We learned about the impending arrival of Donald Trump’s decision to ban citizens or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries before the executive order on immigration and refugees was released, or able to be read or appeared online. For Trump described its arrival with a flourish in his visit to the Pentagon, relishing his arrival in the center of military power on which he had long set his eyes. Perhaps because this was Trump regards the Ban, championed as “border security measures” needed to defend national safety, as a promise made to the American people during his Presidential campaign–rather than an action undertaken as a sitting President. In ways that set the stage for his administration’s current plans for deporting illegal immigrants from the United States by thousands of newly-hired border agents, the massive remapping of who was able to enter the United States–and the suspension of the rights of those applying for visas as tourists or workers, or for refugee status–eliminated the concept of according any rights for immigrants or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries on the basis of the danger that they allegedly collectively constituted to the United States. The rubric of “enhancing public safety within the interior United States” is based on a new way of mapping the power of government to collectively stigmatize and deny rights to a large section of the world, and separate the United States from previous human rights accords.
It has escaped few that the extra-governmental channels of communication Trump preferred as a candidate and is privileging in his attacks on the media indicates his preference for operating outside established channels–in ways which dangerously to appeal to the nation to explain the imminent vulnerabilities to the nation from afar. Trump has regularly claimed to undertake “the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe” in a speech made “directly to the American people,” as if outside a governmental apparatus or legislative review. And while claiming to have begun “the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe” in speeches made “directly to the american people with the media present, . . . because many of our reporters . . . will not tell you the truth,” he seems to relish the declaration of an expansion of policies to police entrance to the country, treating the nation as if an expensive nightclub or exclusive resort, where he can determine access by policies outside a governmental apparatus or legislative review. Even after the unanimous questioning by an appellate court of the constitutionality of the executive order issued to bar both refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations, Trump insists he is still “keeping every option open“ and on the verge this coming week of “just filing a brand new order“ designed to leave more families in legal limbo and refugees safely outside of the United States, in ways that have sent waves of fear among refugees already in the Untied States about their future security, and among refugees in camps across the Middle East. The new order–which exempts visa holders from the nations, as well as green card holders, and does not target Syrian refugees when processing visas–nonetheless is directed to the identical seven countries, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya, while retaining a policy of or capping the number of refugees granted citizenship or immigrant status, taking advantage of a linguistic slippage between the recognition of their refugee status and the designation as refugees of those fleeing their home countries. While the revised Executive Order seems to restore the proposed ceiling of 50,000 refugees chosen in 1980 for those fleeing political chaos with “well-founded fears of persecution,” the new policy, unlike the Refugee Act of 1980, makes no attempt to provide a flexible mechanism to take account of growing global refugee problems even as it greatly exaggerates the dangers refugees admitted to America pose, and inspires fear in an increasingly vulnerable population of displaced peoples.
Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration rather openly blocks entry to the country in ways that reorient the relation of the United States to the world. It disturbingly remaps our national policy of international humanitarianism, placing a premium on our relation to terrorist organizations: at a stroke, and without consultation with our allies, it closes our borders to foreign entry to all visa holders or refugees in something more tantamount to a quarantine of the sort that Donald Trump advocated in response to the eruption of infections from Ebola than to a credible security measure. The fear of attack is underscored in the order. The mapping of danger to the country is rooted in a promise to “keep you safe” that of course provokes fears and anxieties of dangers, as much as it responds to an actual cause. And despite the stay on restraints of immigrations for those arriving from the seven countries whose residents are being denied visas by executive fiat, the drawing of borders under the guise of “extreme vetting,” and placing the dangers of future terrorist attacks on the “Homeland” in seven countries far removed from our shores, as if to give the nation a feeling of protection, even if our nation was never actually challenged by these nations or members of any nation state. The result has already inspired fear and panic among many stranded overseas, and increase fear at home of alleged future attacks, that can only bolster executive authority in unneeded ways.
The genealogy of executive prerogatives to defend the borders and bounds of the nation demands to be examined. Even while insisting on the need for speed, security, and unnamed dangers, the Trump administration continues to accuse the courts of having made an undue “political decision” in ways that ignore constitutional due process by asserting executive prerogative to redraw the map of respecting human rights and mapping the long unmapped terrorist threats to the nation to make them appear concrete. For while the dangers of terrorist attack were never mapped with any clear precision for the the past fifteen years since the attacks of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, coordinated by members of the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda, Trump has misleadingly promised a clear remapping of the dangers that the nation faces, which he insists hat the nation and his supporters were long entitled to have, as if meeting the demand to remap the place of terrorism in an increasingly dangerous world. The specter of civil rights violations of a ban on Muslims entering the United States had been similarly quite abruptly re-mapped the actual relation of the United States to the world, in ways that evoke the PATRIOT act, by preventing the entry of all non-US residents from these nations. Much as the PATRIOT act led to the detention of Arab and Muslim suspects, even without evidence, the executive order that Trump issued banned all residents of these seven Muslim-majority nations. The above map, which was quickly shown on both FOX and CNN alike to describe the regions identified as sites of potential Jihadi danger immediately oriented Americans to the danger of immigrants as if placing the country on a state of yellow alert.
There is some irony hile terrorist networks have rarely been mapped with precision–and are difficult to target even by drone strikes, the executive order goes far beyond the powers granted to immigration authorities to allow the “territoritorial integrity of the United States,” even as the territory of the United States is of course not actually under attack.
What sort of world do Trump and his close circle of advisors live–or imagine that they live? “It is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of the country,” Trump tried to clarify on February 1, as the weekend ended. We’re all too often reminded that it was all about “preventing foreign terrorists from entering the United States,” as Trump insists, oblivious to the bluntness of a blanket targeting of everyone with a visa or citizenship from seven nations of Muslim majority–a blunt criteria indeed–often not associated with specific terrorist threats, and far fewer than Muslim-majority nations worldwide.
The recent revelation of Trump’s own preference for declarative maps within his daily intelligence briefings–a “single page, with lots of graphics and maps” according to one official familiar with his daily intelligence briefings–not only indicate the possibility that executive order may have indeed developed after consulting maps, but underscore the need to examine the silences that surround its blunt mapping of terrorism. PDB’s provide distillations of diplomatic, intelligence, and military information, and could include interactive maps or video when President Obama received PDB’s on his iPad, even encouraging differing or dissenting opinions, and demand disciplined attention, lest one is distracted by uncorroborated information or raw intelligence—or untrained in discriminating voices from different areas of expertise. Is the synthesis an act of intellectual engagement Trump is experienced? Given his longstanding plans to limit the role of a Director of National Intelligence, tasked to synthesize the sixteen intelligence offices in government, and the confirmation of the Director after the Executive Order was issued, Trump most probably based the decision on the information-gathering system developed on the campaign trail.
The sudden and dramatic shrinkage of the increasingly streamlined Presidential Daily Briefings to but a page omits more information than it is bound to include. As maps are apt all the more to mislead–and indeed, to present and privilege only a single point of view–Trump prefers the inclusion of a map within increasingly streamlined Presidential Daily Briefings from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, without dissenting views or conflicting opinions. While continuing a brief summary of recent breaking events deserving Presidential attention, and are given to the President-Elect to allow she or he to get “up to speed” with global events, tand for the intelligence community to prevent the President’s team and administration to “settle into a narrative” of policy-making: the regular provision of the PDB provides intelligence officials an opportunity to challenge the worldview of the president-elect’s political advisers with a dose of reality. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden described its provision as the “phenomenon of the unpleasant fact,” when “You’re telling them something they don’t want to hear and don’t want to believe” to challenge their world view, delivered in -person “to shake the preferred narrative of the policymaker,” and to do so “with your tone, and your words and your body language to communicate, as opposed to just throwing it over the transom.” Already as President Elect, Trump revealed not only ambivalence to the standard routes or channels of intelligence-provision–“I get it when I need it,” Trump told Fox News Sunday–and a certain arrogance, rather than hearing from a broad array of experts. Its focus reflects a geographic preoccupation or concern: if President Nixon’s briefing focussed on Vietnam and China; Ronald Reagan’s was almost singularly obsessed with the Soviet Union; recent PDB’s focus largely on the Middle East and Russia. How much gets through?
