Saturday, December 24, 2016

Visualizing the Trump Presidency. Scenario #3: the Muslim Ban

This is part of a series imagining the likely twists and turns of Donald Trump's presidency before he is actually inaugurated. See earlier Scenarios here and here.

In the first few weeks of the Trump Presidency, the proposal he had mentioned many times during the campaign, to ban all Muslims from entering the country, is effectively stalled.

He repeats the proposal several times in speeches and on Twitter, but his Cabinet officials and advisers all tell him it's actually not possible to do -- just as they had told him before. The best that can be done is the secret Muslim registry and a ban on immigrants from "Muslim-majority countries." So this is what goes forward. (Outrage greets these proposals on the left and in the Muslim American community every time Trump goes to this topic, but it is inconsequential. What we have to say is going to be inconsequential until he actually takes action. Which he will.)

There are many problems with even the modified ban. The list of proposed countries on Trump's list includes many allies, like Turkey and Egypt, who are gravely offended at being treated this way, and excludes countries with hundreds of millions of Muslims, like India, that are not Muslim majority. In an interview on CNN, Jake Tapper mentions to Trump that there are more Indian Muslims in the U.S. than there are Muslims from Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iraq combined. President Trump, unphased, simply responds that "We'll have to look into that." India stays off the list, while Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia stay on.

Several Persian Gulf countries, including, surprisingly, Kuwait, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, all indicate that if this proposal were to go through that they would have no choice but to reciprocate -- and ban any U.S. citizens from visiting or working in those countries. This does not go over well with the large number of American business leaders who have long and deep business ties to the region.  

Turkey and Egypt, both huge strategic partners for U.S. interests in the Middle East, push back aggressively against Trump's proposal. Egypt has significant leverage over U.S. interests in Israel, while cooperation with Turkey -- where the U.S. has a major airbase at Incirlik -- is essential to U.S. actions in the ongoing battles with ISIS and Assad in Iraq and Syria. But the leaders of both countries are offered something in private (presumably military in nature) and subsequently their criticisms are muted.

Still, with all of these problems the negotiations around even the modified Muslim ban are stalled out again, while Trump focuses on domestic issues for a few weeks. 

Then in June 2017, a significant terrorist incident of some sort occurs on U.S. soil. 

The profile of the terrorist is a bit different from what we've seen before: a young Indian-American college Student from a Small Liberal Arts College has been angered at the direction Trump has been trying to take the country, and at the weak (and, as we've seen, inconsequential) resistance to the Muslim ban from the liberal establishment. He decides to resort to violence. The Student, as he is called by the media, leaves extensive commentary explaining how he is not in fact affiliated with ISIS, but has rather been inspired by Malcolm X (specifically, early Malcolm X) and Che Guevara. He writes an extensive critique of Trump's policies and Trumpism that commentators will later read and pronounce accurate. 

And the Student does something violent. The number of deaths and the method does not matter. It may not be very many people. But the striking profile of the Student -- born and raised in the U.S. -- and his articulate critique, all grab the nation's attention. He has fans on Twitter. There is a worry that his action will lead to copycat actions...

Trump is suddenly very motivated to act. He leaves behind his Secretary of Homeland Security. He leaves behind his Secretary of State. He instead huddles in the Oval Office with Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, and of course his adult children, and emerges with a signed executive order requiring that Muslims in the United States sign an oath of allegiance to the "laws and principles of the United States." Those that refuse to sign it will be considered suspected terrorists and monitored and investigated by the FBI. 

From a legal standpoint, the executive order is a disaster for Trump. It is immediately challenged by civil liberties groups and there appears to be a strong indication that it will be declared unconstitutional by the courts. But this will take several weeks, and in the meantime the authorities begin to compile a list of American Muslims and print out millions of copies of The Statement of Allegiance. The media debates the merits of the proposal.

But the real disaster is within the Muslim community. The numbers of hate crimes against Muslims, already increased since Trump's nomination to the Presidency and his surprise victory at the polls in November 2016, spike to new and unheard-of levels. The number of deaths of Muslims at the hands of other Americans quickly exceeds the number of people that were killed in the Student's original terrorist action. These deaths, of course, are called "hate crimes" rather than "terrorism." The President expresses some regret about "bullying," but also says that "given what the Student did," some retribution is "understandable." 

Bullying in schools is rampant and vicious in a way that hasn't been seen in generations. Some young Muslims commit suicide. Others, including some prominent business executives, declare their intention to leave the U.S. A number of Mosques, targeted by drive-by shootings, are forced to close for the safety of their congregations. Many Muslims and Sikhs decide to give up any visible evidence of religious affiliation as a matter of self-protection. They take their religious beliefs and practices underground. 

And Trump lets it happen. President Trump, in fact, is the one who makes it happen. 

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