t know” excuse is nonsense: ABC and NYT were able to run contemporaneous stories about the halt to the refugee program. And one could just as well assert that Obama’s suspension of a refugee program from a Muslim-majority country is just as much a #muslimban as is Trump’s current suspension. So, in other words, to loosely paraphrase Kessler, “Because it was a liberal in office, we weren’t really keen on pointing out his bad policies unless it was obvious and we had to, but we have no problem doing so now, adding whatever spin necessary to put it in the most horrific light possible.” No [Obama] . . . No Fascist USA.
One final point. The former Administration is culpable in many ways for turning Syria into the anarchic failed state it has become, both by leaving a power vacuum in the Middle East through a poorly-executed withdrawal from Iraq, and by making completely empty threats (“red lines” are apparently suggestions) that contributed to crushing the morale of the minority of freedom fighters who weren’t affiliated with radical jihadist groups in Syria. Now, I’ll be the first to recognize that these sorts of matters are incredibly complex and that non-intervention was likely the most prudent strategy in light of the totality of the circumstances. But perhaps we should have at least done what we could to ease the suffering of Syrian refugees – among whom are many religious minorities, which some conservative legislators noted and tried to take action about – through some kind of (potentially bipartisan) admissions program? What did the Obama Administration do for the vast majority of the Syrian Conflict? Well, here are the Syrian refugee numbers during the Obama Administration (until 2016, when apparently they came to their senses, albeit well after it would make a difference for the most needy among those numbers who had since fled refugee camps due to persecution), as reported by the State Department and added up by David French over at National Review:
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
None of this is to defend the current administration’s present executive action. At the very least, this EO was, clearly, hastily prepared and poorly promulgated. Until the announcement that it did not apply to green-card holders, it was also likely unconstitutional as applied to those and other similarly-situated lawful residents. At the end of the day, I’ll recognize, these sorts of issues are complex, our intake process appears to be somewhat shoddy (as the Obama Administration admitted by its own actions during its eight year run), and, given the multitude of individuals seeking to come to the United States (of whom we cannot take all), establishing a hierarchy or prioritization scheme for those seeking admission is not wrong, in and of itself. However, the President’s haste was immensely imprudent, and, coupled with his repeated calls for a ban specifically on Muslim immigration from unstable countries where jihadists are most likely to reside, it’s understandable (if not nevertheless patently incorrect, given that only one of the seven countries on the list is also among the top ten countries with the largest Muslim populations by raw numbers) that some people are protesting this as a #muslimban.
This is simply a call to end the blinkered partisanship that we all can be guilty of at times, as well as a call to prioritize principles over party and to pay attention and speak out, even when “your guy” is calling the shots. If you feel the need to grab a sign and go protest now, where were you from 2012-2015, when the Obama Administration was admitting essentially no refugees from the crisis in Syria, or five years ago, when the Obama Administration halted Iraqi refugee resettlement over fears of potential terrorists abusing the system? Were you rationalizing the Administration’s decision? Were you yawning at it? Or worse, did you even notice or care?
With respect to our own country’s current state, the real problem is that the selective moral outrage only feeds the toxic cycle we are stuck in. Why? Because it is transparently hypocritical, and no one believes anyone anymore.
I guess it only “betray[s] our deepest values” when non-progressives do it. Such brazen dishonesty and lack of basic intellectual consistency only empowers the present Administration to push boundaries, as we are seeing already:
The more this continues, the easier this makes Sean Spicer’s job. Do you want to make Sean Spicer’s job easy? No? Then maybe start with a mea culpa and recognize that the guy you championed for eight years (and celebrated as some sort of icon as he was on the way out) laid the groundwork for, and committed almost identical, executive actions of the kind we just saw.
Truly, as the Psalmist said, “The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.”
Thankfully, at least a few individuals, both left and right, have shown the courage of principled consistency and rationality, either providing a balanced take on Trump’s EO, or evenhandedly denouncing it along with the Obama Administration’s actions in the past. For example, Senator Ben Sasse was one of the first I noticed on the right who seemed to have a sane, measured, and intelligent response to the action. “The President is right to focus attention on the obvious fact that borders matter. At the same time, while not technically a Muslim ban, this order is too broad. . . . Our generational fight against jihadism requires wisdom.
And, of course, there’s Rep. Justin Amash, who has shown little reticence to call a spade a spade since he first entered office, regardless of concerns about party or politics.
May we be blessed moving forward with more Ben Sasses and Justin Amashes in positions of power.