With the possible exception of his plan to build a wall on the Mexican border, Donald Trump’s best-known — or most notorious — idea is a blanket ban on Muslims entering the United States.
Last December, after the San Bernardino terrorist attack the Trump campaign was categorical:
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” (When he read the statement aloud, Trump said the ban should last until Congress knew “what the hell is going on.”)
But he since has modified his position — maybe.
In a radio interview in May, Trump called the Muslim ban “just a suggestion.”
Then, in a speech after the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., Trump — without retracting his original statement — said: “I will use this power to protect the American people. When I am elected, I will suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we understand how to end these threats.”
He seemed in that speech to make geography, not religion, the trigger for his “shutdown” — an impression confirmed by a comment he made on a visit to his golf course in Scotland. Trump said it “wouldn’t bother me” if Muslims from that country entered the U.S.
A lot remains unclear — surprise! — about Trump’s refined position. He’d allow a Muslim from Scotland to be admitted to the United States, but what about one from Ireland, where there is “a proven history of terrorism” against a U.S. ally, Britain? Would the geographical ban apply to travelers from France, the scene of recent terrorist attacks? Would only French Muslims be banned, or Christians as well?
It’s likely that Trump hasn’t thought through the implications of his new and improved ban. But he seems to be softening the original, and appalling, proposal for a religious test. The question is whether he deserves credit for “pivoting” to a less bigoted policy?
In a word, no. That he made the original proposal for a “complete shutdown of Muslims” is an enduring indictment of both his intelligence and his character. Maybe there’s a statute of limitations for such an outrageous utterance, but it should be measured in years, not months.
Moreover, it was entirely foreseeable that, as he got closer to the Republican nomination, Trump would smooth some of his rough edges. As the Los Angeles Times warned in an editorial in April: “No matter how Trump recasts his policies in the weeks to come, his campaign has shown voters something important about his temperament and qualifications that they dare not forget.”
And even if Trump is softening his position on a Muslim ban now, what assurance do we have that he won’t lurch back to the original blanket ban tomorrow? Or something even worse?
Now that Trump seemingly has clinched the Republican nomination, there will be a temptation — and not just in his party — to absolve him for his past outrages if he shows even the slightest sign of moderation. That temptation needs to be resisted.