When Donald Trump first put into place his Muslim ban, he justified it on security grounds. The targeted nations were allegedly failed states and hotbeds for terrorists. At first, a majority of Americans gave Trump the benefit of the doubt. The media even referred to it as a temporary “travel ban,” as if it only affected people’s short-term vacation plans rather than permanently disrupting their lives and treating them differently solely based on their place of birth. Those who pointed out that the ban lacked a security justification or that it was racist at its core were met with skepticism. But all of that was before Charlottesville and Trump’s speech in Phoenix last night.
In the aftermath of Trump revealing his sympathy with the “decent folks” who chanted racist and anti-Semitic slogans, it is incumbent upon us to review our previous assessments of Trump’s Muslim ban. Indeed, while the inherent Nazi/KKK theme of the protest was frustrating to many, one thing is now clear: The self-described “alt-right” movement has a far larger presence than expected, and Trump stands behind it. If Trump’s aides are angry with him for showing his true, racist colors, how does that affect the way we look at his past decisions such as the Muslim ban?
CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin, for instance, argued that the courts “engaged in a pretty dubious practice by using Trump’s campaign utterances against him,” when ruling that the Trump’s intent with the ban was to target Muslims and as a result was unconstitutional. “Candidates (and, to a lesser extent, Presidents) talk publicly all the time,” Toobin argued. “They say things off the cuff, improvising in the moment and sometimes making foolish statements or outright mistakes.”
But after Charlottesville, are we still willing to believe that Trump’s bigoted speech against Muslims was just “improvisation” and “outright mistakes” and not a genuine window into Trump’s deep-held beliefs? What does Trump have to do for us to believe that his racist statements and his defense of bigots and Nazis are accurate reflections of who he really is?
We are reaching a point in which denial of Trump’s evident racism begins to directly enable Trump to continue on this divisive path.
Perhaps those who still cling on to an excessively optimistic interpretation of the nature Trump’s Muslim ban remain convinced that measures of this kind - even racist ones - are needed to keep America safe. After months and years of fear-mongering by Trump about Muslims in general and refugees from the Middle East in particular, it is not surprising that many (uninformed) Americans have become so terrified of this exaggerated threat that they will cling onto any measure they’ve been lulled to believe will make them safe.
But the facts never supported the idea that the Muslim ban could make America safer. A leaked Department of Homeland Security report concluded that “citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” Since the inception of the Syrian conflict, foreign-born US-based who engaged in terrorism in the United States were citizens of 26 different countries, according to the report. No single country accounted for more than 13.5 percent of terrorists. Perhaps even more importantly, a CATO study revealed that not a single national from the Muslim-majority countries on Trump’s list had engaged in any lethal act of terrorism in the US. Nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt ― countries Trump has forged close political and economic relations with both during and prior to his presidency ― account for 94.1% of all deaths in the US through terrorism. Yet, these states were not included in the ban.
In his speech Monday explaining the rationale behind his decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan, he argued that “20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world.” Yet, Trump did not include Afghanistan or Pakistan in the Muslim ban.
This is not to argue that a ban on Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia would have made the ban more effective. On the contrary, it only demonstrates that security concerns cannot justify or explain the ban.
Racism, however, can.
And racism only makes America less secure. Not only does the ban take America’s attention away from effective tools to combat terrorism, such as pressing Saudi Arabia to stop funding Wahhabi terrorists, it also makes America less safe by giving a green light to violent, supremacist groups. The terrorist attack in Charlottesville by an American Nazi is a case in point. (In fact, in the first six months of this year, there have been 451 confirmed hate crimes targeting Muslims, a 91 percent increase compared to the same period in 2016.)
America’s own history makes this abundantly clear. Racist policies adopted decades and centuries ago (such as the Jim Crow laws), continue to breed inequality and violence today, making America less safe. The Muslim ban is no different. It is a policy rooted in racism that if not stopped now, will create a legacy of bigotry that will breed insecurity by turning Americans against each other, long after Trump has left the White House.