Don't let Trump re-write America's values

President Donald Trump has manufactured a crisis to justify a ban on entry into the country by people from seven predominantly Muslim nations, a move that is plainly discriminatory, profoundly un-American and virtually certain to put this nation at greater risk. It is a classic tactic of autocrats seeking to consolidate power. Along with the news that Mr. Trump's alt-right adviser Stephen Bannon will have a permanent seat on the National Security Council but the Director of National Intelligence and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will not, the immigration and refugee bans represent the Trump administration's eagerness to politicize the most fundamental duty of the president — to keep the American people safe — and the triumph of a dark, authoritarian vision over the nation's core values. The administration's actions are abhorrent, and over the weekend thousands of Americans gathered at airports, outside the White House and in cities across the nation to express their revulsion at what was being done in their name.

Mr. Trump's new policies target citizens of Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and Libya. They would not have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks, which were perpetrated by 15 people from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Lebanon and one from Egypt; the Boston Marathon bombings, which were carried out by two brothers of Chechen descent who emigrated from Kyrgyzstan, one of whom was a U.S. citizen; the San Bernardino shootings, which were committed by an American-born U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent and a lawful permanent U.S. resident from Pakistan; the Pulse nightclub shootings, carried out by an American-born U.S. citizen of Afghan descent; the Fort Hood shootings, perpetrated by an American-born U.S. citizen whose parents were Palestinian; or the recent killing of four Marines in Tennessee by a U.S. citizen who was born in Kuwait.


What has put American lives at risk and played a signal role in several of those attacks was the ability of ISIS and other foreign terrorist groups to radicalize from afar with a message that the West and the United States specifically are at war with Islam. President Trump has now made himself ISIS' propagandist in chief, not only by implementing what former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani referred to as a legal work-around for candidate Trump's promised Muslim ban but also by the president's suggestion that he would make exemptions for Christians from those seven nations who had experienced religious persecution. He couldn't have done a better job of conveying the impression of a religious war if he'd tried. Mr. Trump has at once increased the likelihood of attacks from self-radicalized Americans of the sort that have claimed scores of lives in recent years and made more dangerous the job of American troops on the ground in places like Iraq where cooperation with local forces is essential in the fight against ISIS.

No new event prompted this policy. It is not a reflection of a specific threat. It does not target people based on any suspicion that they personally are involved in terrorist activities. Rather, it has led to the detention or the removal from flights of a wide diversity of people — artists, businesspeople, grandparents and young mothers — who have only two things in common: they are Muslim, and they come from countries where President Trump has no business interests.


The order was carried out with chaos and confusion, largely because it reflected no discernible consultation with those actually experienced in the nation's immigration system and no preparation. Details like whether green card holders would be subject to the ban changed based on advisers' appearances on television talk shows, and authority to use discretion in carrying out the order devolved to individual border agents who were provided with no guidance on the matter.

The ban on refugees affects not just places with connections to Islamic extremism, like Syria, but also nations in Africa, Asia and South America where conflicts place millions at risk of losing their lives. That this profound turning of America's back on the world's most vulnerable citizens came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day underscores its callousness and cruelty. America's record of denying entry to Jews seeking to escape the Nazi regime is an eternal stain on our nation's history, yet it is the kind of profound moral error the Trump administration seems prone not only to repeat but to couch as a virtue.

President Trump's statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day, unlike those of all his predecessors, avoided any mention of the mass murder of Jews or the anti-Semitism that fueled it, instead honoring generically "the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust." When called on it, administration officials tried to claim theirs was actually the superior approach for including by implication all those subject to Nazi horrors (though it didn't mention the Roma, gays, the disabled, communists and others who were targeted either). In doing so, they echoed a favored tactic of Holocaust deniers who seek to downplay the truth that the Nazi's "final solution" was a concerted effort to wipe Jews off the face of the earth.

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway has defended the administration's actions as delivering the kind of "shock to the system" President Trump promised during the campaign. This is not a "shock to the system." It is an affront to basic American values and an assault on the separation of powers, and a growing number of conservative voices, including some Republican members of Congress, are saying so. The Trump administration has walled itself off in a self-serving narrative that all such criticism, whether in the media or from figures like Sen. John McCain, is proof that they are fulfilling their mission to upend the status quo. And sadly, too many Republican leaders in Congress, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are allowing the administration's delusions to flourish unchecked in what increasingly appears to be a misguided belief that the president will allow them to drive the agenda on taxes or entitlement reform or whatever else matters to them most.

What can the public do about this? The protests at airports had a clear impact. They didn't prompt the Trump administration to reverse course, but they clearly rattled Republicans in Congress. We need think back no further than the tea party protests at congressional town hall meetings during the debate over the Affordable Care Act to see that sustained public pressure can change behavior on Capitol Hill.

Donations to groups involved in fighting Mr. Trump's order are spiking — the American Civil Liberties Union, which is contesting the order in the courts, reported receiving more than $24 million in contributions over the weekend, or about six times what it typically gets in a year. Corporate America is tuning in as well. Google announced the creation of a fund that will funnel up to $4 million to the ACLU and other immigrant rights groups. Starbucks has pledged to hire up to 10,000 refugees worldwide. And Uber is in crisis mode after people started deleting its app in retaliation for what appeared to be the company's effort to break up a New York City cab driver strike in support of protests at JFK Airport. (Company officials say that wasn't their intent, and CEO Travis Kalanick now says he will allocate up to $3 million to compensate drivers hurt by the executive order and will "urge the government to reinstate the right of U.S. residents to travel — whatever their country of origin — immediately.") Lyft, meanwhile, pledged to donate $1 million to the ACLU.

Donald Trump may be president, but this still isn't his country. It belongs to us, and he can't simply do with it what he pleases — not if we continue to speak up, and not if we make clear to Congress that those who enable Mr. Trump will pay a political price. Day by day, Mr. Trump is seeking to re-write America's values with his pen. Now is the time to take a stand. If we don't, it may be too late.