Trump’s Travel “Ban”

Trump recently signed an executive order described, perhaps incorrectly, as a “travel ban.” The gist of the order is that all refugees are banned from entering the United States for 120 days and immigrants from seven nations are banned for three months. These nations, which are predominantly Muslim, are Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

As should be expected from Trump’s administration, the order seemed to not have been checked by the Justice Department and was sprung on Homeland Security with little in the way of guidance. The predictable result was confusion in the real world and bragging in the Trump world. As should also be expected in almost anything involving Trump, a flurry of lawsuits has swept the land. Here in Tallahassee, foreign students from the impacted countries have been encouraged to not leave the country—for they might not be able to return. While some see the order as a disaster, there are those that argue in its favor. These arguments are certainly worth considering.

One argument in favor of the order is the democracy argument. If voting for a candidate indicates general support of that person’s positions and proposals, the fact that Trump ran on the Muslim ban and won would indicate that the people support this order. As such, Trump is right to have signed the order: he is making good on what he promised and acting in accord with majority rule.

One response to this, laying aside Trump’s lie to the contrary, is that he lost the popular vote by a large margin. Assuming that voting indicates general support, then the majority did not want the Muslim ban that Trump proposed and hence his executive order does not reflect the will of the people.

It can be countered that while Trump does not have majority support, he obviously won the election and thus has the legal right to issue the executive order while lacking a popular mandate or even majority support. This is obviously true; although the legality of the order has been questioned. What is rather more interesting is whether the ban can be rationally and morally justified.

In defending the executive order, Trump used the examples of 9/11, the San Bernardino attack and the Orlando murders. While an argument by example is a standard inductive argument, a strong one requires that the examples fit what they are supposed to support. The fundamental problem with these examples is that those engaged in the attacks came from countries not covered by the ban. As such, Trump is defending his ban on specific countries by using examples of attacks by people from countries that are not being banned, which is not only bad logic but rather odd. While this argument by example approach fails, defenders can avail themselves of a utilitarian argument.

The gist of this argument is that the restrictions on entry into the United States will create more good than bad. In a utilitarian argument, the usual approach is to weigh the harms and benefits to those impacted. If the harms outweigh the benefits, then the order would be morally wrong. If the opposite holds, then it would be morally acceptable.

One matter of concern is in regards to refugees. Despite fictional narratives to the contrary, refugees are already subject to “extreme vetting” and the probability of a terrorist entering the country thus way is extremely low because of the review process and the time involved. For terrorists, sneaking in as a refugee is thus a very poor option. This is not to say the system is flawless, but expecting a perfect system would be unreasonable and there is always a non-zero chance that someone will slip through.

Balanced against this is the potential harm to refugees who will be forced to remain in danger or to dwell outside of the state system. The very real and likely risk to refugees would seem to outweigh the incredibly slight possibility of harm to Americans. As such, the ban would be morally wrong.

Another area of concern is non-refugee terrorists slipping into the United States. As noted above, no terrorist from the banned countries has been involved on an attack on American soil. Instead, the terrorists have come from countries, like Saudi Arabia, that are not subject to the ban. The ban has been creating significant harms to people from these countries who had the legal right to be here and who have been subject to evaluation, such as green card holders. As noted above, there are students here in Tallahassee who cannot leave the United States without being unable to return, despite presenting no real risk. As such, the ban harms people while offering almost zero increase in safety, which makes it morally unacceptable.

An alternative approach is to engage in moral nationalism and only consider the harms and benefits to Americans. This, for the lack of a better name, could be called America First Utilitarianism. On the positive side, the ban provides Americans with an increase in security that is marginally more than zero. On the minus side, the opportunities and benefits to Americans will be lost by banning such people. There is also the moral harm to Americans in refusing aid to those in need (this should be especially harmful to Christians. There are also the propaganda gains for terrorist groups. This executive order plays into the terrorist narrative that it is the West against Islam rather than civilization against terrorism. This can grant these terrorists the gift of vindication and boost their recruiting efforts, to the detriment of Americans. This narrative can also damage the relationship between the United States and Muslim allies, which will make America less safe. It is thus no shock that people who understand national security have consistently condemned this order as making America less safe. While Trump seems to believe that his brain is the only adviser he needs, I will defer to the experts in the field of national security on this matter.

A rather odd fact about this narrative is that many who push it are inconsistent in their fiction: they do not seem to regard, for example, the predominantly Muslim nations of Saudi Arabia and Turkey as terrorist threats. But perhaps this is because of the oil of Saudi Arabia and the strategic value of Turkey.

As a final argument, it can be contended that the narrative and executive order benefit Trump and some other politicians. As such, if they matter more than everyone else, then the order is a good thing. However, if the rest of us matter, then the executive order is morally wrong because it creates far more harm than good.

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  1. Well stated. The order is morally wrong. There will still be suffering, just not as much if there is not such a ban.

  2. The order is an offense against both reason and morality for all the reasons stated.

    Conservatives are at both ends of the spectrum: at one end a faith community, at the other end intellectuals who, although not unbelievers, are less prone to religious dogmatism and more open to science and reason. The crazier it gets; if the faith community strives to gain control and use its dogma in governance, conservatives who are intellectuals could become increasingly appalled. If a fissure occurs between the faith and reason wings of conservatism it would be a good thing.

    People who define themselves as secular and other religions would be beyond the pale of a governance based on the religious dogmatism of one faith. This is not in line with the constitution. The order is not about security, as extreme vetting was already in place under the prior administration.

  3. I have written elsewhere concerning the degree of psychopathy which may afflict Trump. However I’m wondering what would be the case if the refugees which are presently banned, were fleeing not from the disasters which have overtaken their countries but from the fact that a terrible disease has devastated their homelands. Whilst each and every one of them would claim that they are not a carrier of the disease would we be not be inclined to temporarily ban them pending our deciding which is the best course of action to take? Remember it will only take one infected person for the disease to spread and kill. There currently is no medication to cure or check the disease although work in this connection is in progress. I know I’m not comparing like with like in this matter but it does occur to me that there are similar circumstances in each case.

  4. Kevin Henderson

    Don-There is a cure for religion. It’s called science.

    “I have a friend — or had a friend, now dead — Abdus Salam, a very devout Muslim, who was trying to bring science into the universities in the Gulf states and he told me that he had a terrible time because, although they were very receptive to technology, they felt that science would be a corrosive to religious belief, and they were worried about it… and damn it, I think they were right. It is corrosive of religious belief, and it’s a good thing too.” Steven Weinberg

  5. Kevin:
    Yes they regard science purely from a technological perspective. However when scientific method is applied to the development of say the solar system, and life therein, it is confronted by a massive false beliefs arising from the very early days of mankind, which to this day continue to prove extremely difficult, if not impossible to eradicate. Out of this we see on an almost daily basis people being induced to kill and maim with the promise that they will be rewarded with immortality in a place which provides great comfort and pleasure for them eternally. As a young child I came to the conclusion that before I was born, I knew nothing and felt nothing, in fact I was not there. Death will merely return me to that state of affairs, so there is absolutely nothing to fear. As an older man I am still of the same opinion, regardless of whatever course of action I chose to take whilst living. I hasten to add that this frame of mind does not permit me to perform acts of atrocity whilst living.

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