The level of ineptitude, hubris and callousness is breathtaking. Would-be czar Donald Trump and his scruffy Rasputin, Steve Bannon, seem to believe that they can run the world by edict, guided by nothing more than their own biases, whims and fantasies. And they get extremely peeved when someone questions them or dares to raise a challenge. Bannon tells the media to shut up. Trump tweets out another insult.
What a way to run a government.
After their first week in the White House, during which they issued daily decrees that either will have little effect or negative effects that are foolishly unanticipated, Trump and Bannon hit a big bump in their drive to turn the United States into a banana republic ruled by the whims of the ultimate leader. Friday, they declared a temporary ban on refugees and other foreigners entering the United States and targeted anyone coming in from seven particular Muslim countries (though not from any Muslim nations in which Trump has business ties, including Saudi Arabia, home of most of the 9/11 terror team).
Within 24 hours, four federal judges in various jurisdictions partially blocked the order, its constitutionality was questioned, thousands of protesters gathered at the country's major airports and even a few Republican senators questioned whether Trump knew what he was doing.
There were numerous stories of people holding legitimate green cards and visas being stopped when they got off airplanes in the U.S. or prohibited from getting on flights overseas. Among those detained at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport was an Iraqi man who had fought alongside American troops in Iraq. An Iranian scientist with a fellowship at Harvard had his visa suspended. Syrian refugee families with sponsors waiting had their hopes crushed. Students about to start a new semester at U.S. universities suddenly found themselves with no way to return to their colleges. Lots of decent people were harmed for no good reason, and no terrorists were found.
One 69-year-old Iraqi grandfather was prevented from boarding a flight that would have taken him to visit his family in America. His son, Long Beach resident Mohammed Rawi, was granted asylum after working a very dangerous job in the Los Angeles Times Baghdad bureau during the chaos and peril of the Iraq war.
"What's next?" Rawi asked in an interview with The Times. "Is it going to be internment camps like World War II where they put all the Japanese in one camp? They'll do the same for us? This is not what this country is all about."
Trump's response to the outcry was, as usual, divorced from reality. "It's working out very nicely," Trump said. "You see it at the airports, you see it all over." On Sunday, a White House official declared that the ban was already "a massive success story."
Well, actually not. What is true is that Trump and Bannon made their declaration without going through normal procedures to check if there might be problems and complications. According to CNN, "the White House developed the executive order on refugees and visas, and largely avoided the traditional interagency process that would have allowed the Justice Department and homeland security agencies to provide operational guidance."
In fact, CNN reported, the Department of Homeland Security was overruled by Bannon and another member of Trump's inner circle, Stephen Miller, when department officials wanted to exempt from the ban people who are lawful permanent residents.
This cruel mess is the product of Trump's ignorance and Bannon's anti-immigrant extremism. During the campaign, Trump promised to slam the door on refugees and institute an extreme vetting process to weed out terrorists. As a candidate, and now as president, he was basing his policy on two false assumptions: One, that an effective vetting process is not already in place and, two, that there are hordes of terrorists among the desperate refugees fleeing terrorism in their home countries. And Bannon is a terrible source for sound advice. He joined the Trump team after running Breitbart News, one of the prime purveyors of untrue or wildly exaggerated scare stories about Muslim immigrants.
Now, it is certainly the case that an American has a significant chance of being killed by a terrorist if that likelihood is compared with the odds of being gored by a unicorn or strangled by an evil leprechaun. But compared to real things, like lightning strikes and avalanches — or some angry suburban school kid with his daddy's assault rifle — the risk of dying in a terror attack is infinitesimal. And yet, because of this false fear, Trump and Bannon have abandoned the American tradition — and Christian principle — of welcoming strangers and giving comfort to the refugees.
What's the chance of Americans being shamed and embarrassed by the new president? Closing in on 100%.