About that executive order on immigration

As you no doubt know, Trump signed an executive order about immigration on Friday, which led to mass hysteria since yesterday as some people were denied entry into the US and detained in airports.

Let me start by saying that I actually think some aspects of that executive order are not only morally wrong but politically stupid. In particular, I can’t think of any good argument in favor of denying entry into the US to people from any whatsoever who are legal permanent residents, even if for the moment that measure is only temporary. To be sure, in addition to systematic exceptions for people holding certain types of visa (mostly for officials from foreign governments), Trump’s executive order allows for exceptions on a case-by-case basis for people who are otherwise included in that order. But I think it should be the other way around, i. e. people who are legal permanent residents should be allowed to enter the US even if they come from the countries listed in the executive order, although the administration should be able to deny entry to some of them when justified on a case-by-case basis, which presumably was already the case for the people from any country.

I also don’t think the list of countries in question makes any sense. If you’re going to deny entry to any person from Iran, which you shouldn’t, then you should also deny entry to any person from Saudi Arabia, which Trump’s executive order doesn’t for reasons that have no doubt little to do with national security. In general, it’s just hard to see how that aspect of the executive order could not do more harm than good, which is why it’s morally wrong.

I also think it’s politically stupid because, while I have no doubt that taking in more refugees is extremely unpopular (I will probably write something about this at some point), a lot of people, including many who voted for Trump, aren’t going to be happy when they hear stories about, for instance, how scientists from Iran working at Harvard or the MIT were banned from entering the US. So not only are some aspects of that executive order immoral, but they will also hurt Trump politically, unless his opponents blow it by going over the top, which they almost certainly will. Indeed, if this report from CNN is accurate, I suspect Bannon was counting on that.

Which brings me to the other aspect of this controversy I wanted to talk about. There is no shortage of good reasons to criticize Trump and, as I have just explained, I think Trump’s executive order contains provisions that can and should be criticized. But somehow people just can’t attack Trump, even when they have a good reason to do so, without being hysterical.

First, judging by what I read on my feed, the vast majority of people who talk about this haven’t actually read Trump’s executive order. The New York Times published the full text on its website, so if people want to talk about it, they should start by reading it, especially since it’s not that long. If they had done that, they would know that, despite what a lot of people are saying, it does not ban muslims from entering the US. It just temporarily bans entry into the US for anyone, with a few exceptions I already mentioned above, who is a citizen of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan or Yemen. Now, these countries are majority-muslim, but there are plenty of majority-muslim countries that aren’t concerned by the order. Moreover, there are many christians in the countries in question, and Trump’s executive order also bars them from entering the US. The order also limits the number of refugees the US can admit in 2017 to 50,000. You may think it’s a bad idea, but it’s only 30% less than the number admitted in the US between 2013 and 2015, so you don’t have to bring up Hitler…

I don’t know if people realize how ridiculous they are when they bring up the holocaust every time Trump does something they don’t like. Even when they’re right, and they’re often wrong, it’s just stupid. In fact, I think people should really stop bringing up nazism all the time, because not only is it stupid, but it’s also embarrassing. People should probably read more about the Third Reich if they really think that it makes sense to compare Trump to Hitler. They could start by reading Ordinary Men by Christopher Brown, which I briefly discussed the other day, it will give them a sense of what nazism was actually like. Frankly, I suspect that how often you bring up the holocaust is inversely proportional to how much you have read about it, but in any case people should just stop. Even if they only care about political effectiveness, they should refrain from doing that, because they sure as hell aren’t going to convince people who voted for Trump to vote for Democrats by making that kind of comparisons. Again, this is exactly what Bannon wants, only liberals apparently don’t understand that.

But perhaps what drives me crazy the most is the fake outrage and the crocodile tears of so many people who either did exactly what they criticize Trump for right now when they were in charge or are scumbags who have no business lecturing anyone. I have seen countless Democrats post hysterical reactions to Trump’s decision not to take in any more refugees from Syria until he thinks it’s false. As David French points out in the National Review, between 2011 and 2015 (as the civil war in Syria was raging), the US admitted a grand total of 1,883 refugees from Syria. (It was just 96 between 2011 and 2013.) Not to mention the fact that many of the people who pretend to be shocked by Trump’s decision have for years supported policies which prolonged the civil war, because they were pushing for regime change in Syria and didn’t care about anything else. I also wonder where all the people I hear criticizing Trump’s executive order were when Obama was murdering countless innocent people with drones. To be sure, some of them spoke out against this, but not many.

