In 1939, Irmgard Köppel, her husband Josef, and their 14 month-old daughter Judith attempted to flee Nazi Germany for the United States, but were turned away at the border and forced to return to Germany. Irmgard and Josef later died at Auschwitz. Judith, however, survived, because she was harbored, at great personal risk, along with five other Jewish children, by French gentiles, Joseph and Eliette Enard.
The question that Trump’s travel and refugee bans asks us as a country is whether we will be more like the U.S. authorities who sent the Köppels and thousands of other Jewish refugees to their deaths, or more like the Enards, who risked their lives to save those of a different faith and nationality.
Trump’s executive order actually does two things, which are being conflated by many critics. First, the administration banned for 90 days entry into the United States by citizens of seven countries (Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen). It is not really a Muslim ban, since it applies to non-Muslim citizens of those countries, and does not include Muslims from other countries. However, there is little doubt that it is motivated by a degree of anti-Muslim animus. (The order may also run afoul of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which bars immigration discrimination on the basis of national origin).
The seven affected countries were already on a list, drafted by the Obama administration, and codified by Congress as part of the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, whose travelers require stricter scrutiny. As a matter of policy, it makes little sense, since it does not cover countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, where there is a real radical Islamicist presence, while including countries like Iraq, where troops are fighting alongside Americans to battle ISIS. The number of Americans killed in this country by citizens of those seven countries has been precisely zero. (And are we really issuing many visas in Yemen these days?) If the policy had been better designed, implemented, and communicated, it would still have been bad policy, but it would probably have ignited less outrage.
But, Trump overruled the Department of Homeland Security, to include green card holders, other permanent lawful residents, and possibly even those with dual citizenship (interpretations differ), provisions which certainly appear to violate U.S. law, and are now being walked back by DHS Secretary Kelly. And, by providing no lead time for implementation, the administration insured chaos at airports nationwide. Those blocked from entry or detained included doctors, scientists, and artists, as well as interpreters and others who had assisted US troops. Already, ISIS has gleefully publicized the order as an example of the US “war on Islam.”
The second part of the executive order is even less defensible. That part indefinitely suspended refugee programs for Syrians and others. Compounding matters, the order says that if the programs resumed, preference will be given to Christians and other non-Muslim refugees. This callous indifference toward the suffering of thousands of men, women, and children caught up in a war that we did much to precipitate, can only be explained by anti-Muslim bias.
We are told, of course, that terrorists may try to use the refugee program to infiltrate our country. One notes that, in 1939, similar arguments were made, including a front page story in the New York Times, to suggest that Nazi spies might infiltrate Jewish refugee groups. But more importantly, there is little evidence that Islamic terrorists are actually using the refugee programs to enter the US. Indeed, if a terrorist wanted to come to the United States, going through the ponderous, bureaucratic, and heavily vetted refugee program is among the least efficient and effective ways to do so. In fact, since 1975, just three Americans have been killed by refugees. (The three refugees in question were Cuban, not Muslim.) Overall, your chances of being killed by a refugee are 1 in 3.64 billion annually.
No one can guarantee that that record will continue. Indeed, I expect that sooner or later, a Muslim refugee may commit a terrorist atrocity. But, perfect security is never a guarantee, and should not be our overriding goal. We should not allow fear to make America other than what it is. There are values more important than safety.
The United States current accepts less than one half of one percent of the world’s refugees. For a country built on immigration, compassion, and justice — that holds itself out as the beacon of liberty in this world — we can and should do better. This should not – and cannot – be a partisan issue. Rather, this is a time for moral choosing. Every American should speak out.
Joseph and Eliette Enard are memorialized at Yad Vashem as two of the “Righteous among the Nations.” When our reckoning comes, will we be counted on the side of the Enards, or will we let fear and bigotry rule our hearts, our lives, and our country.
I doubt that any of us would have predicted it – and many of us would have wished it otherwise — but as of noon tomorrow, Donald J. Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. Wow. Sometime, words fail.