It should escape no one that the Executive Order on Immigration arrives at a time when the sudden contraction diminished the provision of information from intelligence officials and powerful filters in Presidential advisors’ hands to create or fashion their own narratives: the advisers are charged to distill global conflicts to the dimensions of a page, double-spaced and with all relevant figures, that give prominent position to a single map. Such distilled Daily Briefings have recently varied in length considerably. But one might worry about the shortened length by which recent PDB’s provide a means for the intelligence community to adapt to a given President: Trump’s President’s Daily Briefing on security threats around the entire globe reduced to but one page, including charts, the maps included are dangerously likely to perpetuate the distorted images of the dangers of Islam perpetuated in maps that are used as guidelines for Border Control.
For such maps suit the purpose of foregrounding one perspective, if they digest information in a way easy to understand. The immorality of the ban on visitors and refugees from seven countries is a gift to hard-line rulers, rather than effecting terrorism. But it bears noting that the Travel Ban may actually reflect the currency of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories within Trump’s cabinet: for Bannon, a former film-maker turned Breitbart executive, has distortingly labeled Muslim-American groups as “cultural jihadists” intent on destroying American society and Western Civilization, in the past offered a podium to groups Americans of the cultural danger of Islam, hoping to make Americans feel threatened by Muslim organizations. His planned 2007 bizarre proposal for a film conjuring the spectre of America’s takeover by an Islamic “Fifth Column” about a Muslim takeover that produced a regime change that lead to the imposition of Sharia religion–The Islamic States of America, which set a bizarre precedent for the willful conflation of the legal code of Islam with a terrorist threat. Bannon’s proposed film script may seem a bizarrely indulgent fantasy, but led Bannon to caution against the threat of the “Muslim World” in the Vatican in 2014, asserting “There is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global.” He has now gained a platform for airing his views, irrespective of civil liberties.
Is the notion of such a threat behind Trump’s proposed Islamic Ban, and the image of “unifying the country” the Trump puts forth? Indeed, in singling out Muslims to whom it attributes “hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles” of the United States, as “those who would place violent ideologies over American law,” the conjuring of Shariah law as a separate civilization and tradition creates not only a narrative that opposes Islam and the West, but Islamic nations against the United States of America, giving validity to anti-Muslim rhetoric, and the bluntness of Bannon’s own views that ‘Christianity is dying in Europe and Islam is on the rise,” and lends currency to the anti-Islamic fears of the threat Islamic codes posed to American freedom of the sort Bannon fostered in his film, and in the fake news that circulated on Breitbart News of a “stealthy, subversive jihad.” Indeed, wrapping anti-Islamism in patriotic rhetoric encourage the urgency of containing “Radical Islam” as a way to purge, cleanse, or protect our nation, society and culture from impending threats, and of conflating religion and state in truly un-American ways.
In a manner far removed from American foreign policy expertise, the recent ‘Islamic Ban’ unjustifiably maps the danger of Islamicist menace, however. And its fears have been echoed by the bizarre insistence that its suspension has already allowed an “onrush” of refugees from seven “suspect” nations to occur, in ways that frame a geography of distrust and spatial imaginary of national vulnerability in urgent and quite dangerous ways. In ways that recall the sudden large scale “detention without bond” of Arab and Muslim non-citizens in the panicked months after 9/11, as ad hoc laws legitimated the “haphazard and indiscriminate” suspected terrorists, the expansion of the executive prerogative mirrors presumption until proven otherwise of large numbers of non-citizen residents and foreigners. Detention until presumed relation to the threat of terrorism was proven, or the suspect removed from the nation, in the PATRIOT Act during the Bush administration was expanded grounds for immigrants’ detention for national safety, as the denial of all visas or recognition of refugees from war-torn regions as Syria, Sudan, and Iraq–all without ties to terrorist networks–was suddenly decreed. The executive order erased individuals’ guilt or actual involvement by subsuming their fate within a question of border security and national security.
By suspending civil rights and refugee processing in order to “ensure our immigration system is not a vehicle for terrorists,” national dangers needed to be mapped. The definition of seven nations asserted the perception of a source for danger with no discernible legal basis, by naturalizing the citizens of these nations as enemies of danger to the state, in ways that seem to mask quite half-heartedly its targeting of members of the Islamic faith. For the executive order creates a map of terror to magnify actual threats of a terrorist strike on United States soil in unprecedented ways. Although the ban asserted only to allow faithful execution of immigration laws already on the books, and only to last three or four months, the practices of detainment until the threat of terrorist ties was in fact assessed has been radically expanded in the promotion of Islam into an existential threat by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, and Steve Bannon. While President Trump, obliviously, has asserted the “very, very strict ban” was “working out very nicely,”the roll-out was not only disastrous, but placed many in places of panic, led flights to be cancelled, and others to be returned to their destinations or prevented from travel. The result was to implement a “Constitution-Free Zone” not only at our borders, but in our airports–oddly analogous to the shrunken borders of rights in this image of the zone where United States Custom and Border Protection agents operate, and enjoy broad powers and often justify warrantless searches.
While such warrantless searches are only conducted with “reasonable suspicion” in this border zone near “ports of entry,” the restrictions of entering the nation was intended to prevent all citizens of Islamic-Majority states without justification from entering the United States. And no sleight of hand is able better to convincingly manufacture and embody the danger of such an unidentifiable threat as a map. And the certainty by which the map demonstrates the ability by executive fiat to “suspend the entry” of “any class of aliens,” according to the Cold-War era Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 19522, judged “detrimental to the interest of the United States” has created a basis for invoking the territorial borders at the nation’s airports in ways oddly jarring in an age of international air travel. It seems all too fitting that the time-travel supposed President expands the detention of immigrants deemed dangerous to the nation in the PATRIOT Act, designating a broad range of nationals as in danger of exporting terror to the United States–in a particularly effective exercise of collective psychology. In ways that seem to spawn a newly increased level of fear–and to use fears to justify the new needs for national defense–Trump seems to have begun from a new attempt to map and concretize the existence of actual threats that endanger our democracy, albeit in quite disproportionately exaggerated and deeply unjustified ways.
The map of “nations impacted” by what was designated in shorthand as a “Travel Ban”that policy adviser Miller called “beyond question” was widely mapped as covering an expanded region identified as dangerous to the nation’s domestic security. The residents have been placed at a pen-stroke at a collective remove from the United States that will be difficult to bridge for some time, even if the executive order designed to obstruct mobility and travel has been issued to play to audiences of Trump supporters at home. Trump is said to be fond of maps, requesting multiple maps and graphics in single-page policy papers–“the President likes maps,” said an official in the Trump White House–and the direct signifying power of a map with clear borders seem to have provided him with the clearest way to get a handle on terrorist threats early in his administration.
If maps best show the “bad people” Trump wants to be kept out of the country, was the formulation of the executive order on refugees and visas outside traditional interagency processes, or operational guidance, made decisively on a map?
As much as a visa waiver, the deep international alienation that the executive order achieved is an arrogant strike against involvement in a region where the United States was until recently militarily engaged. To be sure, the intent to issue a ban on Muslim refugees had been repeatedly raised on the campaign trail in 2016, enough to make it seem a reasonable proposition, if one without grounds. The notion was floated from Trump’s very first television advertisements of the campaign as an illustration of his promise to provide a total image of national safety –and, albeit misleadingly, to remove its vulnerability from external threats.
Although the Ban aims to remove the specter of a jihadist threat, it is based on a deeply disruptive reorientation of the map, designating many as enemies of the nation without any grounds. Yet it shares continuities with disturbing traditions granting exta-constitutional authority to an executive branch of government to defend nations against external enemies.
Still from Donald Trump’s First Campaign Ad (2016)
While it was little surprise to hear an issue prominently raised in the Presidential campaign, without fact-checking or legal objections, the framing of the executive order without any consultation outside of a small circle of advisors familiar from Trump’s campaign have activated a profound remapping of the relation of the nation and its enemies, evoking a legacy of geopolitics that is far removed from any foreign policy expertise, enhancing the executive power of an executive with very limited foreign policy experience. Rather than be only a disruption from past foreign policy, the issuance of the slew of executive orders serves to amplify the power of the executive in troubling continuity with the presidency of George W. Bush and the legal precedents of enhancing executive authority to define enemies of the nation that echo the ideologue and jurist Carl Schmitt’s defense of executive power beyond constitutional limits during states of emergency. And even though members of the Trump cabinet insist that Steven Bannon, considered a driving force behind Trump’s immigration policies, had “no role” in the executive order on immigration and refugees that “have profoundly improved our national security,”and more are intended to protect the country from “hostile” intruders. But the fear-inspiring map of vulnerabilities to Jihadist that the Ban creates seems an attempt to undo alliances carefully forged against ISIS.
