by James M. Wall
When President Donald Trump spoke by phone Saturday, January 28, with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, he was speaking (above) from the White House, before an audience of two aides, National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn and his top strategist, Stephen K. Bannon.
Trump’s conversation with the leader of a major U.S. ally, was supposed to last an hour. Instead, Trump hung up after 25 minutes.
The Washington Post reported: “It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief — a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week”.
Instead, President Trump “blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refugee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win”. The details of the call were leaked from “senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange”.
Trump’s diplomatic style is, to say the least, different. “At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladimir Putin — and that ‘this was the worst call by far’.
Someone in the White House wanted this exchange made public. Bannon and Flynn were there to hear it live. It should be safe to assume they made it public. Trump’s bellicosity is what they want the American public, and the world, to hear.
Trump also wants the world to know, through Twitter, how he feels about “refugees”. His explosive conversation with the Australian Prime Minister involved what Trump, in a tweet called, a “dumb” Obama-era “deal”.
The Washington Post provides a different reading on the “deal”:
Last night, President Trump went off on Australia, criticizing a “dumb” Obama-era “deal” that would, in Trump’s words, force the United States to take “thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia.”
Except that’s not really what the deal says. Not at all.
Trump is referring to a deal signed in November. According to the agreement, which took months of negotiation, America would accept about 1,200 refugees (not, as Trump called them, “illegal immigrants”) from Australia.
The United States would prioritize families and children, and all candidates would be subjected to a thorough vetting process. America’s Department of Homeland Security would conduct two rounds of interviews with each candidate.
The President is following an Islamophobic script, a theme of hatred and fear shared with his aides, Stephen K. Bannon and Michael T. Flynn, that contributed mightily to Trump’s election victory. Australian Prime Minister Trumbull knows this. In a public statement he said he would not comment on the “domestic issues” of other nations.
In a January 30 editorial, entitled,”President Bannon?“, the New York Times laments:
[W]e’ve never witnessed a political aide move as brazenly to consolidate power as Stephen Bannon — nor have we seen one do quite so much damage so quickly to his putative boss’s popular standing or pretenses of competence.
Huffington Post had this to say about Bannon when Trump made him his chief strategist:
Trump has tapped Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist. Thankfully, a firestorm erupted this week as countless media outlets noted that the ultra-conservative website Breitbart, under Bannon’s leadership, has become a platform for the ”alt right” and as such it, “embraces and promotes white nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny.”
Talking Points Memo wrote about Flynn when he was announced as National Security Adviser:
The outspoken retired intelligence officer, who served as a close adviser to Trump throughout the 2016 election, believes that Islamic extremism poses an existential threat to the United States. He has called Islam a “malignant cancer” and a “sick” ideology, while his active Twitter feed is full of posts assuring his followers that fearing Muslims is “rational.”
Islamophobia is alive and well in the White House. We must assume this will continue to be a driving force throughout Trump’s administration.
Gallup has monitored the growth of Islamophobia through its expert polling. For future reference as we follow the Trump White House in action, here is the definition of Islamophobia that Gallup offers:
A phobia, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is an exaggerated, usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation. It may be hard for the afflicted to sufficiently determine or communicate the source of this fear, but it exists.
In recent years, a specific phobia has gripped Western societies – Islamophobia.
Researchers and policy groups define Islamophobia in differing detail, but the term’s essence is essentially the same, no matter the source:
An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.
In the past, and now in the White House, Trump aides Bannon and Flynn have displayed full-fledged Islamophobia. Trump himself, on the other hand, appears to have adopted Islamophobia as yet another tool in his personal self-aggrandizing tool box.
He uses it when he needs to whip up crowds so that he might bask in their anger and their approbation for a fellow hater. Now, safely in the White House, he uses it to demonstrate his strongman image.
The Obama-negotiated deal with Australia, did not involve Muslims, but they were still, to Trump, “refugees”, and right now he is playing the strongman on “refugees”. He knows the boys in the bars must be pounding their fists with this latest Trump outburst, confirming that their hatred is, in fact, the Gospel Truth.
Trump was on a roll this past weekend. Saturday night he was on the phone with the Australian Prime Minister.
