The only appropriate reaction to Donald Trump's proposal to subject entering Muslims — tourists and prospective immigrants — to an "ideological test" is disgust and laughter. Disgust at what he is proposing and laughter at who is proposing it.
Instead, some conservatives are responding quite warmly to Trump's speech — and they include not just right-wing nuts such as Robert Spencer, at Jihad Watch, but also some sensible #NeverTrump libertarian conservatives such as the National Review's Charles Cooke, someone whom I genuinely admire.
Trump pledged this week that, if elected, his administration "will speak out against the oppression of women, gays, and people of different beliefs." He promised to restore a discarded Cold War-era questionnaire not only for the sake of security — but also purity. "Nor can we let the hateful ideology of Radical Islam — its oppression of women, gays, children, and nonbelievers — be allowed to reside or spread within our own countries," he harrumphed.
An intolerant reactionary assuming the mantle of progressive tolerance would be absurd under any circumstances. But it is especially so given that Trump himself is a walking, talking peddler of "hateful ideology" who has no respect for the very Constitution (as I have written previously) that he now seeks to defend.
Recall that this activist against "hateful ideologies" launched his candidacy by calling Hispanics "rapists and criminals," among other things, and has made unleashing a massive police apparatus to hound them out of the country the central plank of his campaign. And his objectification of women is only slightly less offensive than the Saudi mullahs whom he lambasts. His nasty anti-woman name-calling became the stuff of ads by his own GOP rival, Carly Fiorina. More tellingly, his only objection back in 1999 to Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky was Clinton's taste in women. "People would have been more forgiving if he'd had an affair with a really beautiful woman of sophistication" declared this boor.
He's fine with women in the military — so long as they don't mind getting raped now and then. Witness his response to the problem of sexual assault in the military: "What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?"
Trump, however, is a consistent champion of gay rights, right? Wrong. The 2016 GOP platform remains implacably opposed to gay marriage — defining marriage as between a man and a woman. And Trump himself has promised to appoint justices who'd reverse the Supreme Court's recent gay marriage ruling.
Nor are Trump's backers averse to violence against gays. Some even regard the Orlando gay nightclub shooter as God's emissary to smite the sodomites in line with Biblical prophecy. (Question: If Trump can ban anti-gay Muslims, should other countries be able to ban anti-gay American Christians?). And although Trump wants Muslims to tolerate "nonbelievers," he shows little tolerance himself for dissenters, even repeatedly encouraging his supporters to beat up protesters at rallies. So much for protecting American values.
All of this shows that Trump and many of his supporters wouldn't pass the ideological test that they espouse for Muslims. But the case against Trump's test isn't just that in Trump's mouth it is a sham and a joke, but it is fundamentally flawed.
Like Cooke, an English émigré in the process of obtaining his American citizenship, I'm "fine" with background checks that vet immigrants for criminal activity, treason, terrorism, or any use of violence to promote their ends (although screening for “moral turpitude” such as prostitution, which happens to be legal in Las Vegas, is no business of the government and, unlike Cooke, is not “fine” with me). Even civics tests for citizenship are largely unobjectionable. But what's not okay is letting the "federal government" ensure that only those "invested" in what Thomas Jefferson called "temperate liberty" are admitted into the country, as Cooke insists. (Tellingly, although Jefferson worried about the ability of immigrants from European monarchies to acquire habits of republican self-governance, he never proposed slamming the door on them.)
And this is not because the kind of intrusive questioning such litmus tests would involve — for example, requiring Muslims to prove that they don't believe in those aspects of their religion that allegedly conflict with liberal values — would violate the First Amendment rights of prospective immigrants; Cooke and his National Review colleagues are quite right that foreigners acquire such rights only after they are admitted. Rather, it is because no believer in limited government should be comfortable with handing Uncle Sam the power to demand allegiance to contested values, not even from prospective immigrants.
If President Trump can demand that Muslims believe in his version of women's equality — whatever that might be — what's to stop President Hillary Clinton from demanding allegiance to her version of women's rights? She could well make belief in reproductive rights a pre-condition for admitting Catholics. Or demand that prospective immigrants of any faith or persuasion adhere to liberal notions of gender equality and endorse affirmative action and eliminating the wage gap. How about government-funded child care so that women can be truly equal with men?
The possibilities are endless but, at the very least, endorsing the notion of litmus test will open endless ideological battles as to what this test ought to be, politicizing immigration policy even more. If liberals, conservatives, and everyone in between can’t agree on what exactly counts as liberty, equality, and justice in other areas, why would they agree on them when it comes to immigration?
This is hardly a can of worms that self-respecting limited government conservatives should want to open. Donald Trump is being too clever by half by cloaking his anti-immigration and anti-Muslim campaign in progressive garb. No one should fall for it — especially those in the #NeverTrump camp.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article mischaracterized a writer's views. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.