Even as Trump’s senior policy advisers assert the ideological differences of their attitudes to the protection of the nation’s borders, they descend from an authoritarian claim for executive prerogative to redraw foreign policy maps for domestic safety. Yet Trump’s senior policy advisers assert on FOX TV and Sunday morning television news “the president’s powers here are beyond question” to designate national enemies to secure our borders necessary to national safety, affirming the power of the executive to protect national safety in distinctly un-American and anti-democratic disparagement of legal authority or review, shrouded in an imbalanced notion of constitutional authority, and mismaps the relation of the executive to the world with a fascist pedigree by “getting strong” against enemies. Some observers of the Trump campaign questioned the fascist origins of its xenophobic rhetoric, but insistence on the urgency of securing national borders of “suspend[ing] the entry of aliens” offers an exercise of boundary-drawing, defining others as outsiders irrespective of individual rights, in the name of defending “national” interests irrespective of individual rights.
The approval Donald Trump had sought from the crowds at his rallies as a candidate were presented as surrogates for a democratic process in particularly frightening ways. The proposal to ban immigrants from the country was validated as the opinion of his strongest supporters, in ways that over-rode existing governmental protocol or legal scrutiny. Although these seven nations are among the most war-torn areas with significant numbers of refugees arriving to the United States in recent years–and just less than half since the inauguration and in the last year–the order creates a map of American interests focussed on the dangers of immigration, mapping the dangers that refugees and foreigners pose to American interests that disrupts both refugee policy by barring the entrance of members of seven nations in any way that has become something of a centerpiece in defining the identity and agenda of a Trump administration, if not a testing point of executive authority–while dramatically increasing the distance of the entire region from the United States with terrifyingly dangerous consequences.
The quickness with which Trump’s January 27 executive order to “protect the American people from attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States” followed his first visit to the Pentagon that afternoon, when he had promised to introduce new “vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America.” The executive order on refugees and visas, and largely avoided the traditional interagency process but was issued during a visit to the Pentagon when Trump had promised, “We want to make sure we don’t want to admit into our country the very terrorists that our soldiers are fighting overseas.” In raising a national security issue, Trump used the military setting to set forth not only where the dangers to the United States lie, but to scapegoat a religious faith he had long associated with the dangers of jihad. In offering a map of seven nations, the executive order concretized the presence of danger outside the nation’s boundaries in ways particularly disturbing and over-eager, based on the shaky principle of mapping the danger “radical Islamists” posed as a national threat for future terrorist attacks from seven nations. The abrupt decision within a tight inner circle redirected foreign policy from within the White House–the white-haired Vice-President Pence, waxy Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy advisor, pale Gen. Mike Flynn and scrappy chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon–blindsiding top lawmakers, heads of the Homeland Security, State or Defense Departments, and courts.
The executive order framed a distorted map of nations threatening the country for the nation that was made without foreign policy expertise as a pillar of national policy, reflecting their fear of Islamists in ways that demands to be examined. In part, the executive order perpetuated the need to expand an already extremely rigorous vetting procedure, crating a sense of national dangers by casting the existing vetting practices of screening nationals of Islamic-majority states as both flawed and in disarray, to create a sense of panic that legitimized and called attention to the need for executive order. But far more dangerously, by disbanding all foreign policy expertise, the ban seems to rest on validating a deeply rooted anti-Islamist suspicion, leading senior advisors like Miller to inveigh against “judicial usurpation of power” as the executive seeks to protect the nation from foreign dangers, subordinating foreign policy to national interests and designing national policy by his own perception of national vulnerabilities. While not at first even asserting that it constituted a ban, and describing it as a purely temporary action, the lack of any reason for lifting the ban made it a major reorientation not only of American foreign policy, but of international relations.
The draconian nature of a ban on citizens of Muslim-majority countries and refugees was hard to imagine, let alone implement, as it appeared a de facto coup and foreign policy change as much as an illustration of executive strength. The decree issued late Friday night with urgency, restricting visas or processing refugees. In arguing that the ban was part of “not allowing” the threat of “radical Islam” to “take root in our country” lest it be “put in peril” the nation. Issuing the Ban sewed fears of an impending threat repeatedly on social media, conjuring “people who want to destroy our country”–as a rationale for banning the entry of both refugees and foreign visitors who might be suggested to have ties to the national danger he has identified with Islam. For the Ban perpetuated a fantasy of ensuring sealed borders has created a dangerously deceptive mental map of national purification, as if freeing the nation from danger: the Ban was promoted by mapping dangers that lie outside the country, indeed, as if intentionally to distract audiences from those that lie within. But it is also to define the clearest challenges to traditional authority and order from without, and to locate those challenges in states most easily able to tie to Islam.
Trump had regularly evoked a frequent opposition between us and them in his campaign speeches that are echoed in his appeal for voters’ trust in his person, but the Friday night executive order placed such heightened restrictions on entering the country that evoke his warnings of the dangers of accepting refugees to the nation. Repeated allusions to the security threat posed by the imminent arrival of “potential terrorists,” “many very bad and dangerous people,” or just “certain people” were purposefully vague–as if to naturalize a division between faiths and worldly civilizations, barely trying to conceal the implied target of the ban, so that it almost never need to be mapped at all to be explained. For as the first advertisements Trump used to call attention to his candidacy by suggesting such a “temporary ban”–of unknown duration–seem to have derived from a need to make good on the promises of his campaign that a new border policy could provide security that Trump seemed to suggest was absent or not provided in current immigration policy.
Both CNN and FOX TV used the above news map to embody the ways that the executive order confronted the threat that America suddenly seemed to face. The emergency conditions Trump argued rationalized the executive order were not at all specific, but suggested an amorphous danger whose contours were not able to be mapped–as if the ban provided the only certainty to prevent national enemies from entering our territory. The map was not only a map of nations of Muslim-majority populations, but was itself a trigger of a larger map of fear. Trump’s repeated evocation of unspecified threats on his personal social media echoed candidate Trump’s urging for the need for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in the wake of the San Bernardino tragedy in December 2, 2015–a demand conjuring a military or police “lockdown“–which launched an implicit attack on the executive of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the Presidential campaign, and which the executive order seems issued to make good upon, irrespective of the law or civil liberties.
President Trump at first insisted the executive order was only named a Muslim Ban only by the “media,” as he misleadingly claimed with rancor, indignation and righteousness it was in fact not a ban at all–“Everyone is calling it a ban! Call it what you want!“–it was. And by February 4, Trump tweeted with pride middle eastern countries “agree with the ban” as a selective closing of national borders to foreign nationals. Trump’s animus to Islam was long replayed on the campaign trail and in his statements on the twitterverse–Trump not directed attention to it as the source of the violence of the San Bernardino shooting, long before Stephen K. Bannon openly joined Trump’s inner circle–but about when Bannon bragged he was designing Trump’s campaign platform, and may well have planted the deeply oppositional relation to Islam both in Trump’s campaign and as a quite distorted but apparently unshakeable principle of his image of the purpose and prerogatives of the executive office of the President.
The retrospective explanations for the need to protect America from dangers unknown concealed the ban’s quite arbitrary nature: the hastily issued executive order seemed to respond to a state of emergency outside of a functioning civil society, creating a map of imminent dangers to the United States from whole cloth that only the “extreme vetting” that he promised to enact would forestall–and that any stay in the ban would compromise. Before playing a round of golf at Trump International on February 4, the seventy-year old so-called President identified the proposed Ban with the nation’s integrity and safety, insisting that “death and destruction” were the only alternatives to its re-instatement. At the same time as unleashing a rash of executive orders, Trump has taken to twitter as a form of constant dialogue with the nation to suggest the only further destabilization of our nation’s safety and its place in the world.
Recent allegations of the increased danger that the Immigration Ban created for the American military and the nation by intelligence experts reverse this picture, even as Trump suggests that actual threats are just “not being reported”–in an attempt to discredit news agencies by ominously suggesting that the media “doesn’t want to report it.” Such claims fanned the fear the Immigration Ban created by Trump’s executive order intentionally provokes. For when it was suddenly unleashed on the country on the evening of Friday, January 27, 2017, indefinitely banning the entry into the United States of Syrian refugees “by the authority invested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America,” the executive order not only departed radically from those laws, and from the U.S. Constitution. But they also escalate the fear to a level of abstraction, as in targeting seven nations, the executive order serves to distract audiences from the actual people that the Ban affects–and the possible targets which a Trump administration seeks to direct increased scrutiny.
