Today the White House is expected to roll out the Muslim Ban 2.0. I’m going to go ahead and call it the Muslim Ban instead of the media-adopted ‘Travel Ban.’ After all, that’s what Trump called it before the cheap whitewash. A few quick thoughts…
Rachael Maddow aired a fairly revealing piece last week (the ‘bullpucky’ episode) centering on a document/report leaked specifically to her out of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis. Here’s a link to the clip: DHS intel doc contradicts case for travel ban. (Warning: a brief advertisement with sound runs first.) WaPo’s The Plum Line also has an excellent summary of Maddow’s scoop and the implications of the intel report.
The leaked report contains conclusions about the Muslim Ban’s questionable national security justifications. The document was particularly revealing because Trump’s entire rationale for the Muslim Ban has been because it’s (allegedly) in the nation’s best national security interests. You know, to keep out the ‘bad dudes.’ (Those same hombres he alleged were suddenly pouring across our ‘open’ borders in the two weeks after Ban 1.0 was stayed by the courts – an allegation premised on an entire nation being unaware or suddenly forgetting about the rigorous, 18-to-24 month-long, multi-agency screening process already in place.)
The OI&A report (officially) reached the absolutely-not-shocking conclusion that Trump’s proposed Muslim Ban would have no appreciable impact on preventing terrorism on U.S. soil, because essentially all domestic radical Islamic terrorist acts are committed by people radicalized years after entry into this country. Thus, the report concluded, these later-radicalized terrorists cannot be detected at the border, or as Maddow colloquially dubbed it, the Trump Administration’s entire national security rationale is ‘bullpucky.’
While I don’t disagree that Trump’s rationale for the Ban is bullshit, I am concerned that advancing the above argument leaves its opposition open to a rear-flank attack. In fact, it perhaps suggests it, when it might not otherwise be recognized or considered.
I’ll address that in a moment, but I first want to jump to the bottom line. (I can work my way back to my legal/tactical concern in due course.) And the bottom line is this: the Muslim Ban was never about national security. Well, maybe that one time, but essentially no, never.
Instead of national security, the purpose of the Muslim Ban is two-fold: 1) the white-nationalist vision for America schemed by Trump’s white nationalist advisors, Bannon/Miller and the rest of the klan; and 2) our wannabe Autocrat-In-Chief’s continued demonization of the Other. These are two sides of the same basic coin: anti-immigrant hate.
The first prong of this real purpose is laid out in a Washington Post opinion piece (again by Greg Sargent) from a few days ago. It’s boils down to this: The Muslim Ban is a tool in the Bannon+Miller Diversity Elimination Project – their white supremacist vision for America.
Now, there’s a reason these folks (Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller) aren’t holding office themselves, or running for anything; their hateful views wouldn’t survive scrutiny in the light of day. But they are seeming to thrive behind the scenes in the Trump White House, with their vile racist notions hidden in Trump’s enabling shadow. Shadow or no, we shouldn’t think they don’t hold significant sway with the often willing and pliable Trump, with Bannon whispering in Trump’s ear like Wormtongue to the King of Rohan. All this is just one of the myriad of consequences stemming from voters inviting white nationalists into the highest office in the land.
My focus here is on the second prong of the Muslim Ban’s purpose. It is related to the Bannon+Miller Diversity Elimination Project, but shades towards Trump’s authoritarian dreams. It’s more about political rule, than twisted fantasy visions of a White America (however dangerous and real those visions are at the moment).
Trump has long telegraphed his desire to rule America as an authoritarian dictator. We need not revisit all the indicia here. But his peculiar affinity to autocrats around the globe, his glowing adulation of Vladimir Putin, talk of ‘strong leaders,’ musings about imposing martial law in inner-city Chicago, the list goes on and on – it’s all a ‘tell’ of his authoritarian vision of leadership.
