Calling Donald Trump’s Travel Freeze a “Muslim Ban” Is a Very Bad Idea

What happens if Donald Trump actually does ban Muslims?

With Donald Trump now entrenched in the White House, a couple things have become abundantly clear. First, Trump intends to honor his campaign promises or to at least try. Second, most of the media intends to aggressively fight the President at every turn.

Of particular note is the mainstream media’s newfound, shall we say, hyper-vigilance when it comes to scrutiny of the executive branch. This is undeniably a positive.

In fact, it’s probably the only positive the voting public could’ve reasonably hoped for in the wake of the 2016 election given the awful options. Even if you believe the liberal corporate media outlets are going overboard in their anti-Trump furor, you must admit the tension is healthier for the country than the media chumminess that dominated the Obama years (and which would’ve gotten worse had Hillary Clinton won the presidency, incidentally).

That said, it’s a fine line between vigilance and Fox News/Breitbart, and the MSM’s branding of Trump’s travel freeze as a “Muslim ban” is crossing that line.

Calling Executive Order 13769 a “Muslim ban” embraces the inaccurate, sensationalized, agenda-driven axe-grinding that has reduced the credibility of those right-wing platforms to rubble outside the GOP echo chamber. That’s a bad thing.

Let’s start with the obvious—if you read the full text of the order, then you can see for yourself that it’s impossible to characterize the temporary ban as a Muslim ban with any credibility.

There are at least 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet while the seven target countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) have a total population of roughly 222 million people. Even if you pretend all 222 million are Muslim, which is clearly not the case, that means 86 percent of the global Muslim population is not directly targeted by the ban. All seven countries do boast predominately Muslim populations, but all seven countries were identified originally by Barack Obama’s administration as worthy of additional restriction. Regardless of what you think about the policy, it’s safe to say these countries present some sort of issue that others with Muslim majorities do not. It wasn’t their Muslim majority that landed them in hot water with Obama so arguing it’s their Muslim majority that now draws the ire of Trump makes little sense.

Additionally, non-Muslims are neither exempted from the freeze nor otherwise given preferential treatment while it is in effect.

The order is simply not a Muslim ban and calling it one is a lie. Worse, it’s easily recognizable as a lie to most reasonable people.

Worse still, it’s an unnecessary lie because Executive Order 13769 need not be a genuine Muslim ban to be bad policy. It’s bad enough as is.

It’s true that the United States has seen its share of foreign-born terrorists and Europe is currently grappling with the issue, which some observers connect to the influx of refugees from the Middle East. Even so, there’s no steady stream of jihadists sneaking through the US immigration defenses. The chances of a foreign-born terrorist triggering a mass event in this country are still very low. Consequently, the direct cost of the travel ban will be paid disproportionately by innocent people who’ve already been through hell and whose great sin is being born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

That’s a bad look for any country, but an especially bad look for one that likes to claim the moral high ground on the international stage.

There’s also the indirect cost to consider i.e. the damage done to the US reputation and the ability of Muslim extremists to profit from this damage. Generally speaking, I find it hard to believe something like the travel ban would spark extremist tendencies where none existed before, but it ain’t gonna help. The more pressing issue is that such a sweeping departure from traditional American policy makes an already-anxious world more anxious, which is similarly unhelpful.

Granted, these costs might be worth paying if the executive order were likely to make much difference.

The threat of foreign-born attackers may be statistically small, but it still must be taken seriously by any President of the United States. Alas, the ugly reality is that the US government guarantees a certain level of incompetence. Whether it’s the individuals doing the work or the sheer complexity of the operation that compromises the feds is irrelevant for these purposes. What is relevant is the daily comedy of errors you see from the DMV, the TSA, the IRS, the post office, Congress, etc. That’s not a coincidence nor is there any reason to think things will be different under President Donald Trump.

It stands to reason, then, that any changes to the visa-screening process and overall vetting protocol are unlikely to have any profound effect. They are more likely to be a high-profile shuffling of the deck.

But let’s say you disagree. Let’s say you believe the temporary travel ban is necessary and appropriate.

Even then, there is ample ground to criticize. It lacked critical nuance with regard to green-card holders, dual-citizens and applicants who’d advanced to the latter stages of the immigration process. Its execution was sloppy and made a scary situation for many people worse. The Trump administration made virtually no effort to balance its impact with the desire for secrecy. And on and on and on.

However, by insisting on the misnomer of “Muslim ban,” the media implies the truth of the matter isn’t bad enough, that it must be exaggerated to effectively fuel criticism. Instead of attacking the policy with almost unassailable merit, they attack using clumsy and transparent fabrications, which play wonderfully to those who are beyond reason and damage their credibility with anyone else.

Even amongst the partisan cheerleaders, though, there is an inevitable cost.

Much of the outrage over the executive order is driven by the speculation that Donald Trump eventually will ban Muslims from entering the country (as well as persecute other minority groups) and this is merely the first step. Some of the speculation is pure paranoia; some of it is justified based on Trump’s hostile rhetoric. Either way, what if the speculation is right? What if this really is the first move in a nefarious plot to install white supremacy as the United States’ governing theory?

Then the need for perspective and accurate criticism is even more crucial to build and sustain an effective resistance.

Human beings can’t be told the sky is falling on a daily basis unless the sky is falling. Maybe you can fool us for a while, but eventually, we will notice the sky is still where it’s supposed to be. Once that happens, we start ignoring the warning.

I think there’s even a fable written about the dynamic.

If the media outlets aren’t more careful and keep passing off doomsday speculation as fact, then they run the risk that nobody will be paying attention when their speculation is fact.