Monday, 30 January 2017

Totalitarian Trump

It would be invidious, I suppose, for me to begin a piece about Trump's irrational ban on Muslims by pointing out that we shouldn't be surprised by it. He spent the whole week living down to our expectations, playing to his crowd and berating his critics in a manner we have come to expect. His executive orders have been fired out with machine gun rapidity. But they have largely been fired out to attract attention. Some will have more impact than others. Some will never amount to much at all, or may be reversed or simply run up against legal or other obstacles. But all that he has done thus far, to give Trump his due, was widely advertised during the campaign. He said he was going to do these things and he has wasted no time in at least signalling that he intends to make good on the rhetoric, even if actually building walls, pipelines or ending regulation is a great deal more complex than merely signing a piece of paper with an extraordinarily large signature.

But it is the measures on immigration, refugee status and bans on immigration from certain countries, albeit not an exhaustive or particularly intelligently compiled list, that have caused a sharp intake of breath around the world and in America itself. Of course there will be a large constituency there that will be quietly impressed by this firm action let's be honest. You can be sure that this was ultimately the reason. Trump is the showman. Trump is the PR man. Trump is the snake oil salesman.

Because that is all that this is. America is perfectly entitled to defend itself and its borders. If it were facing an emergency of 9/11 proportions then this action and possibly something even more draconian might be understandable. Instead this looks like the actions of a president who is still playing to the gallery and posturing. Because this will not make America any more secure and may actually make it considerably less so. This is precisely the kind of action that convinces moderate Muslims that there is such a thing as widespread Islamophobia. This is precisely the kind of action that plays into the hands of zealots and firebrands and preachers of hatred.

Refugees to America are not an issue. None of the attacks carried out there have been carried out by refugees. They have been carried out by people in the U.S legally. Recent attacks have been carried out by converts or radicalised US citizens. There is no point Trump looking to the example of Europe as being instructive because the numbers are entirely different and the checks carried out on new entrants are many times more thorough. The central fact is that this kind of discriminatory policy always ends up being counterproductive. And it is already coming undone since nobody bothered to think through all of the ramifications, loopholes, contradictions and difficulties. This is what happens when you have someone who deals in headlines and spin rather than in properly thought out policy. If Trump had asked Theresa May she could have told him about our last 3 prime ministers, not that any of them ever came up with anything as loony as this. Oh apart from the Millennium Dome that is.

On Saturday Trump had what was said to be a productive conversation with Putin in which they agreed to try and work together to counter and defeat ISIL. This is an obsession of Trump's. Yet it's not clear why other than his fondness for getting most of his information, not from the State Department and his security briefing but from Fox News. ISIL is no threat to the United States. It is barely a threat to Europe. It is in headlong retreat and reduced to inspiring feckless, credulous and angry young men to drive trucks into large crowds. Feckless, credulous and angry young men are not in short supply at any time, but those with a beef against the United States may well have their numbers boosted this weekend thanks to Donald Trump. Meantime the feckless, credulous and angry ones who went to Syria to fight for their great caliphate are on the run. Or dead.

Putin doesn't care about ISIL. He will be happy to pretend to care about it though if it means he gets a deal from his new friend Donald, maybe along the lines of having his takeover of Crimea made official, part of Ukraine handed to him on a plate and sanctions lifted. If that is the kind of deal that Donald the dealmaker is contemplating then that will be his worst decision. For now though his posturing on immigration wins the title hands down. He has made his country look blinkered and intolerant. He has given succour to the very enemies he says he wants to defeat. And he has galvanised furious opposition against him at home to the point that even the GOP is distancing itself from him on this issue at least. Quite a weekend's work. Still, at least it will have made the people who wear those Make America Great Again caps happy.

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