All this past year long, Trump has been dipping his toes in the autocrat waters, ever pushing to see what he can get away with, see who will challenge his actions (insulting John Lewis on MLK Jr. holiday being but one small example). Watching it all transpire, I have reached the conclusion that autocracy, authoritarian rule, dictatorship, some version of such a state is Trump’s dream, his intent and his ultimate goal. (I also happen to think it’s due in large part to the enormous wealth that accompanies such rule, of the kind he’s only ever pretended to have or dreamed of, but that’s a separate conversation.)
The main point here is that there exists a handbook (of sorts) for moving from a liberal democratic form of government to an autocracy, an oligarchic kleptocracy, an authoritarian dictatorship, and on down the line towards a totalitarian state. The pattern varies little; the script essentially the same world over and throughout history. Controlling the media, sowing distrust and chaos, hobbling the judiciary (defanging the threats to the autocrat’s authority) – it’s not a long list, but there are list-items on it that are essential. One of those list items is the demonization of the Other.
Identify some subset of the population, typically marginalized already (and thus vulnerable), and set about turning people against them. Make people hate them, fear them, revile them, dehumanize them, demonize them.
Foreigners are often perfect targets, as the fledgling autocrat can tap into xenophobic sentiments which exist in every population, thus facilitating the fear and demonization. They’re coming for your jobs, or your women, your children, your banks, or coming to blow us all to smithereens.
We can talk about that – the demonization of the Other as a tool for an autocrat’s power-grab – in greater detail some other time. For the moment, indulge me by accepting the premise as true – the notion of the Other and its role in driving a country away from democracy into the Great Protector’s authoritarian arms.
Now consider the Muslim Ban. As we’ve discussed, the ‘national security’ rationale has been debunked on many levels. In the first place, Trump and his crowd already tipped their hand during and after the campaign. Beyond that, the rationale is unsupported by the basic facts (e.g., none of the 9/11 attackers came from the countries identified in either the 1.0 or 2.0 version of the Ban). The ‘bullpucky’ intel report from DHS concludes that, in their considered assessment, the ban would do nothing to improve national security, nothing to make any of us safer. (In fact, some credible analysis suggests rather the contrary – that the Muslim Ban would be a recruiting tool for extremists. “I told you, the Great Satan hates all Muslims!” See, e.g., Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald’s recent piece on this topic How Donald Trump is fueling ISIS.)
In addition to inching towards Bannon+Miller’s vision of a White America (and when you get right down to it, that’s what ‘make America great again’ really means to that crowd), the Muslim Ban goes a long way towards Trump’s goal of demonizing the Other, the 2017 version.
Very bluntly, Donald Trump wants you to hate Muslims. He needs you to hate Muslims. He doesn’t want you to see them as mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, as people who want to raise their children and live their lives in peace. Trump can’t have you seeing them as loyal American soldiers, shopkeepers, engineers and school teachers. He wants you to see all Muslims as ‘radical Islamic terrorists,’ and he wants you to be very afraid. (Note: Eventually, Trump will want to expand the definition of Other – another page from the playbook – and he’s already got a couple of ideas percolating in the wings (Mexican Rapists and Drug Runners (i.e., all Mexicans), for one).)
Fortunately, I’m not alone in this assessment, and the ranks are swelling daily. One prominent example:
Let’s call Trump’s travel ban what it is: A racist and anti-Islamic attempt to divide us up.
3/6/17, 12:58 PM
Trump need this demonization to happen for a couple of reasons, all to the same end. Unity through hate and fear, with DJT as ‘the only one who can save you, the only one who can keep you safe.’ He need you to hate and fear Muslims because you need to not see them as human. Not Americans, certainly, but not human, ultimately. Because at that point, atrocities can occur without conscience. They’re not human, he urges; they’re vermin, they’re insects. They’re not us, so they are not entitled to even remotely the same treatment.
Trump’s Muslim Ban, be it the 1.0 version or whatever latest iteration rolls off the production line, aims to unite America against it’s common ‘enemy’ – the Other. If it survives court challenge, which I doubt, but who knows, the Muslim Ban 2.0 will go a long way down the dark path away from democratic rule in this country, towards the coming autocracy of Donald J. Trump.
End Part I.