Ten days ago, reality as we knew it seemed to disappear with Donald Trump’s inauguration, and the bleak, insular, threatening speech at its heart, which bore all the hallmarks of the miserable white supremacist world view of his most trusted advisor, Steve Bannon, a man who needs constantly exposing as the genuinely malevolent force behind Trump’s throne.
I was in New York City at the time of the inauguration, staying in a house in Brooklyn. My hosts had gone out to work, and I was alone as the realization that no last minute miracle had spared us from Trump truly sank in. I was chilled, and spent the day in a fog of anxiety, as did tens of millions of other Americans.
The following day, the Women’s March played a hugely important role in establishing the resistance to Trump. Millions of women (and supportive men), inspired by opposition to Trump’s misogyny, marched in Washington, D.C., in New York and in other cities across the US and around the world. I wrote about the inspiring New York event here, and my photos are here.
That evening, I returned to the UK, but what was apparent to me from my two weeks in the US (from Jan. 9-21, scheduled in particular to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo) was how a figure as divisive as Trump ought, at the very least, to be capable of inspiring a huge new people’s movement against him, uniting all those opposed to his bigotry, his misogyny, his corrupt business dealings — the list could go on and on.
I stand by this assessment, but since last weekend Trump has marked his first week in office with a tsunami of horrendous executive orders, almost too many to keep up with, which have both confirmed the need for unity in everyone who opposes him, whilst almost making it impossible to focus on everything important that is being so fundamentally undermined.
Trump’s first week executive actions included ordering the dismantling of Obamacare, reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and ordering the Mexican wall to built. In addition, a draft executive order, not yet issued, was leaked, which promised to revoke President Obama’s executive orders ordering the closure of Guantánamo and a ban on the use of torture and CIA “black sites.”
All of these moves threaten to backfire. Obamacare has improved access to affordable medical care for tens of millions of Americans, including, crucially, many who voted for Trump, and it ought to blow up in his face. In addition, when it comes to the environment, Trump has probably ensured that renewed protest in the native Americans’ ancestral lands in Dakota will be bigger than ever, and on torture the leak drew widespread condemnation in the US and around the world.
But then, on Friday — just after all our desperate Prime Minister Theresa May dashed to the White House to visit Trump in the vain hope of securing a favorable trade deal to offset the self-inflicted economic suicide of Brexit (while most other world leaders were biding their time, in no hurry to meet such a bullying aberration to the norms of power) — Trump delivered his most devastating executive order to date: an outrageous ban on citizens from seven countries — Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen (at least 134 million people) from entering the US — for an initial period of 90 days, with Syrian refugees were banned indefinitely. The ban was so scattershot and chaotic that, incredibly, it also included permanent US residents who were abroad when it took effect, and even dual nationals, born in any of the proscribed countries.
The ban took immediate effect, with devastating results. At US airports, hundreds of people were detained pending deportation, and around the world untold numbers of dual national citizens, green card holders, visitors and refugees from the targeted nations were prevented from flying to the US.
Lawyer and protestors were swift to respond, rushing to airports to make their voices heard, and, in the cases of the lawyers, including the ACLU and others, to begin the urgent work of challenging the ban. By Saturday morning, a US federal court judge, Ann Donnelly in Brooklyn, “ordered an emergency stay, blocking the deportation of any individual currently being held in airports across the United States,” as the Guardian put it.
“I think the government hasn’t had a full chance to think about this,” Judge Donnelly told a packed courtroom, as she granted the stay in the case of two Iraqi refugees detained at JFK – “Hameed Khalid Darweesh, who had worked for the US government for a decade, and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, who arrived in the country to join his wife, a US contractor.”
A follow-up hearing was scheduled for February 21, but in the meantime lawyers are preparing for another fight if any of those affected — “at least 100-200 people currently being held in airports across the country,” according to ACLU head Anthony Romero — are held in immigration detention facilities until the Feb. 21 hearing, rather than being released.
Unfortunately, the judge’s stay only applies to “those who were ‘on American soil’ – i.e. those who had been mid-flight or had landed while the executive order was being signed by the president,” as Romero described it. Around the world, countless others from the seven countries banned by Trump — including green card holders and dual nationality citizens — were left unable to return to the US.
This sweeping, punitive, racist policy was implemented so swiftly that attorneys for the government were largely in the dark. In Brooklyn, one told the court, “Things have unfolded with such speed, that we haven’t had time to review the legal situation yet.”
And yet, the impact of the chaotic ban is horrendously widespread, and no one can estimate in how many cases it is also life-threatening. The Guardian explained how, “[a]lerted by the ACLU to the fact that a Syrian woman with a valid US green card had been detained upon arrival into the United States and had been placed on a plane due to take off ‘back to Syria’ within 30 minutes,” Judge Donnelly issued a stay on her being sent back, having pressed government lawyers in vain to confirm whether they “could give assurances that the woman would suffer no ‘irreparable harm’ upon her arrival in Syria” (they couldn’t).