On Friday night, January 27, President Trump issued an executive order banning travel by Muslims from seven largely Muslim nations. His acting Attorney General, Sally Quinlan Yates, refused to allow the Justice Department to defend the order.
President Trump fired his acting attorney general on Monday night, removing her as the nation’s top law enforcement officer after she defiantly refused to defend his executive order closing the nation’s borders to refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries.
In an escalating crisis for his 10-day-old administration, the president declared in a statement that Sally Q. Yates who had served as deputy attorney general under President Barack Obama, had betrayed the administration by announcing that Justice Department lawyers would not defend Mr. Trump’s order against legal challenges.
Trump fired Yates with the angry zeal his fans loved when he fired contestants on his television reality shows.
Contrary to his repeated campaign rhetoric, Trump’s executive order did not cover all Muslims.
The travel ban targets only those Muslims in nations where there are no Trump towers, casinos, office complexes, or golf courses, specifically, as the Independent reported:
The executive order Mr Trump signed blocks entry for the next 90 days to travellers from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.
Excluded from the list are several wealthier Muslim majority countries where the Trump Organization has business interest, including Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey, the UAE, Egypt and Indonesia.
Those two lists reveal just how little forethought, experience or planning, went into the executive order.
The marches and protests around airports and elsewhere that sprang up in the nation following the Islamophobic executive order, did evoke some White House scrambling and more lies.
Trump claimed he had linked his ban to the list President Obama employed in a 2011 executive order. Foreign Policy nailed him on this bogus claim:
There are so many reasons to detest the Donald Trump administration’s executive order on “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry to the United States” that it’s hard to know where to start.
Others have already argued eloquently about its cruelty in singling out the most vulnerable in society; its strategic folly in insulting countries and individuals the United States needs to help it fight terrorism (the ostensible purpose of the order in the first place); its cynical incoherence in using the 9/11 attacks as a rationale and then exempting the attackers’ countries of origin; its ham-handed implementation and ever-shifting explanations for how, and to whom, it applies; and, thankfully, its legal vulnerability on a slew of soon-to-be-litigated grounds, including that it may violate the establishment and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
In light of all that, and particularly in light of the new White House’s acknowledged aversion to facts, it may seem like a minor point that President Trump and his advisors, in seeking to justify and normalize the executive order, have made a series of false or misleading claims about steps taken more than five years earlier by the Barack Obama administration. In case you missed it, a statement from the president published Sunday afternoon read:
“My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months. The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.”
Foreign Policy states that Trumps’ claim that he is following an earlier Obama executive order, “obscures” at least “five enormous differences between the executive order the White House issued Friday and what the Obama administration did”.
The five differences Foreign Policy lists, in considerable detail, involved:
The Obama administration’s 2011 review was narrow. It covered the vetting procedures applied to citizens of a single country (Iraq). It applied only to refugees and applicants for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), created by Congress to help Iraqis (and later Afghans) who supported the United States in those conflicts.
Obama’s 2011 order was not a ban. It “did not ban visas for refugees”. Refugees do not travel on visas.
The Obama administration’s 2011 review “came in response to specific threat information, including the arrest in Kentucky of two Iraqi refugees, still the only terrorism-related arrests out of about 130,000 Iraqi refugees and SIV holders admitted to the United States”.
The 2011 Obama review involved a dozen deputies and principals committee meetings, including cabinet and deputy cabinet-level officials from all of the relevant departments and agencies — including State, Homeland Security, and Justice — and the intelligence community.
In contrast to this involvement of pertinent government agencies, the Trump executive order “was reportedly drafted by White House political officials and then presented to the implementing agencies a fait accompli.”
Not only is this, Foreign Policy concludes, “bad policymaking practice; it led directly to the confusion, bordering on chaos, that has attended implementation of the order by agencies that could only start asking questions (such as: ‘Does this apply to green card holders?’) once the train had left the station.”
That bad policy making and confusion bordering on chaos comes from a White House now led by purveyors of Islamophobia.
This is Day Fourteen of the Trump presidency. We have 1446 days left until the next inauguration, January 20, 2021.
In those 1446 days, do not despair. Instead, cling to, and work from, the reminder often quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Picture at top is a ©Pete Marovich/Pool photo via European Pressphoto Agency