The extreme secrecy with which the draft order was framed should raise eyebrows, as its lack of vetting and the constitution of such a tightly knit circle that seemed to see itself as the US government. For in ways that echoed the of urgency Trump used on the campaign trail in December, 2015 when he explained the “shutdown,” the hastily written executive order–thankfully stayed–set its focus on seven nations. The decision was deceptively rationalized as a temporary ban on nations, continuous with a stay in processing refugees from the same countries. Trump’s hastily issued ban on countries he identified with terrorism and his disdain for their population–“we don’t want them here!” “All 1.6 billion Muslims?” “I mean a lot of them!“–were so decidedly un-Presidential to violate the Constitution, a federal judge since suggested. The seven states combines twelve countries deemed “safe havens” for terrorist organizations with three–Iraq, Sudan, and Syria-identified as “state sponsors” of terrorist activities, but omits many countries where terror networks actually operate.
The tacit map locating the prime threats to our nation outside our shores make the selection unjustified as its intersection with refugee flows make it irresponsible and capricious. But the executive order also seemed an attempt to remap the power of the executive office itself, by creating what is tantamount to an alt-Reality for the alt-Right, designed in the Oval Office for the world to witness as its effects spread and play out across the world: while there is no actual policy decision evident here, it is a gesture that placates the need for reacting to fears of attack, and perpetuates the lie Muslims breed on hatred for the United States, and “engage in acts of bigotry or hatred“–far better describing the order’s own tone than offering an accurate characterization of its actual targets.
1. The “ban” declared on obtaining visas or welcoming all refugees to the nation, although formally limited to a period of weeks, created a clear opposition between Muslims and Americans–them an us–specially corrosive to our sense of a nation, and how our nation regarded. While widely varying numbers are provided both by the Trump administration and the State Department about how many will be most affected by the hastily ordered assertion blocking the granting of visas that seems more a performative assertion than a basis for protecting our borders, but has real consequences that will be difficult to map for some time. For the executive order effectively invested the President with powers to define national borders and, perhaps more disquietingly, unwarrantedly but ever so purposefully escalate existing fears. As the order is broadcasts a new world-view on media and television, it solidified a geopolitical division between us and them, placing Islam stands in a perpetual state of war with the West.
While the ban contains several puzzling mismappings and omissions–including the fact that the prime site of the Wahabi sect of Islam, the greatest exponent of terrorism, and one that is funded by the Saudi state is entirely absent from the map, underscoring its actual arbitrary classification of terrorist threats that the nation faces. Although Trump claimed it was “interesting that certain Middle East nations” supported the ban, the only states whose public positions might be taken as expressing support–the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates–are deeply non-democratic lAmerican allies, eager to cultivate ties with Trump. Although the immigration ban by no means addressed Muslim populations world-wide, it it’s goal were not to name enemies and site of danger on which to focus our attention as threats to the United States–
–the seven nations identified as terrorist safe havens or state sponsors of terrorism were designated as the primary sites of threats to our nation–a theme raised repeatedly in the campaign. The tightly worded ban seemed the feared conclusion of a series of pronouncements of the dangers that Islam posed to the United States.
Trump’s dramatic response to the San Bernardino tragedy in early December 2015 of securing the national borders is often cited as a precedent for the ban, if not a justification of it, to an extent that Muslim communities in San Bernardino rightly object. The way that the ban came to be both explained and rationalized in the form of a map, as if to process and lend coherence to what the effects of this order from on high actually were–and to celebrate its decisiveness–raises questions of the power of maps in online communities. The ban of immigration from seven ‘Muslim-majority nations’ incriminated their residents for ties to terrorist organizations with no proof, included states from which large numbers of refugees had already arrived in the United States–although the ban will cause that number to drop by half, and exclude all Syrian refugees.
The large number of refugees from these Muslim-majority nations overlaps not only with many nations that are overwhelmed by untold refugees: they are also largely victims of American attacks or government overthrows, or are currently under attack from American troops. A number of nations are subject to recent bombings–unlike those that were deemed to be allied with Trump’s businesses–and to his vision of America’s security.
Trump’s executive order on immigration lacked any coherence, or a clear or systematic explanation. It was asserted outright with a forcefulness, typical of Trump’s statements, that belied its lack of clarity, but demanded a map–and a map that went beyond the protection of national boundaries. What it lacked in explanation was made up for by the forcefulness of his interest in protecting American interests–a rhetorical force that echoed not only his bizarre declaration that the nation’s safety demanded “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on” in light of the tragedy of San Bernardino that was perpetrated by American citizens–it however seemed to translate the seeds of panic to a map, as if to give an only illusory stability to the fears it nourished. If the immigration ban caused immediate confusion by prohibiting entry to the United States of all citizens of seven Muslim-majority states and suspending of entrance of all refugees, the odd patriotism within which Trump steeped his actions bear the prints of Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, as several publications have noted. More than being a stunt of public relations using geographical categories to demonize a group of citizens en masse to dispel the very imagined dangers it conjures at one stroke, it was a performative illustration of Trump’s newfound Presidential powers, and a powerful remapping of where the enemies of American freedom lay.
The order asserted executive power if not supremacy. President Trump angrily dismissed objections after Acting Attorney General Sally Yates counseled questions about its legality or ethics, when he described her resistance to defend the ban in court as constituting an act of “betrayal” in personal terms. For Trump, her carefully weighted decision constituted an act of insubordination. Trump’s statement revealed his tendency to divide people into those “for him” or “against him,” he seems to have used the distinction between “friend” and “enemy” in ways that embody a weltanschauung of the ethics of a state: for the order served to cognitively re-orient the United States in the external world, and define ethical relations of the nation to the world. Far beyond changing who held the office of Attorney General, whose office Trump treated less as having the responsibility to interpret and execute laws than as if tasked with defending the executive judgements in extraordinary times–and as a question of the limits of executive authority. Despite questioning of the legality of the ban, Trump has only re-asserted its constitutional authority–and suggested his willingness to re-write the Ban, despite strong questions about how its intent could ever be constitutional.
For the executive order affirmed the executive prerogative to close the nation’s borders at will, distinguishing who would enter the country at any time and defining the nation’s relation to the rest of the world. It echoed a precedent of the Bush administration, by deploying a friend/enemy distinction. For if hastily framed, Trump’s executive order quite terrifyingly rehabilitated the most odious classic critique and rebuke of a Liberal tradition, exhumed from oblivion of political theory during George W. Bush’s Presidency, deeply rooted in the Catholicism of its primary intellectual exponent, the prolific Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, who had been quick to defend the Führer as “supreme judge” and sole custodian of the law, defending the legality of notions of “state self-defense” that Hitler claimed as his own in the very speeches Trump kept by his bedside which his wife Ivana claimed he often read. The exhumation of an almost forgotten ideology of political sovereignty is not only an abstraction, but served to constitute a new constitution of Empire–or imperium, as per the political scientist Ronnie D. Lipschutz–as Schmitt offered juridically terms to sanction the ability of an executive to move in a blatantly extraconstitutional form when dire states of circumstances demanded to define his actions on a global stage. Indeed, Hitler’s rhetorical patterns of repeatedly calling attention to enemies of the state and the necessity to take action against them were often emulated in Trump’s campaign: the disguising of xenophobia as foreign policy is not only arrogant, but reflects Trump’s all too familiar Bannon-like bullying tone.
Trump’s hastily issued if not impulsive executive order affirms the government’s ability to close the nation’s borders at will, in an explicilty extraconstitutional manner to distinguish who would enter the country–a travel ban since struck down, and that a federal appeals court refused to restore as the Trump administration had sought. But the mapping of ban was not only a way to explain its scope, but come to terms with its arbitrary nature. For it was widely apparent that the below map of countries impacted by the ban mishaps the origins of terrorist dangers to the United States, and openly omits the country that spent more than $100 billion have been spent to export the sect of fanatical Wahhabism rooted in the KSA to various much poorer Muslim nations. Few questioned the logic of excluding Saudi Arabia, where Wahabism was long promulgated in its universities and mosques. But its omission, and the confusion of the apparent mipmapping of terror, caused the spread of numerous maps to try to sort out the nature of the newly enacted restrictions–
–which many suggested might logically be expanded to much of the globe if followed to what seemed its logical scope–if its goal was not to sew alarm by mapping sites of danger, and create the quite misleading illusion that the United States was not endangered by any domestic agents who did not in fact arrive from overseas, or what the nature of the terror threat that the country faces might in fact look like or be. Rather than focus on individual agency, the Ban inconveniences and targets a huge range of countries with a large presence already in the United States–and many of whom already have immigrant or non-immigrant visas.
