Imaginary problems. When you don’t look through a lens of reality, it’s hard to see what’s really going on. It’s easy to end up chasing after pink Pookas instead of tackling the real problems. And that means the fixes you create don’t solve real problems either. Trying to trap a Pooka won’t net you anything real, but you can create real problems for yourself in the process. That’s what this is all about.
I found something I wrote a little over a year ago, before I started this blog. President Trump’s first “Muslim Ban” executive order sparked some thoughts that I think remain valid. So, I decided to dust off this relic from the memory box, touch it up a bit, and present it to you all.
Here we go.
HOW DO WE SOLVE PROBLEMS?
U.S. Presidential Executive Order no. 13769, also commonly referred to as the “Muslim Ban.” The first one. The one effective January 27, 2017. You remember the scene? Customs and immigration confused on whether people were in or out. Mass sit-ins at airports. ACLU offering to file suits against the government. That one.
At the time, many folks pointed out far more eloquently than I ever could the ideological problems with this kind of action. I set out to address a different aspect of all of it that applies to more than just ideological concerns about the current administration.
Back in the American Civil War, there was a general who, during a battle, became convinced that a hole had opened up in his lines and he was about to have the enemy break through and then roll up the army. So, on his own initiative, he moved his men around to solve the perceived problem. Only there wasn’t actually a gap in his lines. In trying to plug a non-existent gap he created a real one, resulting in disaster for him and his men. And nearly for his army. For those not versed in American Civil War battles (and it’s okay that you aren’t), the battle was Gettysburg, and the general was Dan Sickles of the Union Army.
When you have a problem in your life, how do you solve it? You first try to get an accurate idea of the cause so you can figure out how to fix it. You can’t fix the problem without accurate information. You can’t fix the problem without seriously looking at the situation to gauge the causes. And maybe it’s not a problem after all. Maybe that sound you heard is just the natural settling of the house. You don’t want to do a bunch of repairs for a non-existent problem, right?
So, you check. You look into it. And you try to make sure you are getting the correct answers and accurate information. You don’t just jump at a possible solution because it makes you feel reassured. You take the answer that will lead to an actual solution, even if it is more inconvenient.
Well the same is true for problems facing the country and its citizens. And its citizens as well as those in the government need to do the same kinds of analyses. And we, the American citizenry, need to hold those government officeholders accountable if they don’t.
There is no doubt that the U.S. today faces challenges. There will never be a time where it won’t face challenges and have real problems that need solving for its citizens. But are we solving real problems? And are we coming up with realistic solutions?
BELIEVE THERE ARE REAL PROBLEMS?
Many of the folks who supported Trump’s run for the Presidency and many of those who continue to support him, or the kind of policies he evinced in January 2017 “Muslim Ban”, indicate they support him because he represented change. He was the only one addressing the real problems, etc. These folks feel frustrated and, possibly, afraid. They feel he offers the best answers to those fears and frustrations. I don’t mention this to single any such people out for criticism. Rather, I seek to recognize that these people have concerns they felt were going unanswered.
At the time of the January 2017 “Muslim Ban”, I also encountered a lot of people bragging to Liberals. Telling them, “You just are upset about Trump because you are afraid his policies will work.” I continue to encounter people who say words to that effect. So, there is a genuine hope and/or belief by some folks that Trump’s policies, i.e., his solutions to the problems and challenges America faces, are the right answers and in some instances the only answers.
HOW DOES THIS PARTICULAR ORDER ACTUALLY SOLVE THOSE PROBLEMS?
But there are questions those folks, and, indeed, all of us need to ask. So, bear with me while I go through the exercise of asking, by using one particular attempt at a solution.
What problems did the January 2017 “Muslim Ban” executive order actually solve? What would it have solved had it not been superseded by Trump’s executive order in March 2017? What were the ends that justified those means?
No really. What were they? Muslim immigrants (including those with valid visas, etc.) are not the reason that plants close or jobs are lost. They are not why it is so hard to make a living as a farmer. So, it is not to address personal economic or developmental woes.