I have even seen Democrats approvingly share Evan McMullin’s tweet quoting Emma Lazarus or citing Dick Cheney, who as everybody knows is a great benefactor of Iraqis, as a moral authority. In case you don’t remember, McMullin was in the CIA between 2003 and 2010, when it was torturing people suspected of terrorism. He didn’t seem very concerned about morality back then, though his newfound interest in the matter warms the heart… But perhaps the worst thing I have seen is this Facebook post by Madeleine Albright, who “felt [that she] had no choice but to speak out against [Trump’s executive order] in the strongest possible terms”, which has been shared more than 100,000 times. Well, I’m really sorry to know that she is so devastated by Trump’s decision, but I still think I should probably remind people that Albright, when asked whether the sanctions against Iraq were justified in view of the 500,000 children that might have died as a result, replied that she thought “the price was worth it”. Hypocrisy, François de la Rochefoucauld famously said, is the homage vice pays to virtue. Well, if you ask me, that’s enough homage paid to virtue.

7 thoughts

  1. “I don’t know if people realize how ridiculous they are when they bring up the holocaust every time Trump does something they don’t like.” Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day.

    1. I fail to see what relevance this fact has. If someone breaks my side-mirror on Holocaust Memorial Day, it doesn’t mean that it makes sense to compare him to Hitler. So if you want to compare Trump to Hitler because of this executive order, you’re going to have to argue that it’s not a completely overblown comparison, and I suspect you won’t find that easy.

  2. You seem to be assuming that hysteria is an ineffective political strategy, but recent events suggest that this assumption is probably false. Recall that the right in the US spent the last eight years on the brink of insanity, flinging non-stop accusations that Obama was a Muslim Kenyan communist who was going to take away all of their guns, that Hillary was a epileptic serial killer involved in a massive pedophile ring, and so on. Not only did this fail to stop the republican party from achieving a string of electoral successes, the most prominent conspiracy theorist of all now sits in the oval office.

    I also find the Nazi comparisons distasteful, but when the President himself is making them– two weeks ago he tweeted “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?”– it seems futile to complain about people who aren’t the president following his example.

    Since the election, I’ve seen a lot of people speculating on what the left need to do and not do in order to stop Trump. Most of the speculation seems to serve principally as a sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy for the speculator– civil libertarians think that the social justice folk need to be reined in, Bernie supporters believe that a move to populist socialism is called for, etc. What is lacking, in all cases, is compelling evidence, because no one really has any idea what political strategies are effective under what conditions. It’s not enough to rely on the conventional wisdom any more.

    1. I’m not assuming that hysteria is an ineffective political strategy in general, I’m just assuming that it is in this particular case. But I agree with you that it needs more explanation, which I plan to give in a follow-up to this post and, even more so, in a post with my analysis of the election and of where American politics is headed. As for the rest, I’m sure you will agree that, just because Trump says ridiculous shit (which nobody in his right mind would deny), it doesn’t meant that we have to do the same thing. Especially if you claim some kind of moral/intellectual superiority, as Trump’s opponents are prone to do.

  3. I was writing something similar when I came across your post. The Albright facebook comment was too good to not include, but I linked to your blog for good measure.

    I wrote something similar, but this throwback to “The US turned away ~100k Jews right before the NAZIS HOLOCAUSTED THEM — How can we turn away Syrian immigrants today?” Is such moralizing garbage uncorrelated with reality. As you noted, we already let in so few refugees, and send child refugees from El Salvador all the time. By absence of action and refugee limits, we have repeated the rejection of ‘100 thousand refugees’ constantly.

    This is an empirical question about measuring how many people we should bring in, how many fit with our country, and acknowledging the reality that people we don’t let in will probably have worse lives or die. Instead it’s become a binary issue with the side that wants to “let in refugees” as a non-measured moral rule, viewing themselves as saviors of the world. With the other side as xenophobes who want everyone to die. Rather than two points on a morally ambiguous sliding scale.

    I will say though that I’m naively skeptical of the claim that Obama murdered lots of innocent civilians with his drones. As far as I’m aware none of us are perfectly aware of his information set. I’m biased towards thinking in most cases injecting entropy into the M.E. is a bad idea, on the other hand while not his biggest fan, I’d like to think Obama is calculating enough to have only used drones when very compelling evidence suggested it was the right choice. Honestly, on this point I’m unsure. I think criticisms probably would need to abstract more to bigger foreign policy failures, rather than malign him as simply murdering civilians due to a base view of the world.


    1. Thanks for sharing my post. I think it has been shown conclusively by The Intercept — see the link in the post — that Obama knowingly killed innocent civilians. However, I agree that, while Obama was pretty bad with drones, he at least dragged his feet when asked to do something crazy by Washington’s foreign policy establishment and, on a few occasions, even refused to do so, which is probably more important and should be put to his credit.

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