Fear – The Demagogue’s Friend

Donald Trump and Steve Bannon

When people are afraid, they do unfortunate things.

As recent paper from the Brookings Institution points out, fear is a demagogue’s best friend. That’s why so many of Donald Trump’s actions in just the first few weeks of his disastrous presidency have been so dangerous.

President Trump’s Executive Order severely restricting visa-holders and refugees’ freedom to enter the United States is not only immoral and un-American—it’s also likely to fail on its own terms and lead to an increase in terrorist attacks against Americans. Yet if terrorism does increase, support for Trump and for harsh and self-defeating policies are likely to grow.

Although I doubt Trump is capable of that level of strategic planning, Actual-President Bannon clearly is.

The paper was written before several courts interrupted enforcement of the Order. As a number of observers have noted, should there be a terrorist attack during that interruption–or after the Order is finally invalidated, as I expect it will be–Trump has already telegraphed his intention to blame the courts and “so-called” judges.

The article reiterates many of the well-known criticisms of the Executive Order–the fact that zero terrorists have come from the countries subject to the ban, and –coincidentally, I’m sure (cough)–the countries that have produced terrorists and whose citizens weren’t banned happen to be countries where Trump has business interests; and the fact that refugee screening is exceptionally thorough, even draconian.

Refugees get the most scrutiny and Syrian refugees get the most scrutiny of all. So the vetting procedures are working. Refugees from other countries affected by the ban—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—have been involved in few plots since 9/11.

In different ways, all these countries have a terrorism problem, but that’s not the same as saying that the people visiting America are terrorists. Indeed, residents of these countries know first-hand the evils of terrorism and loath the groups accordingly. Some of the fiercest anti-Communists came from Cubans fleeing Castro or Russians fleeing Stalin: should we be surprised that Muslims who experience evil firsthand have a visceral loathing of it too? If you don’t believe me, go to an Iranian-American neighborhood in Los Angeles and praise the Iran’s ayatollahs and see what happens.

As the article also points out, saying a country has a terrorism problem is  not the same as saying that the people visiting America from that country are terrorists. Quite the contrary: people who have experienced the evils of terrorism are the people most likely to hate and oppose them.

Some of the fiercest anti-Communists came from Cubans fleeing Castro or Russians fleeing Stalin: should we be surprised that Muslims who experience evil firsthand have a visceral loathing of it too? If you don’t believe me, go to an Iranian-American neighborhood in Los Angeles and praise the Iran’s ayatollahs and see what happens.

And there’s those pesky little things…I think they call them “facts”–that suggest most terrorist attacks in the U.S. come from home-grown, white right-wing extremists.

So we have alienated the allies around the world on whom we depend for intelligence information, we have sent a message to moderate Muslims that we make no distinction between the millions of peace-loving adherents of that religion and the radical fringe, and we have dramatically increased the likelihood of a terrorist attack that can only help Donald Trump.

The horrible reality, however, is that a terrorist attack, especially one at home, is likely to “prove” that Trump is right. Terrorists’ successes are always a bit random, but at least some low-level attacks would be likely regardless of who was president. Trump, however, ran a campaign of fear and dishonesty about the terrorism threat and the attitudes of U.S. Muslims (for example, the false claim that thousands of New Jersey Muslims cheered the 9/11 attacks). Polls show fears of terrorism were at near-record levels before the election despite the small number of attacks and deaths in the U.S. since 9/11, and this fear increased support for Trump’s candidacy.

Once an attack happens, Trump will probably tweet that he called for vigilance and tough measures only to be opposed by bleeding heart liberals, the failing New York Times, and Muslim-lovers naïve to the true danger. The fact that his policies made the attacks more likely will be lost in the uproar.

Nothing will please President Bannon more.

[Originally published at SheilaKennedy.net on February 17, 2017]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

Comments

Loading Disqus Comments ...

Leave a Reply

Loading Facebook Comments ...