It’s to make the U.S. and its citizens safer, right? To prevent terrorist acts of violence against Americans in the U.S, correct?
Yet almost none of the recent “terrorist” activities in the U.S. that can be deemed to be motivated by allegiances to radical Islam have been done by recent immigrants from the countries subject to the ban. Almost all have been by people who have been here a while and/or are U.S. citizens. So, the suspension of folks from those countries did not really serve to prevent much, if anything, by way of terrorist acts against Americans in the U.S. that may be motivated by radical Islamic ideologies.
That doesn’t even get into the fact that U.S. citizens face far more danger from terror and attacks motivated by other things. There is a larger incidence of mass murder from other motivations, such as folks pissed they lost their job, folks who have severe emotional and mental instability, or folks who are racial supremacists.
So, the order sought to fix a non-existent problem. Not the question of terrorism. But rather terrorism originating from immigrants from a specific set of countries. Terrorism that, it turns out, did not exist.
EXTREME VETTING OF SYRIAN REFUGEES? SOLVED BEFORE TRUMP BECAME PRESIDENT.
What about the vetting of Syrian refugees? That was something that Trump said needed to be done. Did the order fix that?
Well Syrian refuges already go through a very extreme vetting process and can wait years before being allowed into the U.S., if they are let in at all. They are the most vetted immigrants to this country. They are already heavily screened. So, an indefinite halt to admitting those refugees into this country in order to put in place an extreme vetting process is an order trying to solve a non-existent problem.
That the President was apparently largely unaware of the vetting process already in place for Syrian refugees was made evident by not only by his comments prior to issuing the January 2017 order, but those he made in defense of it, when he essentially said that we need to overhaul the review process to put in extreme vetting because it should have been in place all along. Except, it already was in place all along.
In other words, the order sought to solve a problem that does not exist because the President of this country and his advisors did not bother to know, or chose not to believe, readily available information regarding the vetting process. They chose to fix a problem without diagnosing it or even verifying if it existed in the first place.
They thought that rather than actually looking at things first and seeing if changes are actually needed, they would rather further victimize people who have already been subject to severe screening and have already been subjected to extreme horrors by the very people of which we are so afraid. Horror so terrible it drove them to not only flee their homes, but their homeland and face an uncertain future in a refugee camp.
As to the threat these people might pose to the lives of those in the U.S., it is, as discussed above, relatively negligible. No doubt in part due to the extreme vetting those folks go through. So, if we are merely weighing lives here, the number of lives saved greatly outweighs those at risk. And the lives saved will most likely be incredibly grateful to the nation that unstintingly takes them in.
To tie this to more current events, over a year later, on January 29, 2018, the Trump administration finally announced that has figured out this extra vetting business. No comment on what it is or how it differs from what already was in place. The vagueness about what this process will be is indicative that again, this was not a problem that needed solving. Rather, it was already solved. And now the administration seeks to take credit for solving their non-existent vetting problem, while conveniently never describing what the problem actually was or how it has been fixed. We call this “lack of transparency.”
UNFAIR TREATMENT TO CHRISTIAN REFUGEES? ALSO NOT A PROBLEM.
But getting back to questions about that initial executive order. Did it, perhaps, address an inequity facing Christian refugees from those areas seeking asylum in the U.S.?
Some of the provisions of the order addressed preferential consideration of folks who were from non-Muslim religions in those majority Muslim states. Trump made arguments along those lines in support of the order. That, in the U.S.’s rush to aid Muslim refugees, Christian refugees were being neglected.
But the U.S. had already let in almost as many Christian refugees from the area as Muslim ones. Therefore, given they were the minority, the U.S. already was allowing in a disproportionate number of Christian refugees. Thus, the order in this regard addressed yet another non-existent problem.