The apparently arbitrary rationale of the ban on immigration or the entrance of homeless and nation-less refugees redefined the role of Trump’s executive on a global stage–for bizarrely, its main audience may have been domestic. But it was given new solidity and invested with new fears as it was mapped–a map that somehow gained more solidity even as the numbers of who the ban actually affected became increasingly difficult to grasp. News audiences were informed on FOX that the ban was limited to several countries that had been identified as threats, by the superimposition of orange layers over the seven countries. As shown in the television news map below in the header to this post, the image seems to have been designed to serve to reinforce and embody a friend/enemy distinction. Indeed, it described the effects of the ban in terms of national states as a form of international relations, excluding the degree of local chaos brought by revoking over 100,000 visas and occluding the millions of lives the executive order would impact. By justifying the ban as directed to countries with “a history of training, harboring, [and] exporting terrorists,” as Kelly Anne Conway did on FOX News, presenting the ban as protecting Americans from Islamic foreigners or those who “traveled abroad, were radicalized, were trained, and then did their bloodletting, their massacre, here on American soil“–as if terrorism were but a regional export.
The deliberate confusion of the number of those affected by the executive order on immigration seems to have been maintained by the government as a sort of information overload of wildly contrasting figures designed to disorient. If seeking to orient and inspire confidence, they abstract from the deep confusion it inspired or the legal limbo of the detained. Trump himself tweeted that but hundred and nine were detained, of 325,000 who entered the country, although this only refereed to those in transit on the day the order was signed: the confusion of how many are effected by the executive order approached 90,000, for WaPo, without including tens of thousands of dual-citizens; the State Department then suggested that “fewer than 60,000” visa holders would be affected by the executive order–as if to keep audiences off balance further. The still-uncertain number of individuals affected by the ban disoriented the nation with disproportionate data, as if to destabilize comprehension of its extreme consequences and its impact on people. More probably, over 134 million people banned from entering the United States, and the immigration ban affected countless more refugees in ways we have yet to begin to map.) We were kept off balance, but had already been warned during a long an ugly Presidential campaign of the arrival of a “ban” on the evening news and by Trump’s campaign, and the surplus numbers that the administration happily provided only seemed to remove the policy from its actual human impact, treating the executive order as a proposition whose consequences hardly needed mapping; the “ban” had been foretold during the campaign in banner headlines, even if Trump objected repeatedly to the term at first.
The proliferation of numbers about who was detained, stopped, or allowed to enter the country– –seemed to keep folks off balance, and they offered to describe the ban suggest a state not only of confusion about its application, and a lack of preparation for its issue, but even a sense of destabilizing the ability of the media to report on it. Indeed, continued uncertainty of the numbers of those with visas or seeking them who have been affected as the deceptive suggestions of existing precedents for temporary suspensions of the arrival of refugees or immigrants distort the newness and the danger of the precedent that the executive order set. The absence of a clear count suggested its potentially escalating number on the one hand, but also provided no purchase on the order, removing it from day-to-day activities, and casting it as a principled action of patriotism and moral clarity. In sustaining uncertainty, the discourse that followed the executive order seemed to destabilize the world picture–although Trump insisted that the Immigration Ban was needed to prevent attacks on the existing order of American if not the fabric of the very country.
At the same time as creating uncertainty about who is affected, the deceptive suggestions of existing precedents for temporary suspensions of the arrival of refugees or immigrants distort the newness and the danger of the precedent that the executive order set. For the announcement of the executive order and its subsequent publication seem a new performance of sovereignty, designed to redefine how the United States sees its relation to the world in profound ways. The considerable confusion surrounding the announcement of the executive order and its subsequent publication was a performance of sovereignty of the sort we have rarely seen. For it seems primarily intended to redefine how the United States sees its relation to the world in profound ways, and to disorient the nation to human suffering, even as it substituted the crisp outlines of a geopolitical divide across which threats to America arose. The abrupt shift in attitudes and policies toward refugees that is concealed by the abrupt roll-out is well captured by the declarative construction of the FOX-TV map, also shown on CNN< which omits or brackets the pain caused and confusion created across the world. This human dimension is effectively absent from the map, excluded as if inconsequential to the scope of the immediate change in immigration policies. The executive order reflects the decision of candidate Trump to shift his proposed “Muslim Ban” to a ban that focussed on individual nations, as if to make it palatable–and seem less explicitly racist–even if the ban was on “muslim-majority nations,” and defined the criteria for the ban purely and only in terms of the Islamic faith of the citizens of these nations, who will be sure to find few common bonds among one another.
For the Travel Ban on visas for citizens of these Muslim-majority nations casts them as enemies–in contrast to the amorphous nature of the Global War on Terror, ISIS, or al Qaeda–misleadingly embodying threats to the United States, even if it omit the nationalities of hijackers who attacked the United States in 9/11, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates. It does not correspond to regions that most Americans associate with any of the terrorist threats that occurred on American soil. But it identifies the prime sources of instability to an existing order and national security in outrageous ways.
2. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates felt immediately disturbed with the broad language of the ban, as she detected at Trump’s shifting of his rhetorical focus to majority-Muslim countries–fearing that the ban on granting visas from seven nations was code that could be retroactively translated to address the Muslim religion. Yates’ legal reasoning has been criticized as insufficient legal grounds to not defend Trump’s executive order in court; but she apprehended the deeply offensive consequences of his attempt to legitimize the demonization of all refugees–and the deep national disgrace of such a baldly uniform mapping of threats from the citizens of all seven countries. Trump’s July 2016 decision to focus on countries–“I’m looking now at territories. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim.”–foretold his eagerness in exercising his authority to illustrate the changed relationship between the United States to the rest of the world by issuing the ban.
And his later attacks on the federal judge who questioned the constitutionality of the executive order that he found caused “immediate and irreparable injury” as outrageous raises issues of whether Trump can indeed speak on the matter of mapping entry into the United States with full constitutional authority, as his Press Secretary Spicer had insisted. The line of legal reasoning that seems to have influenced Trump’s belief or action of insisting on the ability of the executive to map friend and enemy to the nation evokes the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, whose notion of the Führer prinzip glorified the need for a leader to define friend and enemy to the nation that he incarnated, and whose writings have influenced members of the so-called alternative right as Steven K. Bannon, and his insistence from 2014 that America is “at war” with “Radical Islam,” a group that has now for the first time been openly mapped in the Ban.
The assault on the judiciary seems to defend executive privilege to define the world map. Indeed, the unduly crisp layers of mapping the nations whose citizens Trump would block immigration define “us” from “them” by the layers superimposed by a mapmaker program, dangerously serving to embody and perpetuate the very sort of oppositional thinking in which the Bannon, Chief Strategist in the Trump administration, is most apt engage–in which states are embodied as enemies, but hide, as if beneath its objective cartographical code, the fears of an Islamic animosity to all things American: the friend/enemy distinction that has percolated into the public media is recreated to be imposed upon how we see the world. Indeed, despite the continued absence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, highlighting the arbitrariness of the limits set on immigration, and perhaps enforcing the need of a map to invest the executive order with what seems an objective rationale. If there was such a need, it seems FOX was also obliging to provide a map that identified the seven nations foregrounded in red, as if to locate signs of danger in these nations alone–and far outside our nation.
The alarming map layers that color the seven nations “red” orient us primarily to the dangers that they pose to the nation and to Americans. As such, they express articulate a geopolitical vision of the very Clash of Civilizations that Samuel P. Huntington instilled in generations of Americans in around 1993,–after Trump’s “Chief Strategist” gained his Masters in International Studies from Georgetown, to be sure, but around when he was starting a media consultancy, and making the very films that helped orient him to the world. Could it be that a notion that seemed so removed from an actual map derived from ideological models that originated in academic circles had sufficient influence to compel Bannon not even to concede that Green Card holders from the seven Muslim-majority nations should be allowed to enter the country, and be exempt from the Immigration Ban, against his original design.