But, since it is my job to come up with words anyway, a few thoughts about this new era:
1. Could we please stop with the “illegitimate president” nonsense. Yes, the Russians “intervened” in the election. Outside actors intervene all the time (and we intervene in their elections as well). Russian intervention was just a bit more explicit than usual. But a good candidate has to react to difficult events as they unfold, and Hillary Clinton, quite simply, was not a good candidate. In fact, she may have been the only possible candidate bad enough to lose to Donald Trump. It is also worth noting that what the Russians are actually accused of is hacking and releasing accurate information. Those emails – about DNC conspiring against Bernie Sanders, and so on — were real. Trump is wrong to let the Russians off the hook for the hacking, but maybe the Democrats shouldn’t have been doing some of those things in the first place. Similarly, FBI director James Comey exhibited spectacular incompetence in investigating Hilary Clinton’s private email server. But, once again, that sort of thing happens and good candidates deal with it. Remember, George W. Bush’s drunk driving arrest record that was leaked the weekend before the 2000 election? Finally, yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. That should serve as a warning for Trump not to assume too much of a mandate (although Hillary’s “victory” owes itself solely to a huge margin in California). But we don’t elect presidents according to the popular vote (for good reasons in my opinion). Clinton and Trump played by the rules of the game as they existed at the time – and Trump won. Love him or hate him, he is the legitimate president of the United States.
2. As everyone knows I was irredeemably #NeverTrump. But the election is over. I can understand both why some people are enthused and excited by a Trump presidency and other people are frightened and angry. Still, rhetoric aside, he has done nothing so far – good or bad. Let’s all wait and see what he actually proposes. There will be plenty of time then to cheer or protest. Right now, the proper status would seem to be the same as for any president – watchful waiting. We should always be on our guard against governmental threats to our rights, from any president, but let’s see what happens. He is our president. We should hope that he does the right things and succeeds in them. To Trump critics I say: Dissent is indeed patriotic, but hysteria is unhelpful. To his supports I say: Fight for what you believe in, but sycophancy is not principle.
3. As for me, I plan to treat President Trump exactly the same as I have treated his predecessors. I will support his policies when I agree with them (I’m hopeful about tax reform, regulatory reduction, school choice, and Obamacare repeal), and will oppose him when I disagree (I’m concerned about civil liberties, criminal justice reform, war and peace, trade, deficits and spending, entitlement reform – or the lack thereof, immigration, and…well, you get the idea). If in your eyes that makes me insufficiently pro- or anti-Trump, well, then, you miss the point.
4. One policy note to my friends on the Left, who are now afraid of the power that a President Trump, will wield…welcome to the club. We libertarians have long warned about the dangers of government power generally, and unfettered executive power in particular. If you thought it was great when Bill Clinton aide Paul Begala waxed rhapsodic about executive orders. “Stroke of the pen. Law of the Land. Kind of cool,” or when President Obama boasted that he had “a phone and a pen,” do you still feel the same way now that that phone and pen is being wielded by the other side? And if you can’t wait to see President Trump exercise his power, remember that someday there will again be a Democratic president. Pendulums swing in politics. Therefore, whatever new powers you give your hero today, they will someday be wielded by your worst enemy. That’s why principles matter.
5. Finally, a plea for civility. My readers know that I had disagreements with President Obama (to understate it), and with President Bush before him, and before that…But I always tried to express them constructively, and with respect. Between this blog, my Facebook account, and Twitter, I have friends and followers on here of every possible political flavor. There are liberals, conservatives, libertarians, anarchists, and socialists. I have friends who are deeply religious and others who are atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I have friends who are gay, straight, and in-between, married, single, and poly. They are from all 50 states and more than two dozen countries. Debate and disagreement are healthy. But, while it may make you feel good to call your opponent a “traitor,” it is not going to do much to win him or her over. If you are talking to yourself, you are not convincing anyone of anything. We are going to have a contentious few years ahead, let’s try to get along as best we can.