I want to take up two issues in this post: Trump’s travel ban, signed on January 27, and general questions about how to respond to Trump’s use of executive power.
Travel ban, country by country
Three days later, we’re still talking about whether it’s a ‘Muslim ban’ or not. More distraction. Look at outcomes to determine whether the ban is a good idea or fair. Look at the law to see if the ban is legal. Look at American history and our country’s own religious codes and traditions to decide whether the ban is morally right. Look for evidence to support the claim it will keep America safe, and you cannot find it.
No matter how you evaluate this ban, it fails. You cannot justify it. Its religious character is not the sticking point. Yes, it does have a religious character, given the political context, and Trump’s campaign language where he said he wanted to ban all Muslims from coming to our country. But Friday’s ban is repugnant on grounds entirely independent of religious discrimination. Its religious character only adds to reasons for alarm.
If Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya all had exactly equal numbers of every religion, and the wars going on in those countries were entirely non-sectarian, and each of the countries contained groups that declared themselves enemies of the United States, you could still not justify Friday’s blanket ban on travel from those places.
Working in Trump’s favor in the political arena is that the conflicts are for the most part sectarian, ethnically and religiously, and anti-American groups often align themselves with religious organizations. Those factors overseas give Trump’s ban its religious character, and help him persuade people who don’t like outsiders. More immediately, Trump’s ban acquires a religious cast because he pandered to anti-Muslim sentiments as he went around the country to excite support for his presidency.
Trump’s executive orders, and more generally his brand of authoritarian political action, keep the pot stirred up. People who ask, “What’s he going to do next?” have good reason to ask.
So much about this campaign leaves us feeling divided and spent. For people who worked hard to defeat Trump, partisan warfare and civil resistance still seem to offer some hope. I advocated civil resistance long before Trump came into office, and I certainly see civil resistance as distinct from partisan maneuvers. In any case, Trump’s executive orders, and more generally his brand of authoritarian political action, keep the pot stirred up. People who ask, “What’s he going to do next?” have good reason to ask.
To return to the campaign, and to the way we dealt with sectarian issues during that time, we have surely not forgotten Mr. Khan’s speech at the Democratic national convention. Mr. Khan, an attorney who lost his son in the Iraq war, challenged Mr. Trump to read the Constitution, especially the part about freedom of religion. He said Trump had no business fomenting anti-Islamic feelings among voters. His message was correct six months ago, and we have occasion – especially after the massacre in Quebec City – to remember it now.
I wrote at the time Democratic party leaders could bait candidate Trump anytime they liked, and they placed Mr. Khan in a bad position when they brought his family into their partisan schemes. Still, Mr. Khan delivered his message well, and Trump’s campaign had no effective rejoinder. All they could do was attack Mr. Khan personally, which was not effective. The recently concluded election campaign leaves a strong impression that we have an anti-Islamic president. Trump does nothing to dispel it, and everything to confirm it.
Long-term responses to President Trump’s use of power
I am going to move on to another issue, loosely related to Friday’s executive order. I wonder why, after the election, only one state has moved toward secession. Given its size and influence, it is a significant state: California. The secession process in California has multiple steps, as it should. First is to place a resolution on the ballot that reverses a clause in the state’s constitution binds the state to the union forever. If that clause is reversed, Californians can vote on secession itself, in a separate ballot measure. Lastly, to avoid further conflict, the rest of the country would have to wish them well, as the state goes its own way.
That’s a long political process, but you have to start somewhere. We attribute California’s motive to its left-leaning electorate, but I expect a lot of motives run underneath the most obvious public one. Writing from Boston, I do not know the undercurrents of California politics, but we’re aware divisions exist between coast and interior, and between northern and southern portions of the state. We should watch with interest what happens on the west coast.
Meantime, why have we not seen similar moves for other states? The first trio would be Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Texas has talked about secession for a long time. It is a Republican state, with an anti-Republican in the White House. Why hasn’t Ted Cruz rallied his troops? More broadly, all three states along the Mexican border stand to lose a lot if Trump sends relations with Mexico down the toilet. All three states have wanted to manage immigration and other security issues along their southern borders in their own way. The unsettled state of American politics gives them a chance to start the same process California has started. If southern California splits from northern California, you could even see southern California and Texas lead the way for a four-state, regional consortium, or confederation.
Another, much smaller grouping would be New England. The two anti-establishment states in this region are Vermont and New Hampshire. Vermont leans socialist – think Bernie Sanders – and New Hampshire leans libertarian – think the Freedom Project. As in the southwest, you will not see immediate results from moves toward secession, but now is a good time to start. Build momentum. Let each new, illegal order from Washington be met with firmer and more specific moves toward withdrawal. The message could not be more clear: we’ve been loyal to this point, but we can’t be loyal to a government that constantly violates its own Constitution.
Of course, Trump might want to give Alaska back to Russia, as a good will gesture, sort of like Bob Kraft’s Super Bowl ring. And, we could give Hawaii to China. That would really send a message to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, wouldn’t it?
I wish I could point to other states or regional groupings that could lead the way. Alaska and Hawaii come to mind, but they lie rather far from the mainland, which reduces their political influence. Moreover, they have a large number of important military bases, enough installations to dishearten the most devoted activists. That is, no military strategist in the lower forty-eight would ever let these two outposts go. Of course, Trump might want to give Alaska back to Russia, as a good will gesture, sort of like Bob Kraft’s Super Bowl ring. And, we could give Hawaii to China. That would really send a message to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, wouldn’t it?
I suppose jokes like that remind everyone how absurd our politics have become. We ban all travelers from seven countries, provoking protests all over the country. Six months from now, do you think people from these named cauldrons of terrorism will be able to enter the United States? Of course not. The burden of admission for people who want to travel here from those countries will still rest with the individual. We will not welcome them by any means. That was the case long before Friday’s order.
So what do we do? Democrats want to remove Trump from office as fast as possible. I don’t think that is a realistic strategy. Even if Democrats a few dozen seats in the House during the 2018 election, impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate will not happen. That means Trump will serve four years at least. All strategies for political resistance ought to take that four-year chunk of time under an authoritarian strongman into account. To formulate strategies for unrealistic goals merely wastes time. So far I have seen no sound strategies for sustained resistance.
You could say such strategies do not exist because we have not had time to develop them. Another possibility is that Trump’s election renders moot all plans for the short and medium term. That means strategies for the long term – extending beyond Trump’s presidency – will be the most effective. We know, however, that planning more than five years out feels futile and too uncertain, even during times of stability and predictable order. Now even five months feels too long for effective plans, especially plans that aim to change the political landscape.
Thus plans that envision our country’s breakup make most sense. These have a concrete goal. If more citizens see why this trajectory of change is the most realistic, and most beneficial, we may see some interesting political conflicts develop alongside this movement. Many will say that these changes – previously inconceivable – are even more unrealistic than other trajectories or strategies we might try to imagine. Clearly I disagree. When a marriage is over, it’s over. You just have to act expeditiously to accomplish the separation. Practically, planners, politicians, and other people with influence will want to ‘unwind the union’ when they begin to see why it benefits them. Perhaps we should thank Donald Trump for making that option appear more attractive than it ever has before.
Revolution on the Ground, by Steven Greffenius
One Nation, Indivisible?: A Study of Secession and the Constitution, by Robert Hawes
Nullification and Secession in Modern Constitutional Thought, edited by Sanford Levinson