Day 14, 1,448 days to go if we are lucky, the world doesn’t blow up, the Republicans don’t simply announce Trump is now emperor, and we otherwise avoid a disaster that cannot be fixed…
When I moved to Massachusetts it was to work on the best methods for evaluating education and other social programs and policies. One of the central issues in evaluation, if you do it carefully, is to look for unintended (and potentially very negative) consequences. Some of the concerns about early Trump policies, along with worries about how willing to lie the White House is now (and in some cases the fear that they don’t know they’re lying because they’re delusional), are about unintended consequences. The “Muslim ban” is clearly unconstitutional, but along with the outrage many people, including me, feel over it, and the joy many of Trump’s supporters feel that he is “doing something” to protect against terrorism, there is the question of what it will actually do. Given the nations he has targeted, there is little reason to think it is protecting anyone.
But the unintended consequences loom large. As the State Department’s growing list of signatories to a dissenting letter shows, people who actually understand something about how ISIS and similar groups recruit know the dangers of this blanket approach. They understand that this is exactly the kind of anti-Muslim broad brush policy that links one of the world’s major religions to small, cultish, violent groups that the United States should avoid at all costs. We should avoid this sort of policy not just because it is wrong, and unconstitutional, but also because it sends the message to Muslims everywhere that the US is a bigoted, anti-Muslim nation that should be opposed at all costs. They don’t hate us because of our lifestyle, as George W. Bush claimed, they hate us because of what we have done in the Middle East. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support Israel, for example, but we should at least be nuanced enough as thinkers to avoid dropping a rhetorical nuclear bomb when we’re trying to say a few specific groups are bad.
Bannon seems to have a very strong hand in the policy of the last two weeks, which raises the more frightening prospect that these aren’t unintended consequences at all. Perhaps the people with the most say in the White House want a religious war, want a race war, want anything they can get to move the nation away from democracy. Was Trump lying or simply delusional when he insisted his inaugural crowd was larger than Obama’s in 2009? Even if he is delusional, is there any reason to think Bannon is as well? Or does he, like Trump, simply disdain democracy and see open hostility toward an increasingly interconnected world as desirable? What is more dangerous, the men driving everyone toward a ditch while saying the road looks clear for miles, or the men driving everyone toward a ditch because they want to go into the ditch?