Legal challenges to this crude map of foreign affairs questioning the issuance of visas to all citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen will continue. Indeed, the conspicuous absence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia–the home of the Wahabi sect of Islam most often described as the fountainhead of Islamic extremism and of Islamic terrorism, is not only puzzlingly absent from the map and from the immigration ban, but has decided to support the ban in an attempt to cultivate a good relationship with Donald Trump, although the KSA enjoys close ties to Yemen and Sudan. The dramatic mis-mapping perhaps fails to raise eyebrows, as if Bannon and Trump expected it to be followed by the bureaucracy they put in charge. But it is not surprising, perhaps, that a policy so removed from the fears of refugees and from the pathways by which terrorist movements have spread since 9/11 should have been so strongly influenced by ideas developed in academe.
Far from casting Bannon as a “fiery populist,” the genealogy of the logic of the ban within the United States seems rooted in the University. Its spatial imaginary seems indeed to have been as much a product of academe as the harrowing assertion of the geographer General Karl Ernst Haushofer that a lack of geographical knowledge and geopolitical awareness among the German people was in fact the cause of their defeat in World War I, and who, although he was never tried after the war, promoted the restoration of a sense of German geographical integrity in his academic career has been credited with promoting the spatial imaginary of fascist geopolitics–justifying tariff protectionism and the German lebensraum. Is the geographical conceit of lebensraum of the organic territorial growth of a state and the safeguarding of its “cultural lands” elaborated in the defense of the nation’s borders? As the anti-Islamicist thought of Stephen Miller seems to have developed from his university circles, the intellectual origins of how executive orders might emerge in a “state of exception” seem to derive from the thought of Nazi Jurist Cal Schmitt that defined friend and enemy, if the division between friend and enemy echoed the post-Cold War map of global civilizations, first framed thee distinguished political scientist Samuel P. Huntington’s attempts to map the fault lines of global conflict in the wake of the Cold War in his 1996 Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, which became a support for much foreign policy in George W. Bush’s administration after 9/11.
For the sharp anti-Islamist character among Flynn, Miller, and Bannon closely mirror the manner Huntington sought to orient the United States’ place in the world by providing a cognitive map orienting Americans to global conflict in the post-Cold War era, no longer determined by ideology, where “cultural commonalities and differences” shape the “interests, antagonisms, and associations of states.” Huntington presented these divides both a map and a paradigm for the global order in the post-Cold War world. The curious afterlife of Huntington’s 1996 Clash of Civilizations in American politics is somewhat surprising if fascinating: for years after the expansion of his 1993 article in a book, the thesis gained its first second life during the Gulf War, the fortunes of the Huntington’s thesis received a unexpectedly revival in popularity as a justification and explanation for the invasion of Iraq in George W. Bush’s administration, as his image of the “bloody borders” of Islam were seen as a grounds to project the violence of the attacks of 9/11 onto Islamic soil. The reduction of human individual agency in this map is almost Orwellian in character, if its roots are asserted to be culturally conditioned.
But the recent reception of the Huntington thesis in the context of Bannon’s ban suggests a far more unexpected turn–Huntington’s argument seems to have informed a strategy of the destabilization of American politics in Bannon’s ban, and of public pronouncements designed to destabilize in the Soviet mode of Vladimir Putin, in ways Huntington would be puzzled. The echoes of a coming “clash of Civilizations” that define the post-cold war politics of the 21st century, which Samuel P. Huntington argued would replace ideology or economic factors back in 1993, create a shockingly similar faith-based division of the world, easily divided by radically simplified color overlays–
–include the seven Muslim-majority nations the Trump Presidency has intended to be banned from visas, and from which Trump seeks to stop the arrival of refugees, but also seem to have informed the notion that they are the very nations most likely to bring actions of violence onto American soil. The visualization is a blunt instrument to enact foreign policy indeed, but one that has haunted Bannon’s writings, and haunted the metaphor of a struggle with Islam imagined by Flynn and Miller.
The bizarre distortion at which Trump’s executive order on immigration can impact so many lives globally perhaps suggests that it first sprung from academe. Bannon’s own familiarity with a language of historical crisis–and the prediction that a new “crisis” would occur during the first fifteen years of the twenty-first century, on the scale of the American Revolution, Civil War, or Depression, while Neil How and William Strauss, two amateur historians, called the “fourth turning,” that created a new political order, an order that Bannon believed would be created by a great war, whose violence he seemed to anticipate. Openly identifying Islam with terrorism–unlike Obama and unlike Hillary Clinton was ready to do–were always part of Trump’s campaign, and seem a conviction by which he runs his presidency. The notion hybridized nicely with Huntington’s defense of a notion of impending “civilizational conflicts involving Muslims“–and what Huntington had memorably spoken of as Islam’s “bloody borders“–that inform the mental map of the ban, itself justified on Islamic jihadis bringing terror to “American soil,” in ways that compels the defense of nation’s borders.
3. Bannon’s reluctance to circulate the draft executive order widely–or be reviewed by other members of the new Cabinet–reflected that he regarded the ban as a national security problem that need not be subject to review, though such a process of review was not yet developed in Trump’s Cabinet. Although Bannon did not then have a formal position or title in Trump’s Presidential Campaign, whose CEO he became only in 2016, Bannon has allegedly privately bragged to friends in August 2015 that he had in fact become the effective manager of the campaign earlier–although this demands investigation–and a year before being named the campaign’s CEO was directing the campaign, at the time that Trump first called for the need for such a ban to protect national borders in response to terrorist strikes. If so, this would also be months before Trump reacted to the tragedy at San Bernardino by calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”–suggesting that he had at least a hand in the blanket declaration that seems to underly the executive order. The order obstructing the arrival from what were identified as “Islamic” nations sought to freeze a map before the policy could be reviewed.
For the notion of a virtual wall isolating these nations and barring their residents from entering the United States because of the danger Jihadists identified with Islam posed to the nation not only echo Huntington’s memorable discussion of the “bloody borders” of Islam–a religion whose violence is intended to be kept from American soil. As Huntington himself argued that the universalizing of Western culture was both immoral and dangerous, the rejection of the arrival of refugees or students, visitors, tourists, and professionals from these countries is based on a geography that seems to map the dangers of human movement from foreign countries to American soil, although enacting such an Immigration Ban identifies nations as dangers may heighten the very tensions to hasten such a Clash along international fault-lines.
Trump acting un-Presidential is nothing new. But suspending immigration not only harms people in utterly unethical and immoral ways. The executive order sought to breed fear in the national audience to whom Trump’s Executive Order–tragically evoking Executive Order 9066– in ways that may sadly be primarily addressed to a national home audience. For Protecting the Nation from Foreign Nationals was not only justified as a way to “help to fulfill several campaign promises,” but seems designed to play to a national audience, and oblivious of an actual international context. Some argue it repeats a frequent campaign promise to introduce “ideological certification to make sure that those we are admitting to our country share our values and love our people”–if it does so without considering actual consequences it may have.
The circle that framed the executive order was created during Trump’s Presidential campaign among Bannon, Miller and National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn. The reliance on this group, rather than the expertise of a now-disbanded State Department or the Department of Homeland Security, is striking. Indeed, supporting the ban seems the true purpose of the executive order seems to conjure threats through partial truths that the administration has leaked repeatedly to the nation–most prominently in the untruths planted by Kelly Anne Conway’s off-hand allusion to the alternative fact of a “massacre of Bowling Green” masterminded by Iraqi refugees–an event of domestic terrorism which Conway repeated in several interviews this January only just “didn’t get covered by the media“–in an unsubtle jab at the media and opponents of the ban–but in fact didn’t ever occur. Such seeds of disinformation are not limited to one person: Sean Spicer’s repeated conjuring of an inexistent terrorist attack in Atlanta suggests a planned strategy of reciting a litany of real and imagined sites of terrorist attacks in a mind-numbing catalogue of place-names designed to inspire fear and panic–San Bernardino; Boston; Orlando; Atlanta; Bowling Green–that would be spread in online communities, if the mis-mapping of terror were not so obviously fabricated.
Or can the mapping of terrorist fear succeed?
