Think a Muslim ban is irrelevant to you?

7 min read

An indignant acquaintance demanded to know “why” I (“of all people”) am so upset about the latest of Trump’s outlandish executive orders.  That person didn’t voice objection to my participation in the recent Women’s March, but is befuddled by my response to what is effectively the beginnings of a Muslim Ban.  Here is my answer.

I shouldn’t have to recite my degrees of separation from how this “personally” affects me.  Perhaps it does, perhaps it doesn’t.  (Nonetheless, it’s important to note that – even as a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, upper-middle class, graduate-educated woman – only an uncritical mind could simply assume it doesn’t affect me personally.)  I decline to recite any so-called personal reasons, since personal impact shouldn’t be the primary litmus test used to determine policy stance.  

The policy is a bad one on its own merits, on an empirical basis: 

  • Doesn’t accomplish it’s stated goal.  This is a major windfall to terrorists.  
  • Appears to be commercially-influenced.  Where’s Saudi Arabia, home of the 9/11 hijackers?  Why does the country list align with Trump’s business interests and not with US intelligence assessments?
  • Hurts our diplomatic and economic interests.  Reciprocity of banning individual Americans is only the beginning of how other countries will respond.  
  • Violates our nation’s moral principles.  So much for religious freedom.  Thomas Jefferson, who kept a Quran by his bed, weeps in his grave.
  • Expensive redundant regulation that should enrage small-government apologists.  We’re already doing extreme vetting of asylum-seekers.  US residents were already vetted in order to get their green cards.
  • Statistics and Skittles.  We’re more at risk from European passport-holders.  And the Trump family’s dehumanizing Skittles analogy was debunked last year with a dump-truck pile of colorful, fruity candies.
  • Experts across the political spectrum also think it’s empirically misguided.  Dick Cheney and Madeline Albright are outraged.  The ACLU quickly won in court against the poorly-worded, sloppily-conceived executive overreach.

Like most of Trump’s campaign promises and first-week executive actions, this one preys upon our irrational fears and reduces us as a people.  

Instead of thinking through the above points, people commonly define their stance based on whether the issue affects them.  That selfish evaluation mechanism passes for a socially-acceptable method of arriving at one’s political opinions.  Case in point: the weekend before last, a self-proclaimed liberal millennial spat out this red-faced proclamation to a gathering of his left-leaning friends: “My life won’t change one bit under Trump. It will never touch me personally, so I don’t care”.  His stunning lack of self-awareness, compassion and insight was only mildly rebuked.  Narcissism is now a political ideology. 

The politics of narrow self-interest engendered, for example, the Frankenstein phenomenon of Bernie-fanatic, big-government Libertarian, pro-trade isolationist, anti-science Musk-worshipping “benevolent” misogynists who label themselves as “politically progressive”.  Here in Denver, I’ve seen those people spend the past year-and-a-half articulating distaste for Trump and the alt-right… by unironically using Trump-style logic and rhetoric. 

Among the many morality lessons Trump offers us is a large-scale demonstration of what the politics of narcissism produce:  He’s on logically inconsistent sides of issues, appears to not think through consequences, proposes policy counterproductive to his stated goals, obsesses about ratings, makes quick enemies of would-be allies and is already perceived by the world as a petulant child (and is allegedly having tantrums like one).  If you can’t see why a Muslim Ban is bad without feeling affected yourself, or knowing someone affected, or knowing that I know someone affected, then you fundamentally share some of Trump’s worldview.

“First they came for…” is a moving argument.  Self-interested complacency will eventually violate your own self-interest.  But, it’s not persuasive to many today.  (And, it’s not widely known. Nobody I’ve asked in Denver since November 9 is familiar with that famous poem by an anti-Nazi German pastor whose activism sent him to a concentration camp.)  Too many people can’t imagine the logical succession that leads from attacks on Others to attacks on themselves.  They seem incapable of grasping that that we’re all sitting at the bottom of a slippery slope, no matter our perceived current level of comforting privilege.  

