Home/Daniel Larison/The Travel Ban: A ‘Theatrical Exercise in Demagoguery’

The Travel Ban: A ‘Theatrical Exercise in Demagoguery’

Benjamin Wittes hasn’t decided whether the new travel ban is legal or not, but he does know that it is stupid:

As the inevitable litigation winds its way through the courts in the coming months, I will have to decide whether I think it is a lawful or unlawful exercise of presidential authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act. For the present, however, I am hung up on an antecedent, pre-legal point: This is inane, stupid policy designed to trade on the politics and symbolism of national security without actually delivering any tangible national security goods.

Wittes calls the ban a “theatrical exercise in demagoguery,” and I think that sums it up as well as anything I have seen. It plays off of our exaggerated fear of being attacked by terrorists, it combines that with a distrust of predominantly Muslim countries that has been reinforced for at least sixteen years through our exaggerated fear of terrorism, and it finishes with a huge overreaction to the relatively small threat that the previous fear-mongering has blown out of all proportion. The cost of the policy is borne by U.S. citizens and their friends and family in the affected countries, some of whom are having their lives and future plans interrupted. Here are the testimonies of a few engaged Iranian couples that are being kept apart because of the ban. These are the people that pay the price of a cruel and senseless policy.

If the entire policy is stupid and unnecessary, banning people from Chad was the acme of that stupidity:

“It makes no sense whatsoever. In fact I wonder if there wasn’t some sort of mistake made,” John Campbell, a former US ambassador to Nigeria, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s an insult. What really gets to me is the apparent sheer stupidity of it.”

That stupidity was on display again when Trump was asked why Sudan was taken off the list:

Trump can’t explain the changes in his policy because he doesn’t care about the substance, but just wants to emphasize how “tough” he is. He says, “I want the toughest travel ban you can have,” but there is no need for any travel ban and repeating that he wants a “tough” one proves nothing. Except for touting how “tough” it is, he can’t defend the policy. This is what happens when an incompetent administration makes responding to a wildly exaggerated threat one of its priorities. It leads to the creation of a useless policy that does nothing except antagonize and penalize innocent people while embarrassing the U.S. around the world.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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