Archive for January, 2017

Overstating the case for AND against Trump’s travel ban

There’s an important principle to follow in rhetoric. If you overstate your case, you can be right, but you still lose the argument. Arguing beyond the facts allows your audience to assume the facts aren’t actually on your side, otherwise, you wouldn’t need to push them. This happens all the time in politics, and it’s part of why we all get so mad. We ignore the real points and focus on the overblown ones.

There’s a lot of that going on, on both sides, when it comes to this immigration executive order. I want to talk to both sides here.

“Muslim ban”

Nope. It’s really, really, not, and everybody needs to stop using that phrase, because it’s arguing beyond the facts. It’s a temporary ban on travel from 7 countries. Countries, not religions. It’s not a list of all or even most Muslim-majority countries, and–this is important–the list of 7 countries is based on national-intelligence threats as determined and already established by the Dept of Homeland Security under President Obama around a year ago. These are the 7 countries that President Obama’s national security team thought most constituted a “threat of foreign fighters.” This order does not ban any members of any religion, nor, again, does it ban travel from all Muslim-majority countries. Neither did the Obama administration base this list on Donald Trump’s business interests. This is all public record.

However, restricting travel and halting refugee resettlement on these countries while leaving the option to allow exceptions and publicly stating that Christians will get first dibs? It’s hard to argue that that doesn’t present an image of keeping Muslims out, especially after Trump’s history of fantastically irresponsible rhetoric about, yes, banning Muslim travel.

“Obama did the same thing!”

Well, sort of. In 2011, we stopped processing refugees from Iraq for six months, in order to overhaul the vetting process after finding that some terrorists had slipped through. This is precisely the same justification being given today. ABC even reported that “One Iraqi who had aided American troops was assassinated before his refugee application could be processed, because of the immigration delays, two U.S. officials said.”

But this also argues beyond the facts. The difference today is, that was just refugees, not all travel–and we weren’t detaining green-card-holding U.S. residents. It seems that the rules as they pertain to permanent residents and dual-citizenship holders are still being determined, several days after the order was signed, and that is a yuge problem. The Justice Dept and DHS were apparently not included in the drafting of the order, something that could have avoided the chaos.

This is a stupid idea

I’ve long argued that refugees are not the enemy, and that despite a legitimate danger, we have a moral responsibility on the matter. This new policy feels very reactionary, as if the Paris attack had just taken place and everyone was spooked. But we’re not reacting to anything here, and as I argued at the time, being reactionary isn’t the best idea anyway. What’s happening here is that the people who thought we should have reacted a certain way, a year and a half ago, are finally getting their way. It’s delayed-reactionism. And maybe this just rubs my detail-oriented, six-sigma personality the wrong way, but it comes across as a sign of massive process issues if this idea can percolate for over a year and somehow still be a reckless, slapdash embarrassment upon rollout.

These are the questions I would ask concerning such a policy. Will it prevent terrorism? (Nope.) Will it reduce the risk of terrorism? (Probably not much.) Will it harm people? (Yep.)

The best I’ve seen Trump apologists argue for this is that it’s temporary, and necessary. Temporary just means it’s only bad for a while. And necessary? Not so fast. How many terror attacks have come from these countries? I can see taking a very good look at people immigrating from these places, but a total ban on travel, one that immediately upon enforcement harmed innocent people?

The worst argument I’ve seen is that it’s actually not nearly as bad as people thought it might be. Should we breathe a sigh of relief over a truly bad policy because the president argued for something even worse in the past? Bluntly, that justifies any bad thing you can think of, as long as you can also think of something worse. No, that’s not a reason to like this order.

Should we take a hard look at our vetting process? Yes. Should we just throw open the borders and allow anyone in? No, and we never have. We can continue to cap the number of refugees we accept, just like every other country. Even Canada. We can vet those we let in. But we figure it out, and we do it, and we do it because it’s right. This is a part of American greatness. Doing the right thing, because it’s right.

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Bad ideas, character, and American greatness

Having little kids, I think, probably gives one a slightly better understanding of how God sees all of us, if one is prone to that type of thinking. They cry when they don’t get their way. They fight over basically meaningless things. They hurt themselves and each other, sometimes out of ignorance (whether culpable or not), sometimes out of actual seeming malice. They complain WHEN THEY ARE GIVEN WHAT THEY ASKED FOR. They hold their poop in for days until it all comes out in their pants, and act like they don’t know what they could have done differently. Kids are crazy and they make us crazy.

They’re also sweet, and kind, and generous, and loving. All in a perfectly innocent, un-self-conscious way that makes it infinitely more beautiful when one offers her brand new toy to the other because he’s upset. They’re creative, and interested in everything, and they are literally the center of my life and my heart. And it makes it all the more shoot-me frustrating when they get themselves so worked up and I can’t help them. And I do wonder how often God must feel that way about us.

We hurt ourselves, and each other, doing things when we totally know better. We eat crap that makes us sick, we selfishly treat each other like objects, and we allow ourselves to become addicted to things that poison us and destroy our relationships. We’re no less stubborn at 34 than at 4, we’re just better at rationalizing it. And faced with this mess we’ve made of the world, we all come up with our own bad ideas for how to make it work, and then we end up hating each other fighting over which bad idea we should impose on everyone.

But the kindness, the love, it remains too. And this can get us through. No matter which bad idea we go with, nothing will fix anything if we’re being selfish and hating each other. No government program can solve that. At the same time, no matter what, if we all give of ourselves in love, in whatever way is before us, I don’t see any of the bad ideas ending up so bad.

The founders felt this way. John Adams, for example, said, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” One can find many examples of the founding fathers arguing that the success or failure of the fledgling nation depended finally upon the character and morality of the American people, much more than the structure of government. But one quote in particular comes to mind today, apparently misattributed to de Tocqueville, but summing up the thought:

“America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Just some tired musings on the eve of yet another imposition of a bad idea.

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