Plus, let’s be honest. If you were trying to get into America as an ISIS operative, don’t you think you would have a better chance by faking being a Christian than trying to get in with those other Muslims? If you are afraid that ISIS is sneaking in operatives via Syrian Muslim refugees, you should be just as afraid they are doing so through Christian ones. They’re horrible terrorists who would do anything for their goals, aren’t they? Surely, they would do this too. So, it is not necessarily prudent to U.S. safety to assume that Christian refugees from those areas pose less of a threat.
After looking at it carefully, the conclusion becomes clear. By and large, the order stood to fix no problems.
WHAT IF INSTEAD OF SOLVING POBLEMS, THE ORDER CREATED THEM?
In fact, the order did and does create many problems for the U.S.
It blocked and mistreated persons from those countries who have aided and worked for the U.S. Some of whom have done so a great risk to themselves and their families. The initial “Muslim Ban” order betrayed those people. Those folks were put at risk by the very people whom they risked everything to help.
The “Muslim Ban” also decreased the likelihood others would want to come forward and help us in the future. I mean, look at how those other folks were treated. So that stood to harm U.S. persons in those areas. Like, for example, U.S. troops.
The order blocked legitimate visa holders. It blocked those with dual citizenship, as long as one of those citizenships is not U.S. Like British runner Mo Farrah, who was living with his family in the U.S. He has dual citizenship. He was born in Somalia, but moved to Great Britain when he was 8. He has Somali and U.K. citizenship. He fell under the ban.
Here’s an additional example. Another person of dual citizenship, this time from Canada and another of the banned countries, chose not to even try to cross the border between U.S. and Canada. He was a Canadian businessman, but his company, in the process of expansion, was largely based out of the U.S. As a result of the ban, he stopped his company’s U.S. expansion for practical reasons. He did not know if he would be allowed to oversee any of that expansion. That resulted in lost income, investment, and jobs in the U.S.
The initial “Muslim Ban” blocked victims, allies, decent folk, and those who have aided us.
Yes, that creates problems.
PROBLEMS FOR U.S. FOREIGN RELATIONS
It also really messes up matters for the U.S. internationally. You know that high horse that we have used to justify a lot of our international actions? It is largely based on U.S. democratic ideals, including equality regardless of race or religion. Whether you think the “Muslim Ban” was justified or not, it targeted based on religion. By doing so, it undercut the U.S.’s own authority in the world. We can’t use color of moral authority based on our ideals of equality when we violate those ideals. Even if you think the violation was for good reason, it still is a violation. Thus, we took away some of our own leverage to enforce our interests internationally.
We also created reasons for countries to consider banning us and perhaps even sanctioning us. We created a situation where those ideas could readily be floated out there. We have undermined our “cred” internationally. And whether you think the U.S. should be more isolationist or not, the reality is that the U.S. is a major world power right now. So that “cred” matters. It threatens to impact us not just in international standing, but also as far as international allegiances go, having folks willing to assist us in those countries, and probably has economic implications as well.
And messing with our international cred, eroding our leverage in international dealings, and messing with our alliances can lead to bigger problems. It serves to justify taking the U.S. out of international equations. And before you start thinking that’s good, “America First” and all that, stop a moment and consider. If we no longer sit at the various international tables, how do we make ensure our interests, “American First” or otherwise, are covered.
It’s a bit like having a dispute mediated, where you don’t go to the mediation. You end up having to to hope that the negotiations of other parties to the dispute will somehow magically also end up protecting your interests as well. Not a great position to be in. So yes, this is a real problem.
CREATING PROBLEMS IN THE VERY AREA WE AIMED TO FIX
The initial “Muslim Ban” also created problems in the very areas it was supposedly designed to fix. That bit about reducing chances of radical Islamic inspired terror attacks within the country. Since then, we have had threats and attacks within the country and outside it triggered by, at least in part, the January 2017 “Muslim Ban” and the various U.S. follow ups.
The “Muslim Ban” created a great basis for recruitment for an ailing ISIS and others radical Islamic groups. ISIS had lost ground recently. That order gave it a bit more wind.
Because the executive order sent a clear signal to Muslims around the world, including Muslim U.S. citizens and permanent residents, that the government of the U.S. is in fact hostile to them. Also, that it is afraid of them as a group simply because of their religion.