People don’t see when they are already being adversely affected (hence the common practice of unwittingly voting against one’s self-interest). They don’t consider effects on their family members, friends, and colleagues when they decide if something affects them (hence the common practice of not advocating for rights of other genders, races, religions, etc).  “Me” is literally only me — not me plus people who affect me and matter to me.

Last year, millions of millennials (and tens of millions of people overall) were vociferously certain that voting in elections doesn’t matter – because they couldn’t fathom how any presidential, congressional, supreme court or other judicial, regulatory agency, gubernatorial, state legislative, mayoral or city council actions would ever impact their lives.  That is both an error of not realizing that they will indeed be adversely affected, and also an error of not caring that people they know will be adversely affected.  Therefore, it’s not a great argument to ask people to realize that they could be harmed personally by a Muslim Ban, or to expect people to care that they know other people who are harmed by a Muslim Ban.  Waiting for such epiphanies is like waiting for “demographics” to organically eradicate right-wing extremism in America.  

We can’t wait for that, because, for example:

  • A white hippie guy just posted on Facebook that he’s finally speaking out against Trump because the temporary ban on arrivals by citizens of 7 countries “directly affects people” he knows.  However, though he has many women friends, a mother and a sister, he hasn’t felt outraged to speak against Trump’s anti-women rhetoric and policies.  (Error of inconsistent recognition that policies harm people you know.)
  • Lots of women voted for Trump, and though many undoubtedly already have a pit in their stomach about that decision, many didn’t see the post-inaugural Women’s March as relevant, because they “feel equal” (though, empirically, they are not equal – in terms of healthcare, safety, wages, legal protections, etc).  And, failing an accurate self-assessment, it still wasn’t motivating enough to them that their female and male friends do experience and observe gender inequality and thus chose to march.  (Error of not realizing that you are harmed.  Error of not caring that people you know are harmed.)
  • A white woman whose politics should make supporting Black Lives Matter axiomatic hasn’t supported that cause because the one black person she knows is the ex-husband she resents.  (Error of not caring that people you know are harmed.)

We can’t wait for people to realize that an issue does indeed affect them “personally”.  We can’t wait for people to recognize that they do know people who are “directly affected”.  We can’t wait for people to cross paths with individuals in an at-risk group and deem them likable enough on an interpersonal level to warrant concern.  On that last point:  We can’t demand support of women’s rights because women are sweet, or racial equality because we like hip-hop …. or religious freedom because we enjoy the family-owned Syrian falafel restaurant downtown. 

In the above cases, we could explain how this policy could eventually “personally” affect the now-indifferent person.  We could try to awaken them to recognize the link, to draw their boundary of self a little wider.  But such politics of narcissism leads to conclusions as unstable as the status of our personal relationships and our ever-shifting senses of identity and allegiance.  Moreover, it simply shouldn’t be necessary.  It should be sufficient that the policies hurt anyone, lack integrity with our values as a nation, and contradict empirical evidence.

So, in answer to your question:  No, I won’t satisfy you with my “personal” reasons for sorrow and outrage at what happened at our airports over the weekend.  It requires no justification other than I’m a human being who thinks critically.  Reciting my personal association with the issue would be a capitulation to your politics of narcissism – arguing my point on your parochial, self-interested terms.  

Men should attend women’s rights marches.  White, Asian, and Hispanic people should rally for Black Lives Matter.  Straight people should protect gay marriage.  Those not of child-bearing age/gender should defend access to contraception and reproductive choice.  Rich people should vote against taxes, tariffs, and program cuts that burden low-income people.  Millennials should care about losses to Medicare if the ACA is repealed.  Retired people should favor better public education.  Humans today should mobilize to mitigate climate change’s harm to future generations.  Those who don’t happen to live on the Standing Rock Reservation should care about the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Non-Arab, non-Muslim US citizens should be outraged about passport-based travel restrictions on US residents and visitors.  “Period.”

Denver, January 29, 2017

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