The executive order President Trump signed last week barring all refugees from the United States and banning entry by natives of seven Muslim-majority countries was many things: incompetently drafted, chaotically executed, driven by hate and fear, an offense to American values, a blow to our efforts to combat terrorism and convince young people not to join ISIS, to name just a few. But it was also something else: just the beginning.
This White House is embarking on a long-term project that goes way beyond an executive order here or there. What they're after is nothing less than a rollback of American diversity.
There are some promises Trump is not going to keep — remember when he was going to stick it to Wall Street? Ha ha, no. But the central promise of the Trump campaign, the one that got all those white voters in key states out to the polls, was a pledge to wind back the clock to an earlier time, sometime around the 1950s or 1960s. It was a time when the steel mills and coal mines were humming, when a man was a man and a woman knew her place, and when you didn't have to worry that you'd go down to the supermarket and have to hear people speaking Spanish, let alone Arabic. Trump can't actually put the whole country in a time machine, but there are some facets of this promise he can make good on.
Those hoping for a fulfillment of that promise were no doubt heartened when he announced that he would make Jeff Sessions the nation's chief law enforcement officer. Sessions may have gotten lots of criticism over civil rights, but it's his passionate opposition to immigration that has truly marked his Senate career. He was not only a vehement opponent of comprehensive reform that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, he is one of the few politicians who favors reducing legal immigration. He has objected to allowing immigrants to serve in the military, and praised a racist 1924 immigration law. As The Washington Post put it, "Sessions' ideology is driven by a visceral aversion to what he calls 'soulless globalism,' a term used on the extreme right to convey a perceived threat to the United States from free trade, international alliances, and the immigration of nonwhites."
And he'll have plenty of company in the Trump administration. It was no surprise that within days of taking office Trump would put a sign on the country's door saying "Muslims not welcome." It may not have been the "complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" he proposed in 2015, but it was a start, barring all refugees and natives of seven Muslim-majority countries. The stated rationale is preventing terrorism, despite the fact that going through the process of refugee resettlement is about the most cumbersome way imaginable to get to the United States if you were planning an attack, not to mention that the total number of fatal attacks carried out in America by natives of those seven countries is...zero. The order even barred legal permanent residents of the U.S. with green cards from entering if they had been born in one of those countries and were traveling abroad.
One of the arguments the White House and its surrogates are making is that this order only applies to seven countries, and there are lots of Muslims from other countries who are still free to visit the United States. Which is true — right now. But this is one of those policies that can easily be modified later on, just by adding more countries to the list.
And that's not all. As The Washington Post reported on Tuesday, the administration is circulating drafts of orders that would not only tighten immigration restrictions but even deport immigrants who receive public assistance, like tens of millions of native-born Americans do every year. As the Los Angeles Times reported, "Trump's top advisers on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior adviser Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment to fundamentally transform how the U.S. decides who is allowed into the country and to block a generation of people who, in their view, won't assimilate into American society." They and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn are particularly intent on keeping out Muslim immigrants out of fear that "parts of American cities will begin to replicate disaffected and disenfranchised immigrant neighborhoods in France, Germany, and Belgium that have been home to perpetrators of terrorist attacks in Europe in recent years."
We should pause to recognize that the reason the United States has suffered so few jihadi terrorist attacks since 9/11 is precisely because we do such a good job assimilating immigrants, and we always have. Many Muslims in Europe feel estranged from their countries, but American Muslims as a group are extremely patriotic and much more resistant to the siren call of groups like ISIS that try to enlist them in a war against the West.
And as for the generation of immigrants, particularly from Spanish-speaking countries, who won't assimilate? That's the same bogus argument that has been used as an excuse for stirring up hatred against every generation of immigrants from every part of the world, whether it was the Irish or the Italians or the Jews or the Chinese. In fact, the current wave of Latino immigrants is learning English faster than previous immigrants did.
But that's a factual argument, and as we know, Trump has little patience for such things. When he went before rabid crowds and told them he'd build a wall to the south and keep out scary Muslims, he wasn't dealing in facts or logic. It wasn't even about safety, or terrorism, or jobs. It was about saying to white voters: I'm going to give you your country back. It doesn't belong to them, the people who don't look like you or don't talk like you or don't worship like you. It belongs to you, and we're going to get rid of them.
They believed every word of it, and Trump is already following through. And he hasn't even been in office for two weeks.