That plays exactly into the radical Islam narrative. It is a great recruitment tool. “See we were right all along. They don’t care about you. They hate you.”
So, the order itself did not to make the U.S. safer.
It did, however, do things to make the U.S. and its citizens less safe.
In solving non-existent or misrepresented problems, the order created several serious new ones.
Why is this the case? Because, as Trump had demonstrated over and over again, he and his team were not looking at the real problems. Further, the solutions they proposed do not appear to be based on accurate information. They are based on misrepresentation and distortion at best.
THE ISSUE GOES FAR BEYOND ANY “MUSLIM BAN”
Thus, we have come to a huge issue facing this country and its citizens.
I am not talking just talking about the “Muslim Ban” executive order. That was just an exercise. An example to walk us through the issue.
I am talking about issues that face the U.S. as a whole. And exercises we need to do, regardless of what party or person is in charge, or what type of solutions they propose.
We, the people, do have serious concerns and face problems. But are the ones we are trying to address the actual problems? Or are they imaginary? If they are actual problems, are the solutions being presented going to actually fix them? What new problems do the proposed fixes create?
Trump, in signing the “Muslim Ban” executive order, fulfilled a campaign promise. According to the Trump supporters I have spoken with this “saying what he means” is a considerable selling point for them. So yes, he has done things as he said he would. But are the things he is doing actually presenting solutions to problems? If so, do the new problems created by these solutions outweigh the effect of those solutions?
These are questions we all need to be asking. Of anyone in power.
EXAMINING OTHER PROPOSED FIXES – WHAT PROBLEMS DO THEY CREATE?
Take a look at the proposed border wall. It will cause huge problems domestically. You may not remember, be we already have done this as a dry run. Remember the border fence? And we had to call it off. So, the fence remains incomplete.
It has also proven largely ineffective. And was too costly to build and to maintain. And took a lot of land from U.S. citizens through eminent domain.
Then there are the trade and international relations issues the border wall issue creates. Trade issues that stand to heavily impact those rural farmers that Trump promised would finally have their concerns heard.
Even a rosy view of this border wall project indicates that it will do little to solve the perceived illegal immigrant issues and create huge new problems in its wake.
Look at the Affordable Care Act repeal steps begun at the start of 2017. Lawmakers who had been clamoring for the repeal (the one they had been selling to Americans as a real problem that needs to be fixed since it was passed) had to admit that the consequences of repealing the Act without a suitable replacement were of graver concern than all that was supposedly wrong with the Act itself.
Those same people have had six or more years to develop a replacement and did not. It is as if only at that moment in early 2017 did those folks realize the basic fact that lead to the Act in the first place. That the system in place prior to the Act was much worse.
While the solution created by the Act clearly has flaws, they do not outweigh the problems in the original system. Going back to the original system will create more problems than the ACA has.
PROBLEM SOLVING REQUIRES ANALYSIS
That’s the kinds of analysis all of us, including our leadership, needs to be doing all along.
First, questioning what the problem really is. Looking at real facts. Not convenient talking points. Those may be good for swaying the masses, but aren’t good for policy making.
And part of that questioning requires looking at the actual causes of the problem.
Next, trying to come up with solutions that realistically fix the true causes of the problem. You don’t want to exorcise your car of gremlins to fix it, if the problem is a worn-out timing belt. That exorcism is not going to solve the problem. Having the timing belt replaced will.
Then, assess if the proposed fix creates additional problems.
Finally, weigh whether the fix creates more problems than it solves. Is the fix worth it, in the short run? How about the long run?
QUESTIONS TO ASK OURSELVES AND OUR LEADERS
Maybe you voted for Trump. Maybe you support what he is currently doing. Maybe you support the Conservatives, or the Republicans in Congress, or what they are currently doing.
But have you truly looked at the problems they say exist? Are they really problems? Are the solutions proposed costlier than the problems they seek to fix?