As I wrote on Facebook, “And so, just ten days into Donald Trump’s presidency, we can see clearly what happens when incoherent populist racism is given form by a simplistic bigoted clown who surrounds himself with white supremacists, would-be fascists and the most unsavoury far-right elements of the Republican Party. One dominant question is now forming in the minds of all decent people, which clearly won’t go away: How do we get rid of Donald Trump?”
In an editorial today, the Guardian is asking the same questions. “Donald Trump has been president of the United States for 10 days,” the editorial began. “Many were prepared to give Mr Trump a chance. But even they must conclude he has been in office 10 days too long.”
Writing of the immigration ban, the Guardian’s editors described it as “a cruel, stupid and bigoted act, designed to hurt and divide,” adding that it was “also cowardly, as bullies’ actions sometimes are,” and noting that the ban also “avoids predominantly Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan with deep terrorist connections, and ones such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Emirates in which Mr. Trump has business interests.”
The editorial continued:
The United States is a nation of laws, of immigrants and of freedoms. Much of the world still looks to it as a beacon. Mr Trump’s order violates all three identities, and douses the beacon. The order has been stayed by a judge in New York. But the stay is temporary. Mr Trump is not going to stop there. His instinct, to which on past intemperate experience he is likely to succumb, will be to react with further cruelty, stupidity and bigotry […]
The executive order has backfired. The reaction against it in the US has been inspiring. The legal action sends a vital message about due process. So do the rallies and welcoming demonstrations at airports, which appear to be as spontaneous as anything can be in the modern world. The big challenge for the US now is political. Will anti-Trump Republicans stand up for law, justice and order, or will they bow the knee? Will Democrats mount an effective opposition? This is a stand up and be counted moment for all, and both things need to happen. Both sides should remember the concentration camp survivor Martin Niemöller’s words about the Nazis. “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out … Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
The Guardian also, correctly, took aim at Theresa May, pointing out that she was “played for a sucker” by Trump, and that, in response to the ongoing petition against Trump’s proposed state visit in summer, which already has over 1,400,000 signatures, and is gaining around 50,000 new signatures every hour, she “needs to recognise that the Trump state visit must be put on hold or truncated into a political visit.” The editorial concluded, “A line has been crossed in Washington. The public gets it. Sir Mo [Farah, one of those banned from visiting the US for the next 90 days] gets it. The prime minister needs to get it too. She needs to speak and act for Britain, alongside France, Canada, Germany and other allies. Britain must not be, or be seen as, a lackey of possibly the worst leader the US has ever elected.”
In the US, meanwhile, the struggle to take down Trump continues. Absurdly, as the graphic to the left shows (which, I note, Kim Kardashian tweeted yesterday to her 49.8m followers), Trump’s deluded, bellicose rationale for the ban — that the US is threatened by terrorist refugees from the countries subjected to the ban — has so basis whatsoever in reality. Two people a year in the US have been killed by “Islamic jihadist terrorists” in the last ten years, compared to 21 a year killed by armed toddlers, 69 a year killed by lawnmowers, and, of course, 11,737 a year killed by other Americans.
And yet, early on Sunday morning, Trump tweeted, “Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world — a horrible mess!” and later that morning sent out another tweet stating, ”Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!” By the afternoon, he had issued a statement, but he was refusing to back down in any way. “America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border,” he said, adding, “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”
Wrong on all counts, Trump also faced criticism from two senior Republicans, Sen. John McCain, the chair of the influential Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, an aggressive defender of America’s national security, who issued the following statement:
Our government has a responsibility to defend our borders, but we must do so in a way that makes us safer and upholds all that is decent and exceptional about our nation.
It is clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump’s executive order was not properly vetted. We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security.
Such a hasty process risks harmful results. We should not stop green-card holders from returning to the country they call home. We should not stop those who have served as interpreters for our military and diplomats from seeking refuge in the country they risked their lives to help. And we should not turn our backs on those refugees who have been shown through extensive vetting to pose no demonstrable threat to our nation, and who have suffered unspeakable horrors, most of them women and children.
Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism. At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies. Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also pledged that the Democrats, who it should be noted, have largely been silent on this most disgraceful of policies, “will propose legislation to overturn Trump’s executive order,” as Politico described it, and “16 state attorneys general, including those from California and New York, spoke out against the executive order and warned that they will ‘use all of the tools of our offices to fight this unconstitutional order and preserve our nation’s national security and core values.’”
Trump was not moved, tweeting, absurdly, that McCain and Graham were “looking to start World War III,” but there is no way the immigration ban can be regarded as anything other than a massive, self-inflicted wound, however much his racist core supporters believe in it.
By Sunday night, as Politico reported, “Conflicting interpretations spurred Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to clarify that green card holders were … exempt from Trump’s broad order,” but today the fallout from this thoroughly unacceptable and lamentably poorly-executed ban has, I hope, penetrated so deeply into countless ordinary people’s perceptions of the reality of the Trump administration that his days are numbered.
I certainly hope so, as the kind of anxiety and uncertainty that Trump is unleashing against millions of people, and the chaos he is causing worldwide to America’s reputation, surely cannot be allowed to continue for the next four years.