Donald Trump has always had a difficult relationship with the truth. His sheer volume of daily falsehoods overwhelms an unprepared news media — and buries unsavory stories which the Republican would prefer to keep hidden.
Trump even manages to construct entire narratives via a steady diet of alternative facts delivered to his supporters.
This weekend, we saw something new: For the first time, those falsehoods came together to generate, enact and justify policy.
Here is a brief overview of the alternative facts (previously known as lies) underpinning the travel ban which has thrown international travel into chaos and capriciously interrupted thousands of lives.
Alternative fact: The executive order was properly vetted
Fact: This change in policy was kept — unusually — from relevant agencies. Trump’s memo was not shared ahead of time with the National Security Council nor with the Departments of Defense, Justice and State.
Alarmingly, at the very moment the secretary of homeland security of was being briefed on the order, he saw Trump signing it — on TV!
Relevant congressional committees were also kept in the dark. And the agencies tasked with implementing the order — Customs and Border Protection, Citizenship and Immigration Services — were simply not notified, nor asked for input beforehand.
Alternative fact: Terrorism in the United States is out of control
Fact: Terrorism in the United States is well under control.
The infinitesimal incidence of terror in America since the sweeping security changes implemented in the wake of 9/11 behooves us to keep on doing exactly what we are doing.
The libertarian Cato Institute reports that nine Americans are killed by Islamic extremists on average each year.
By contrast, each year sees about 11,000 gun homicides alone.
This is not an out-of-control threat. It’s an under-control threat that is being overhyped for political purposes.
Alternative fact: The order protects us from dangerous terrorists
Fact: The ban does not even meet the security criteria set out by the new administration.
No citizen of the countries targeted by the ban has been responsible for a fatal terror attack on American soil. Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — whose citizens committed 9/11 — are left out.
Russia, the country of origin of the Tsarnaev brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013, is omitted.
The underwear bomber’s home — Nigeria — is also missing. This is particularly notable, given the terror which Islamic State affiliate Boko Haram has wrought there.
These omissions do not demonstrate a cautious approach. They indicate appeasement of questionable American allies and prejudice against countries whose governments are too weak to issue real protest.
Alternative fact: 109 people were affected by the executive order
Fact: About 90,000 visa holders are citizens of the seven targeted countries. Tens of thousands more are dual citizens and were initially barred from entering the United States. Hundreds more were prevented from boarding flights or sent back once their planes had landed.
It’s not just people who aren’t allowed in; nationals from the seven countries who currently reside in the United States legally must be afraid to leave, because they can’t be sure they’ll be allowed back in.
Alternative fact: The ban is no more than an inconvenience
Fact: Big government is callously altering the lives of innocents.
Consider these examples.
In Washington DC, officials detained a Somali woman and her two children for twenty hours, failing to provide them food during the ordeal. They pressured her to sign legal documents which she did not understand — without a lawyer present.
In Los Angeles, an 11-month-old baby with American citizenship was detained with no food for twelve hours. This breastfeeding baby was separated from her mother for hours.
These experiences were repeated hundreds of times over the weekend. Travelers, children included, were sent to overseas airports to await an uncertain future away from their families, homes and jobs. Customs officials pressured confused travelers to sign away their legal status without a lawyer present. Permanent residents of the United States were stranded abroad.
Then there are the refugees, whose applications have been suspended for 120 days. Syrian refugees have been banned indefinitely. It is unclear how many individuals this affects, but given that President Barack Obama committed to bringing in at least 100,000 this year, there are far more than 109 impacted.
Moreover, many refugees in the middle of the process who have clearances now will see those clearances expire during the next four months. These take months or years to obtain. Many are sick and many are sick children. The UN estimates that there are 20,000 such persons who now have to wait to travel to the United States despite being in “precarious circumstances.” Though Trump is allowing over 800 refugees into the country due to medical necessity, it is unclear how many other urgent cases are being ignored.
Alternative fact: The ban is legal
Fact: The ban is blatantly illegal.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 did away with quota systems for entry into the United States. The government cannot consider mere national origin when granting visas. Rather, officials consider factors like criminal history and terrorist activity.
Alternative fact: [Various Trump tweets]
Trump has engaged in several defenses of this dumbfoundingly ill-managed and cruel policy. He tweeted:
Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage, […] protesters and the tears of Senator Schumer. Secretary Kelly said that all is going well with very few problems.
This borders on a non-sequitur. Delta’s computers did not compel federal officials to detain families; Trump’s executive order did. Schumer and the masses of demonstrators were reacting to the problems, not causing them. But then, that’s obvious: No protesters sent legal residents back to foreign airports. The “tears of Senator Schumer” didn’t halt refugee applications. Trump did those things.
Trump also claimed:
If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the “bad” would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad “dudes” out there!
Such bad dudes, Trump surely knows, are subject to a visa approval process which takes more than a week’s time to complete.
Alternative fact: It’s not a Muslim ban. And Christians are discriminated against in refugee processing
Fact: It is a ban on Muslims. Christians are not discriminated against.
The executive order was generated out of Trump’s specific call for a Muslim ban which Rudy Giuliani reworked to be more politically correct.
Most damningly, the order indicates that future priority will be given to non-Muslims in determining refugee applications. This is a lie within a lie: In justifying what he denies is a Muslim ban, Trump has falsely indicated that Christians are being discriminated against in the refugee process. The truth is that comparatively fewer Christians apply for resettlement, not that Christians are not chosen.
Moreover, it was reported — by Trump’s cheerleaders at Breitbart no less — that the administration’s goal is literally to deter Islamic populations from settling in the United States.
It might not be a full-on Muslim ban (yet), but just wait until the next terror attack. We’ll get there.