“You just are upset about Trump because you are afraid his policies will work.” Work in what way? Are they truly working if they create more and bigger problems than they solve? Or, while trying to solve non-existent problems, create new ones of even greater magnitude?
What if, while wasting time on ineffective and problematical solutions to artificial or inflated problems, real problems go unsolved and/or get worse? Like, say, the opioid crisis. Or income inequality and insufficiency. Or decaying infrastructure.
It’s not just about whether Trump and others elected do as they promised. It is also whether they do what they should for the good of the U.S. and its citizens. Are these things really good for us? Are these things more harmful than helpful? Are we ignoring real problems facing people in the meantime?
Would it be better to fix water pipes in Flint and other places in American than to build a border wall? For the American people as a whole, probably yes. It’s not as flashy as a border wall. You can’t get folks as excited about it on a campaign trail. But clean water is far more important. Far more of an issue.
Stop getting distracted. Look at the real problems you and those around you face. Think not just of your own concerns but also those of your neighbor, your co-worker, the cashier at the checkout. What are those problems? What is really causing them? How can they be fixed? Is there a way to do it that solves more issues than it creates?
GOING THROUGH THE ANALYSIS ON THE ORIGINAL “MUSLIM BAN”
The January 2017 “Muslim Ban” was, honestly, awful. It appeared to be illegal. Not only did it seem contrary to existing U.S. statutes, but also courts ruled against it.
It was issued as a declaration and provided little to no mechanics as to how it was to be effectuated. It was immediate instead of giving folks time to figure out how they were going to enforce it (particularly in light of the order’s lack of guidance in this regard). Chaos resulted.
It flew in the face of the ideals this country claims to espouse.
And in the end, it was so flawed, even the administration replaced it after a few months.
Some folks may try to point out how the ends justify the means, though. I get that they’re afraid. But, as I have pointed out, the ends in this instance did nothing to remove the real causes of those fears. And, despite all the revisions, still don’t.
The order, and those that have come since, did not accomplish the ends they claim to address. Instead they created negatives for the U.S., including actually aiding radical Islamic recruiting. These orders sought to solve non-existent problems and, in doing so, created huge real ones. Further, the problems they claimed to solve served to distract from the real issues facing America both domestically and internationally. Problems like those noted above, that remain unaddressed a year later.
KEEPING GOING THROUGH THE ANALYSIS
I don’t care if you generally support the folks currently in power. I don’t care if you voted for them. Whether you did or not, whether you do or not, is not the issue. It is our duty to pull back the curtain on what they say and what they propose to do, and ask ourselves, is that a real problem? Does it really need to be addressed? Is how they propose to address it going to do more harm than good? Are there more important problems that need to be addressed instead? What is causing those and how can they be fixed? How do I get the elected officials to address those issues instead?
We need to ask this, regardless of our personal ideologies. Regardless of who is in power. Regardless of who we voted for.
We need to stop letting ourselves be ruled by fear and frustration. We need to stop letting ourselves be convinced that something is a problem when it is not. Or that something will fix a problem when it does not address the underlying causes.
We need to be honest with ourselves about what is causing problems. Not what we want it to be because it assuages that fear and frustration. Problems can’t be solved by addressing things that are not the cause of the problem in the first place.
We also need to hold those in power accountable when they do this kind of action. When they enact solutions to problems that don’t exist. When their solutions create more and greater problems than they solve. When they distort or ignore facts to justify what they have done. When they go down a pathway that does not really address the needs of the American people while patting themselves on the back for having “done something.”
I am not talking about instances of unforeseeable consequences. The consequences of that first “Muslim Ban” and the follow ups since were clear from the beginning. Even a year later, with the power of hindsight, I did not have to really change the analysis I originally wrote right after the first ban was issued in January 2017.
As part of the democratic process it is our responsibility and duty to hold the people in power accountable.
This is not about partisanship. This is about citizenship.
All of us should be concerned about it. If not for the good of our fellow citizens, then for our own good.
And all of us need to really examine what is going on and whether it opens up gaps in a line to close of a non-existent one.