How America’s 45th president wreaked wrecking-ball havoc in his first week in office
At 4:42 pm Eastern Time on Friday, January 27, 2017, Donald Trump uncapped his pen to sign yet another executive order.
One can well imagine the frowning face, improbably aglow with midwinter ‘sun’, and the lips pursed in concentration. What a week it had been! From the moment of his inauguration (“the biggest crowd ever”, Trump had crowed, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary), the multiple bankrupted real estate manipulator and media ‘star’ had barely relinquished his pen.
Detonating order after order from his Oval Office redoubt, Trump set about belabouring every target he had identified for attack during his election campaign. Women’s access to free contraception under Obama Care? Vaporised! Peer-reviewed scientific Information on climate change? Removed with a scratch of the pen from the website of the Environment Protection Agency. The blocking of the Keystone Oil Pipeline? Lifted in a flash! Initiatives by cities such as Seattle to establish themselves up as sanctuaries for refugees? Slash their federal funding! Limitations on coercive interrogation techniques (otherwise known as torture)? Terminate!
As salvo followed salvo, the American mainstream media struggled to keep up. The news organisations, broadcasting networks and big-gun journalists whose attachment to Trump’s clickbait-ready pronouncements had played no small part in his ascent now jerked into action, issuing lists of the executive carnage across its ever-widening front and giving space to critical commentary. As if bemused by the reality of Trump in power, they seemed to scratch their heads in collective puzzlement.
Then it was Friday. Not even a week in office, and Trump widened his offensive to take on the world.
While a certain degree of uncertainty continues to befog Trump’s executive order on immigration, its core features are clear.
Firstly, although the order has been dubbed a ban on Muslims, its writ extends far wider. At a stroke, Trump suspended the entire US refugee admissions system for 120 days. What he signed was a blanket ban on refugees seeking entry to the United States, a nation already in possession of one of the most rigorous vetting systems in the world.
Secondly, Trump has imposed an indefinite suspension of the programme for refugees from Syria. It bears emphasis that Washington’s willingness to acknowledge its obligations here was already mean-spirited and paltry: in 2016, it accepted fewer than 13,000 Syrian refugees, against the roughly 300,000 received by Germany and the millions taken in by Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Even this meagre share has now been outlawed.
The third element of Trump’s order, and the one that has contributed the most to the global chaos unfolding since Friday, is a 90-day ban on entry to the US of citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. While the order empowers the Department of Homeland Security to ban more countries at any time, conspicuously absent from the current list are Muslim-majority nations with which Trump has personal business ties: Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Also barred from entry to the US for the next 90 days are dual-nationals from the seven targeted countries, meaning that citizens holding a passport from another country, such as Britain or France, are also subject to the ban. A lack of clarity about who exactly holds dual nationality has contributed to the havoc currently engulfing airports across the States and beyond.
A particularly pernicious aspect of the order is the priority it accords refugee claims on the basis of religious persecution, on condition that the applicant belongs to a religion that is a minority in their country of origin. By mandating Washington to prioritise Christians from the Middle East over Muslims, Trump hopes at a stroke to appease the American Christian Right, deepen inter-religious strife via a classic application of divide and rule, and reinforce his efforts to convince the American public that their ‘safety’ (that is, from the Muslim ‘other’) is his preeminent concern.
Within hours of Trump’s masterstroke, American ports and airports were frantically confronting its fall-out. Approved refugees, valid visa holders, non-US dual citizens as well as US legal residents found themselves detained, barred from planes or ordered out of the US. While federal judges in New York, Virginia, Washington and Massachusetts struck back by ordering stays on the deportation of travellers with valid visas, their rulings only affected those who had already arrived in the US or were in flight when the orders were signed.
Among those targeted by the order are doctors, students, researchers and engineers in their thousands who happen to be out of the country. On their return, they face border agents now armed with what Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, has called “discretionary authority” to subject all travellers, including American citizens, to additional scrutiny if they have been to any of the seven countries mentioned in the executive order.
As the Dante-esque repercussions of Trump’s immigration order continue to reverberate far beyond America’s shores, fury at their newly anointed Commander-in-Chief has spurred Americans in their hundreds of thousands to repudiate the ban, along with every other strand of his reactionary, racist, pro-rich agenda. Airports, once the most sterile of contemporary environments, have been transformed into vibrant, noisy arenas of dissent, bristling with banners and enlivened by slogans offering unconditional support for refugees. Building on the great women’s marches that mobilised more than three million people nationwide to rain on Trump’s inauguration day parade, a great movement is building, one that in its sweep and passion is both reminiscent of past struggles and alive with promise.
And we’re only on Day Eleven of Trump’s presidency.
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