The feeling of victory following the decision by a Federal Appeals Court in upholding the restraining order on Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban is deceptive. The rejection of the now notorious Executive Order (EO) could prepare the ground for a future power grab by the autocratically inclined President.
My reasoning is as follows – it is tragically inevitable that at some stage in the coming weeks, months, or years there will be a terrorist attack somewhere in the US, by an individual claiming to act in the name of Islam. There will similarly be other attacks – in all likelihood more frequent – caused by people who aren’t Muslims but who are inspired by some other fanatical belief (such as neo-Nazi terrorist Dylan Roof) or simple insanity.
But the moment an attack happens at the hands of a Muslim assailant (such as occurred in San Bernardino, or the Pulse nightclub in Florida), Trump will cite the rejection of his Executive Order by ‘so called’ judges as to blame for the bloodshed.
It obviously won’t be important to Trump if such a terrorist is found to have been born in the US, or to have come from one of the countries not cited in the EO. All that will matter to Trump as he stokes the fires of bigotry and fear, is that it will have taken place and that it involved a Muslim.
As he has proven in the past, Donald Trump will appeal directly over the heads of Congress and the judiciary, straight to his core base as a way of intimidating those other branches of government to come to his heel. It is easy to imagine how facts, the Constitution and the law will be swept aside In the midst of such carefully choreographed hysteria.
I tend to dismiss conspiracy theories – and clearly the actions and intentions of Trump are difficult to discern at the best of times. But judging by his erratic and impulsive thought process, it is hard to believe that he alone is the architect of such a strategy – although he would benefit from its outcome.
To guess what lies behind the EO, look no further than its authors Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. Bannon – ex-Breitbart chief now the White House ‘chief strategist’ has expressed his desire to ‘destroy all of today’s establishment’. Miller a senior White House advisor and alt-right disciple of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said only days ago on TV, that ‘the powers of our President to protect our country will not be questioned’ (my emphasis). Miller’s interviews on this subject on the weekend political talk-shows, were a case book example of wannabe totalitarianism in action.
One can only conclude that the specter of the Muslim Ban is being weaponized by the White House to sweep away – when the moment presents itself – the checks and balances on the office of the President.
Knowing this is a possibility, what is the best way of dealing with it?
Firstly, we must acknowledge the terrible fact that a terrorist attack by Islamist extremists is likely to occur at some point and at some place in the United States, despite the best efforts of the security services to prevent such an incident. Recognizing this eventuality is not anti-Muslim or racist. Those ISIS inspired killers who have wielded weapons against innocents in Europe and elsewhere, no more represent Muslims than Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) represented white American Christians. It’s also important to remember that the overwhelming majority of victims of Islamist violence have been Muslims.
Democrat legislators from Chuck Schumer down, must be ready and willing to talk about the possibility of an attack by Islamist inspired terrorists. But they must do so in the context of emphasizing the anti-democratic intentions of those in the administration who are looking to exploit such an event.
Secondly, responsible politicians and public figures must call out Trump’s manipulations and hypocrisy in ignoring other acts of violence while seeking to highlight attacks carried out by Muslims. When a far right gunmen shot up a mosque in Quebec killing 6 and injuring 19 worshippers, Trump’s Twitter feed was silent. Yet when a machete-wielding attacker from Egypt injured a soldier in the Louvre in Paris, Trump immediately fired up his account to blame it upon a ‘radical Islamic terrorist’ and warned the US to ‘GET SMART’.
Reminders of Trump’s inconsistency serve to highlight his motivations and hopefully blunt his use of anti-Muslim sentiment as a spear with which to attack established political institutions.
Thirdly, while the immediate danger of a Muslim ban has for the moment receded, there can be no letup in vocal and highly public efforts to oppose it at every opportunity. The spontaneous demonstrations that sprung up at airports around the country, along with the calls by ordinary people to elected officials had a decisive impact in setting back the EO. Any absence of public noise is music to the ears of those seeking to undermine democracy, while legal protest and pressure are critical in repelling autocracy.
Amid all this, those who crave unrestricted power will not give up easily, and they will return, riding on the back of fomented mob rage or in some other form to try to get what they desire. So we must be ready for the next attack, the one after that, and all the others that will inevitably follow.