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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