4. The orchestration of fear through such partial truths appear designed to provoke fears of a coming onslaught of domestic terrorist attacks from refugees from these seven Muslim-majority nation states. Despite the lack of interrogation of the alleged “massacre” led it to be accepted until the third time it was repeated, the insistence from the executive of the dangers that the failure to secure national borders would expose the nation are akin to a grandiose vision of the executive, unbound by legal restraint from the Constitution or from the judiciary, and not balanced with the legislative branch–the apparent trifecta of a Republican victory no doubt provoked aspirations for unchecked decisionism of the sort that Trump has long promised to his constituents as what he would bring to the government and had been lacking. Much as the temporary travel ban conflated the notions of terrorists as “lone wolves” with men or women likely to travel enabled by state passports from one of seven countries, the mapping of domestic threats to other places of particular violence suggested without substantiation that not instating the ban ran the risk of the arrival of a similar disruptiveness to American soil.
Such strategic placement of “convenient facts” serve as disinformation bombs to create what seems a concerted strategy of manufacturing fear in which Trump has long indulged, and Bannon is a media expert. Trump now repeated that “the world is under serious, serious threat in so many different ways,” as offering an incantation of collective brainwashing. He presented the ban as providing an immediate guarantee “all of our citizens can feel safe and secure–we have to feel save and secure” that was designed to assuage fears. “We need security,” Trump has frequently affirmed in solemn tones. The motive of this ban–and ominous affirmation–is the belief that “we must be safe,” as he recently repeated in the National Prayer Breakfast when Trump–“we have to feel safe and secure . . . . we need security“–conjuring, in ways similar to when he had said “we need to keep the ballot box safe of illegal voting,” the fear of unknown : “We got to make America safe again,” and even “We won’t apologize for keeping America safe.” The apparent ignorance that he is ready to assign to those who contradict this need is fairly appalling. “Study the world!” he bellowed to Twitter followers, impressing them with a need for ongoing searches for terrorists “before they can enter our country,” creating an opposition between “our country” and the world. Trump’s often repeated mantra that “We’ve gotta protect our country. We have to be safe.” has more than echoes of The Man in the High Castle.
“The way terrorism is now, the border’s gotta be secure and it seems like Donald’s the only one that’s got a plan to do that,” Trump’s supporters reasoned in April; although the plan was never that clear, Trump reinforced the absolute urgency of securing the nation in the Ban on which those supporters had believed Donald alone could achieve. The orchestration of the Ban as the “complete and immediate shutdown” creates the image of a direct action of protecting the Nation that only Donald Trump was sufficiently resolute to declare.
Photoshopped Presentation of the Executive Order to the Nation
Trump claims to chasten the United States by a global perspective on terror. “You look all over the world, and you see what’s happening,” Trump again asserted as if to inform the nation, in bizarrely condescending and vague ways, days after issuing the executive order on immigration. The mapping of the regions where that the Executive Order on addresses can be represented as limited to Muslim-majority states previously tied to terrorist activities–which he argued was preventing foreign terrorists entering into the United States–warmly adding, after reading the Executive Order, Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States. “You all know what that means, right?”, and then slowly repeating the phrase, with satisfaction, as if doing so would remove future terrorist threats–assuring audiences with a bit of a smirk, “It’s good stuff.” The “temporary” refugee ban had broad global consequences, even if it not the “complete and immediate shutdown” on which he campaigned–but halting refugee travel for four months at a time of crisis may well be only the start of a project banning groups feared not to assimilate into the United States, and need to be contained outside of its borders as a result.
The Ban quickly occasioned a mapping of a new notion of the nation–FOX-TV conveniently represented the denial of visas and entrance to the citizens of all seven nations by mapping them as undefined sites of danger, by placing a red filter atop of a faux-topographic map oddly alienated from the real topography of the Middle East that suggests its remove from global geopolitics–or the human consequences of halting the refugee program in the United States for four months. The map seems only designed to focus our attention, as the Trump administration desired, on what seemed a new “axis of Evil,” although these nations were not really nations that could ever be logically grouped, save in the faith of their citizens–their crude mapping suggests a radically new ways to imagine terrorists than as non-state actors by linking them to eight states identified as posing continued threats to the nation, and hostile to “Democratic values.” The citizens of those nations were, the executive order implied, hostile to American democracy, and from a “different civilization” we were unable to accommodate in our borders, save at unwanted risk.
The shift in American policies toward immigrants and refugees was distilled in the declarative form in the map displayed on FOX-TV and CNN. The map reflects the decision of candidate Trump to shift his advocacy for a “Muslim ban” on which he had campaigned so energetically to a ban that focussed on nations, to make it more palatable. The ban on visas for citizens of these Muslim-majority nations casts them as enemies–in contrast to the amorphous nature of the Global War on Terror, ISIS, or al Qaeda–misleadingly embodying threats to the United States. The map may indeed be seen as mirroring the disturbance with which Sally Yates detected at Trump’s executive order, which seems to encode an anti-Muslim rhetoric in a map, by shifting of his rhetorical focus to majority-Muslim countries.
The sort of extra-legal and extraconstitutional action of the executive order was resisted in its immediate implementation, for it suggests the imposition of a world-view that overrides human rights. Yates feared with good reason that the ban on granting visas from seven nations translated into extra scrutiny for members of the Muslim religion. Yates’ legal reasoning has been criticized as poor legal reasoning for refusing to defend Trump’s executive order in court. But Yates seemed to apprehend the deeply offensive consequences of a blanket suspending of immigrant visas from select countries–and the deep national disgrace of such a baldly uniform mapping of threats from the citizens of all seven countries. Indeed, the language of the executive order mirrors the shift that Trump made in July 2016 by deciding to focus not on Muslims but on countries–“I’m looking now at territories. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim.”–as if to recode his intent to direct his sites to geographic targets: the statement revealed some eagerness to exercise authority to use the language of nations so as to conceal the very individuals he sought most to target. As such a friend/enemy divide was mapped on television percolated into the public media to be imposed upon how we see the world on FOX.
5. The language of a friend/enemy opposition openly descends from the thought of the ideologue jurist Carl Schmitt–whose words Trump was exposed through his past close reading of the early speeches of Adolf Hitler, My New Order—which lay by his bedside, according to his first wife, Ivana, in 1990. Trump’s public statements, which evokes the notion of a map of America’s enemies. “You look all over the world, and you see what’s happening,” Trump asserted days after issuing the executive order. The mapping of the regions where that the Executive Order on addresses can be represented as limited to Muslim-majority states previously tied to terrorist activities–which he argued was preventing foreign terrorists entering into the United States–warmly adding, after reading the executive Order, Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States. “You all know what that means, right?”, and then repeating the phrase, with satisfaction, as if doing so would definitively remove any future terrorist threat–contentedly assuring audiences with a bit of a smirk, “It’s good stuff.”
The insistence on the “good” stuff” in the ban seems an only slightly veiled attempt to designate the enemies of America in a single executive statement, as if to finally purify the nation. The “temporary” refugee ban will have broad global consequences, even if it not the “complete and immediate shutdown” on which he campaigned–but halting refugee travel for four months at a time of crisis may well be only the start of a project banning groups feared not to assimilate into the United States. And it has already occasioned a mapping of a new notion of the nation–FOX-TV represented the sudden denial of visas and entrance to the citizens of all seven nations by mapping them as undefined sites of danger, by placing a red filter atop of a bizarrely faux-topographic map so oddly alienated from the real topography of the Middle East to suggest its remove from global geopolitics–or the human consequences of halting the refugee program in the United States for four months. The map is almost designed to focus our attention to a new “axis of Evil,” despite the lack of logic in grouping these seven nations as a block, save in the faith of their citizens. Indeed, Trump’s repeated calls to label all “radical Islamic terrorists” as a way to keep the country “safe from terrorism” by keeping them “the hell out of power“, vowing to keep “radical Islam” out of power, helped create the image of an “Islamic threat to the United States” that ranges from the Muslim Brotherhood to al Qaeda, despite the actual relative peacefulness of Yemen, Iran, and other nations. (As if it was a litany of grievances, the place-names “Orlando”, “San Bernardino”, and “Paris”are incanted in public pronouncements to conjure a distributed an Islamic threat designed to tap into a hybrid physical mental map.)
The Map of Islamic Dangers has since grown, as the recent threat to classify the moderate Muslim Brotherhood, a peaceful group with allies in the United States in the same group as al Qaeda, testifies; the attempt was begun by Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, who claimed to contain “Radical Islam” by designating the Brotherhood a terrorist group.) Indeed, the oppositional notion of such a division has created a sense of opposition of religions that seem particularly dangerous to future regional stability that is necessary in the containment of ISIS and Al Qaeda.
