We live in interesting times. In a little over a week since his inauguration, President Trump has instigated perhaps the most isolationist agenda ever conceived by a world power. By a mixture of legislation and construction, President Trump seems determined to take America to some kind of modern day Xanadu where it will be safe from the big bad world behind its walls and impenetrable xenophobic legislation. Apparently this will make America great again.
Wrong. Totally wrong.
The construction of a physical wall between the United States and Mexico in order to limit illegal Mexican immigration is proffered as a social measure – an effort to protect American jobs from immigrants working illegally. But of course the replacement of economically invisible Mexicans by American workers paying American taxes provides a more potent legislative stimulus and presumably underpins the legislation. The translation of this economic concept into a physical wall is somehow both tragic and comic – tragic that any adult can believe in its effectiveness and comic in its misplaced logic. The majority of illegal immigrants enter via airports and conventional border crossings. The decision to build the wall is antagonistic and stupid. It has riled not only Mexico itself but more or less every Hispanic living in the United States.
But the wall, magnificently absurd though it is, pales into insignificance next to the travel ban imposed on refugees and residents of a range of Islamic countries. This appallingly misplaced legislation serves no useful purpose and runs counter to all logic. Countries have traditionally benefited from refugees bringing new ideas and challenging the status quo. This is good not bad.
In the space of two asinine pieces of legislation, President Trump has antagonised a major ethnic group within his own borders and virtually declared war on Islam.
This is not how you make friends and influence people. This is not how countries interact. Let us not delude ourselves that Trump’s attitude is exciting and fresh. It is cringingly embarrassing. This is not how presidents of world powers behave. And far from being fresh air in the corridors of the White House, this comes across as tired bombast from a man who simply falls short of the job requirements. Mr Trump is an international laughing stock.
Worse than Mr Trump’s standing is the message from history. The wave of state endorsed anti-Islamic feeling we seem to be seeing in the United States has a chilling historical precedent in the treatment of Jews in Germany during the 1930s when economic and political persecution came to a head on the night of the ninth of November 1938. Buoyed by populist, state-supported racism, the people of Germany destroyed around 8000 synagogues and Jewish businesses in what came to be known as Kristallnacht.
We would be wrong to delude ourselves into believing that this could only happen somewhere else and at another time. In many respects, the seeds are already sown by the sentiments encapsulated in this legislation. America is no longer a country where Muslims can feel welcome. It is barely a country where they can feel safe. And in some places it is not even that.
The ethical arguments against these new pieces of legislation are strong. But even if we put aside these ethical arguments, the ultimate destination of the legislation is against the United States best interests. Withdrawing behind one’s borders and hunkering down is not the way to secure American influence on the world stage. Much of the security of the world over the last half century has been predicated on a balance between two world superpowers. If we are reduced to a single world superpower – Russia – the world’s a much more unsettling place. America’s reluctance to endorse NATO further supports the view that the US is abrogating its responsibility as a world superpower. Retiring behind its own front door and closing the curtains will not make America great again. President Trump is wrong. He needs to rethink.
To quote Oliver Cromwell “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ – think it possible you may be mistaken”.