Trump’s first week in office was unquestionably one of the most active and controversial in recent memory. With a string of executive orders, President Trump made changes to policy areas ranging from international trade to abortion. None have been more controversial than the immigration restrictions Trump signed into law on Friday.
The law places a 90 day moratorium on entry from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen). It suspends all refugee admissions for a period of 120 days, while the application and adjudication process is reviewed. It suspends admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely. And it caps the 2017 US refugee intake at 50 thousand.
These policies were always going to be controversial, but it was the decision to apply the restrictions to existing green card holders that took it beyond the pale of what is acceptable in American politics. The idiocy of this decision has been well covered by National Review’s Charles C. Cooke. These Green card holders have already gone through an extensive vetting process for the privilege to call America home, so it is simply wrong to prevent them from re-entering their home country.
Thankfully, this decision has now been reversed. But this wasn’t merely a mistake made by bureaucrats implementing a new law. As CNN has reported, the Department of Homeland Security originally “arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions… did not apply to people with lawful permanent residence”. However, this was reportedly overruled by white house chief strategist Steve Bannon, and Stephen Miller, a senior advisor to the president.
With this single decision, the Trump administration gave credibility to the presidents most hysterical critics, and wasted the political capital that had been built up since the election.
For two and half months Trump’s most vocal opponents had undermined the legitimate concerns about his presidency by making outlandish comparisons with murderous dictators, claiming he wasn’t the legitimate president, and calling for the electoral college to ignore the result. Then on inauguration day, images of violent protests gave credence to the need for a tough, law and order president — an image Trump has actively courted.
These efforts tarnished Trump’s critics as nothing but sore losers.
Combined with the reasonably astute selection of his Cabinet, this climate of opinion helped unite the conservative side of politics behind the leader many of them had opposed.
As the Real Clear Politics polling average shows, Trump was viewed unfavourably by 58.5 percent of the population at the time of the election, but by only 49.6 percent when he was inaugurated. For any other president, these latest poll numbers would be terrible. But they are among the best numbers Trump has received since announcing his presidential campaign in June 2015.
Rather than helping Trump build on this momentum, Trump’s chief strategist and his senior advisor threw it all away in a week. And for what? To prevent people who have already been rigorously vetted from returning to their American homes? This might be a contender for the worst political advice given this decade. It gives credibility to the previously hyperbolic criticism that Trump represents a fundamental threat to civil liberties in America. In doing so, it has galvanized opposition against the administration, alienated influential politicians in Trump’s own party, and lead to condemnations from leaders around the world.
Trump’s immigration restrictions would have been loudly opposed even if green card holders were exempt from the started. But at least the restrictions would have been defensible — this is not to say the restrictions are good policy, but at least they aren’t a blatant attack on the rights of legal US residents.
Sign up for our FREE Reaction Weekend Email
Read the week's best-read articles on politics, business and geopolitics
Receive offers and exclusive invites
Plus uplifting cultural commentary
Anyone with a basic understanding of politics would have predicted the outrage this would cause. Yet Bannon and miller, members of Trump’s inner circle — people paid to provide political advice to the president — reportedly thought it was a good idea. If true, then they are clearly ill-equipped for their jobs and should not be advising any world leader. If ever Trump’s employees deserved to be fired, this is surely it.