At this point, it looks as though every third decision made by the Trump administration will generate spontaneous protests. Chanting in the streets, accusations of fascism, profane grousing on Facebook and Twitter; the word “resistance,” mostly inactive since the 1960s and 1970s, has suddenly sprung to life.
Maybe we should be heartened, as former president Barack Obama says, “by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country.” But there’s something unreflective about all this engagement, and that’s true even if it’s as rooted in sound morality as the demonstrators believe. When you’re demonstrating, you’ve already decided what’s virtuous and what’s evil. Most of President Trump’s despisers have made their decision. He has earned their ire, and they’re going to give it to him.
The chief occasion for all this unrest, of course, is the president’s executive order on visas. The order places a 90-day ban on entry from countries named in a 2015 law that imposed stricter standards of entry on people coming from Iran and six other countries where Islamic radicals have a large and threatening presence, and it bars refugees from any country for 120 days. The response was instant and explosive — placard-waving protests at airports and other public venues, innumerable commentaries denouncing the “Muslim ban,” news reports clearly premised on the belief that the ban is immoral and probably illegal, suggestions on social media that Trump didn’t target countries where his company has financial interests, and on and on. There were clear grounds for believing the order had been stupidly implemented — the lack of any warning, the fact that permanent residents were swept up into the ban — but the white-hot emotions animating the protests went far beyond arguments over process.
Amid all the bedlam, one quiet story in the New York Times caught my attention. “In ban on migrants,” the headline announced, “Trump supporters see a promise kept.” The president’s policy may be causing protests around the country and “raising eyebrows” abroad, the Times report says. “But at home, a large portion of the electorate is behind the president.”
Uh-oh. If that’s true, one of two things is also true. Either we live in a nation of unbending xenophobes, or the president’s placard-waving detractors have missed something important about the nation in which they live — something far more important than any executive order or immigration policy.
The Times story went on to interview some of these Trump supporters. A gay hotel worker in Staten Island says he’s happy about the ban. He references the 49 people killed at an Orlando nightclub. “That one really got to me,” he says. An owner of a home alarm company in Seattle doesn’t think it’s wrong to wonder who we’re letting in. “It is not irrational that people are worried. . . . I don’t think it’s bad to re-examine what we are doing.” An insurance salesman in Boston remembers the Tsarnaev brothers. “People say, ‘Never forget’ and ‘Boston strong,’ and the only one that I see being Boston strong is President Trump.”
Their fears, as the Times report suggests, may be groundless. Since 9/11, as has been pointed out many times over the past week, no American has been killed in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil by an immigrant, or even the son or daughter of an immigrant, from any of the seven countries listed in the executive order. That’s true, but (a) it’s the sort of argument that implicitly concedes the propriety of some visa bans in some circumstances, and (b) it’s not by itself a reason to regard Trump’s executive order as wrong or irrational. National security policies such as this one aren’t prompted by statistical analysis of past events — at least one hopes they aren’t — but by current realities and prognostications based on them. The fact that no Islamist Yemeni has set off a bomb in an American city is not by itself an argument for continuing to allow Yemeni asylum seekers into the United States.
Many Americans, though, are guided by a simpler and more cogent logic than what animates policy debates in Washington and New York. It goes something like this: Islamist-inspired terrorism has taken many lives around the globe, especially, though not exclusively, in the Middle East and North Africa. The federal government allows many people from the Middle East and North Africa to enter the United States. It stands to reason that, if our immigration policy continues unchecked, the violence racking Syria, Somalia, Libya, et al., will in some measure show up here, too.
I don’t share that belief. But it is not an irrational one, and it is conceivable that I am wrong. Nor is support of the visa ban evidence of bigotry or coldhearted xenophobia. It is merely to value the safety of neighbors and countrymen whom one knows over the safety of foreigners whom one doesn’t — not an obviously malign preference. And it has the merit of reassuring ordinary Americans that, even if federal policy gets it wrong or goes too far, their government is at least trying to perform its most basic function. I’m not sure Trump’s adversaries can achieve their aims by telling such people they’re idiots and bigots.
The resisters had better pause for long enough to ask why anybody would approve of what Trump is doing. If they can’t or won’t, they’ll find themselves resisting for eight years and not just four.
Read more on this topic: