Among Donald Trump’s many neologisms is the 'What the hell is going on' evidentiary standard. It was introduced by Trump during his presidential campaign as his biggest dare yet: 'a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on'. A high hurdle to clear, no doubt, and a controversial idea. Whether it would ever be implemented was unknown—after Trump’s election the Muslim ban was scrubbed from his website, then restored, with a spokesman blaming a technical glitch.
Now we have our answers. Fleshed into public policy, figuring out 'what the hell is going on' means the government reviewing the security of America’s immigration system. During this time, according to the executive order President Trump signed last Friday, all refugees will be barred from the United States for four months. Syrian refugees will be barred indefinitely, and all visitors from seven terrorism-blistered countries—Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—will be barred for 90 days. Cue confusion, hysteria, lawsuits, demonstrations at airports, Senator Chuck Schumer weeping on national television, and the proliferation of the hashtag #MuslimBan on social media.
This is emphatically not a Muslim ban and left-wingers only damage their cause when they say so. Of the 10 countries with the largest Muslim populations, only Iran is included on the travel prohibition list. Meanwhile, nations like Pakistan and Afghanistan are inexplicably omitted, even though the terrorists who massacred 14 people at a San Bernardino office party in 2015 had roots in the former and the parents of last year’s Orlando Pulse nightclub shooter were born in the latter. The brothers Tsarnaev, perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings, were here on visas from Kyrgyzstan, also not covered. A majority of the 9/11 hijackers were from a little country called Saudi Arabia, exempted.
So the travel ban wouldn’t have stopped a single recent terrorist attack. The refugee ban wouldn’t have either. It’s simply a fact that not a single Muslim refugee has ever successfully launched an attack on the American homeland. Compared to Angela Merkel throwing open Germany’s front gates to more than a million people, my country has been stingy about the refugees it has taken in. The United States has only settled 360,000 refugees from the near east and South Asia since 1975, with a hard cap of 33,000 in the year 2014. If you’re looking to commit a terrorist attack in America, it’s far easier to obtain a visa and overstay than endure the cumbersome screening of the refugee program.
Trump’s executive order, then, smacks of a rush job, slapped together without the necessary consultations, more fulfilment of a campaign promise than serious anti-terror policy. If the question before this house is whether it was worth drawing torrents of outrage to impair a relatively paltry refugee program and block travellers from seven hat-picked nations, then I would say no. Trump could have ordered the government to review our immigration processes without tossing this cannonball in the water. Instead, he ended up flummoxing travellers, disquieting refugees who were already here, putting foreign leaders like your Boris Johnson in awkward positions—all over a measure that’s unlikely to do much except reveal his own quavering grasp of the policymaking process.
Another consideration: Trump might also have checked with states and localities before he signed his executive order. If he had, he would have stumbled upon Rutland, Vermont, a little hamlet with the abandoned industries and greying population that have become the tragic hallmarks of New England towns nestled in the foliage. Rutland’s mayor wants to take in refugees—'We need people,' he says—and there’s something to that. The federal government is always the senior partner on immigration matters because of the security role it plays, but shouldn’t local officials, who interact with refugees as real people rather than statistics observed from space, have some say? I’m no fan of Dannel Malloy, governor of my native Connecticut, but shouldn’t his desire to admit more refugees into his state pull some weight? If his voters disagree, they can always toss him out.
In the meantime, the Furies continue to swarm about. Trump recently tried to defend his order on Twitter by noting that—quote—'A lot of bad ‘dudes’ out there!'. I’m hereby calling for a total and complete shutdown of our president’s social media accounts until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.
Matt Purple is the deputy editor for Rare Politics