Picking on immigrants and refugees is the act of a sadistic bully, since they are the one fairly large group of residents of the United States whose constitutional rights are disputed. The executive order Trump signed late on Friday suspending entrance to the United States for citizens of seven countries and canceling the US refugee program for four months is probably illegal. The 1965 immigration law forbids discriminating against immigrants on the basis of nationality. But the courts are often deferential to presidential prerogatives on foreign policy, and in principle the designation of certain countries as security problems requiring extra care in the issuance of visas is probably within the purview of the White House.
The political goal of the order was to whip up anti-Muslim hatred. No immigrant from any of the seven countries Trump named has been guilty of terrorism on US soil in this century. Trump said he wanted to prioritize Christian immigration and refugee resettlement from e.g. Syria, implying that the decks have been stacked in favor of Muslims. Giving persons of a particular faith precedence in immigration is unconstitutional. This measure was his Orwellian two minutes hate against Muslims and immigrants. In an incident that may or may not be related, a mosque was burned down in Texas on Saturday.
A recent study of psychopaths, narcissists and sadists found that of the three personality types, “Only sadists increased the intensity of their attack once they realized the person would not fight back…” Even psychopaths and narcissists weren’t eager to pounce that way.
Iran immediately retaliated by banning US citizens from going to that country. Given that Iran has a GDP the size of Poland and is now open for business, Trump just cost US companies billions and billions of dollars inasmuch as European, Russian and Chinese firms will now get Iran’s new business. You even have to worry about the follow-through on already-concluded deals. Even the Iraqi legislature began debating whether to exclude Americans, including contractors.
One thing Trump did not count on was that there would be a spontaneous movement against the arrests of immigrants at JFK and other airports across the country, with some 2,000 flooding into JFK.
The executive orders signed this past week by Trump appear in the main to have been drafted by alt-Neo-Nazi Steve Bannon, the Rasputin of this administration. They were not passed by the departments they affected. In another in a series of coups, Trump on Saturday kicked the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff off of the principals committee of the National Security Council. They will attend only when their expertise is required. He then appointed Bannon to that key body, which advises the president on national security issues. Knowledgeable intelligence and military leaders will therefore often not be in a position to contradict Bannon on the NSC, giving him enormous unchecked and unelected power (NSC staffers also don’t have to be confirmed by the Senate). NSC staffers have been known to ask the CIA to do illegal things like go after Americans on American soil, and I think we may expect a lot of that sort of thing in this administration. Bannon is the CEO of the far right extremist purveyor of fake news, Breitbart, today’s equivalent of the Völkischer Beobachter, the newspaper of the national socialist workers party in 1930s Germany.
The way Bannon crafted the executive order on immigrants that the pliant Trump eagerly signed was guaranteed to be a disaster. It would have been easy enough to say that the provisions would come into effect one month hence. Instead, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was instructed to apply its provisions immediately. This step caused some over 100 passengers to be arrested on arrival and put in holding cells at the airport on Saturday, even though they had a valid visa or green card (permanent residency). Thousands of persons with valid visas or green cards (permanent residency, the last step before citizenship) who happened to be abroad on Friday were effectively locked out of the country. These included nearly 200 Google employees caught abroad on Saturday, whom the company was trying to get back into the country.
One of the first to be arrested, at JFK, was Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an Iraqi who had served as an interpreter for the US army in Iraq. Despite Darweesh’s own patience with it all, that he was one of the first to be arrested gave the Trump-Bannon piece of fascism a further black eye. Darweesh’s vital work put his own life in profound danger and he helped avoid casualties among our troops. For him to be humiliated and handcuffed and reduced to tears spoke volumes about the true nature of the executive order.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on January 29, 2017, on Informed Comment: Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion, a website featuring commentary by Professor Juan Cole. It was reproduced here with the consent of Professor Cole.