The conceit of “Radical Islam” seems intended to locate the terror threats outside the country, and imagine it as arriving from afar, in the manner a map can best show. The ridiculous if arresting crisp color overlays from the nightly news instated the ban as a permanent divide, suggesting the percolation of a world vision defined in terms of friend and enemy into the media and television news, as reflecting a clear division between states who threaten the interests of the United States or place it a high level of alert.
The complex of the seven states not only don’t include regions where the Trump family or Trump himself has business dealings,–from the golf courses in the United Arab Emirates to the luxury towers being built in Turkey, to the eight companies Trump recently registered in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, including a Red Sea hotel. It does include almost all other regions in the Middle East–even though Saudi Arabia remains the prime site from which terrorists have attacked the United States. (Indeed, the map provides a way of revising the image of terrorists as non-state actors. But they are actors who have little to do with places where Trump himself conducts businesses, from hotels to golf courses:
While the seven states had been recently added to the list of countries whose residents required visas to enter the United States, the stipulation never suggested that their residents would be barred from entrance.
By mapping the “threats” of terror to the established order, Trump may perform yet another bullying move against refugees and the stateless. If the theatrical order was perhaps issued partly designed for domestic audiences who desired some immediate action from a Trump Presidency as much as the world, it obliged a public to whom the President has obliged by ramping up the nation’s fear in an unwarranted fashion, in calls we must be alert, and sought to made us feel better by its illustration of strength in indicating the geographical regions from which dangers might arrive to the United States without a sort of quarantine. Trump’s Press Secretary Spicer assured television audiences that “it’s fully legal” and the majority of Americans approved of the Ban,–despite his own lack of legal judgement or qualifications. The indefinite ban on Syrian refugees turned a cold shoulder to the most suffering population as a way to inaugurate his Presidency. Entry of more than 50,000 refugees in FY2017–fewer, in other words, that would fit in a baseball stadium–was asserted to be “detrimental to the interests of the United States” and henceforth suspended, in an inflection of the America First policy Trump championed that suggested the low attention the country would give to refugees’ plight as a nation.
But as an array of multiple numbers of those affected by the ban serves as a form of disinformation that destabilizes our purchase on its actual effects, the nature and implications of the executive order seem to disappear, and the enactment of an edict with no actual grounds accepted as part of the new world order. The pseudo-precedent cited by the Trump Administration of “[President] Obama enacting a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program“in 2011 suggests the lack of a break Trump has made with regard to refugee policy. Yet if Obama did introduce screening procedures that slowed visa approvals in 2011, he did not end applications, and he never banned refugees outright. The banning of a religion in the guise of nations–both excepting Christian refugees from Syria, and the Middle East, as well as Jews from Iran, according to several reports–but provoking Israeli Jews to help Jewish Syrian refugees–is perhaps the most inhumane violation of civil rights and humanitarian principles to be challenged by the Immigration Ban, and in open violation of America’s longstanding policy on accepting refugees.
Bannon’s “Ban” was implemented in ways that violated immigrants civil rights to privacy. The executive order not only tellingly constitutes Trump’s first public statement on foreign policy, but invites audiences to feel that America is under the continued threat of assault, elevating the fear of terror. How will this change actually look in practice? Although the “Ban” was presented as about “protecting” our nation–it is perhaps more about how we see other nations than it is about our own. Trump’s executive order to prohibit immigration of nationals from these seven Muslim-dominated countries–and obstructed the arrival of all refugees–demands scrutiny. For the issuance of Trump’s misguided executive order works in practice not only as a way to prohibit citizens holding passports of those lands seen as dangerous to the United States in unwarranted ways, but to aim to violate the civil rights of refugees from those countries.
Indeed, the violation of the liberties of anyone from these seven countries would be violated at the border through in a range of unprecedented ways: not only would they be interrogated in ways for which no protocol exists, but their privacy violated by agents of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the US Customs and Immigration, untrained agents charged with the responsibility to conduct inquiries into terrorist threats, in a way completely unwarranted and disproportionate to probable cause. The pending proposal to turn Homeland Security attention away from the monitoring of all non-Muslim terrorist networks, and shifting the program “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) to the more narrow “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism” gives something of a pass to all white supremacist groups within the United States, in ways that may sit well with many of the supporters of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. While the change in name is not only semantic, it both continues Trump’s assertion that his predecessor in the White House was not tough enough on the Islamic State for refusing to use the word “radical Islam,” and conflate ideology with religion, but the rebranding suggests a change in focus on crimes by members of the Islamic faith.
6. Significant potential dangers lie in the very manner that the executive order banning immigration. By extending “extreme vetting” procedures beyond those already in place beyond those already used by immigration officials for interviewing and registering refugees, and to expand these practices in improvised ways in airports: the procedures already in place are already uniform, and the suggestion they are not is only another attempt to destabilize trust in the government, as if US Citizenship and Immigration Services did not adequately already perform multiple interviews and background checks, but that the entrance of refugees was in fact not. In early instances of vetting in airports, the privacy of those who are subject to interrogation was violated by agents scrutinizing Facebook pages for personal browsing histories and friends, as if the executive order suspended privacy and sanctioned the interception of all communications in order to learn their personal political views and ties to potential networks of terror. DHS officers have been closely associated with anti-immigrant groups, but the infiltration of this corps of 190,000 men and women protecting the borders with white nationalists was long been suspected by the FBI, but stands to grow in potentially dangerous ways as they are invited to process refugees, suggesting a border security force that would have little legal oversight.
Trump’s executive reinforces a world-view and orients audiences to his early identification of the danger of “Islamic Extremism” during the campaign. In the course of the Presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly placed value on this coinage, which formed a prominent part of ihis campaign rhetoric. He repeatedly invested the term with much meaning, as if it were a secret weapon which the Obama administration failed to acknowledge, but would serve to defeat ISIS, if only by enacting the very immigration bans Trump attempted with the executive order. The very term “radical Islam”–which led many on the Right to celebrate Trump as opening a new age of containing terrorist threats by using the coinage “radical Islam,” as a way of “calling it like it is” that President Obama had resisted to name, and so occluded as an enemy–purposefully fails to confront the very problem of using “Islam” as an adequate catch-all for all foreign threats.
For the mental map of countries from whom we won’t accept immigrants is not about people, for all the discussion of dangerous terrorists in sleeper cells or posing as refugees, but about received ideas and ideology, or the way that very ideology is condensed and transmitted in maps. The public statement that “Department of Homeland Security will continue to enforce all of President Trump’s Executive Orders in a manner that ensures the safety and security of the American people” similarly echoes a sense of urgency, and a blind adherence to the order of the executive branch, without acknowledging the review to which even executive orders are subject. Yet the New York Times provocatively maps, in clear response to the Ban, how actual domestic attacks that were Jihadist-inspired originated from countries not named in the ban at all.
Although this map adopts the conceit of embodying ISIL-inspired terrorists as nations–although it notes these are merely the sites of their origins–that mirror the deceitful transformation of terrorists to national entities Bannon seems intent to perpetuate, it shows the ineffective protection the Travel Ban would offer against past terror attacks.
President Trump’s recent rhetoric seems designed to destabilize any sense of where strikes of terror would be most likely to arrive–and indeed to destabilize our sense of domestic dangers by imagining that refugees have become the new means of sending sleeper cells of terror into the nation. Trump’s not so veiled hint at foiling multiple plots by “Islamic Extremists” served to explain the undue haste of its issuance–and increase the sense of national vulnerabilities from which the nation demanded protection. And although the President stated that it is “temporary,” as Trump seems to want to repeat, it is unlikely, in fact, that so long as Trump remains President, it will not stay in effect. For what would be the grounds to do so? If the legal grounds to impose such ban have been questioned, the legal nature of what the Ban means for being an American seems to be at stake: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates refused to enact the ban or to enact a law she did not believe “wise or just” in its application, and feeling “informed by our best idea of what the law is after consideration of all the facts“–although Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer was quick to dismiss her refusal to as a case of insubordination or straightforward “dereliction of duty.”
Spicer’s statement reflected Donald Trump’s even sharper criticism that she had “betrayed” the Department of Justice as he sought to “get serious about protecting our country–and let her know just two minutes before informing the nation. The strong and impolitic language with which she was relieved from duty for doing the job that she saw fit–and fired for the very objections that she made about a legality she couldn’t square with her oath to uphold the land’s law–was an open expression of disrespect. The forceful letter Yates wrote may have helped opened up a flood of objections to the executive order’s legality and may provoke changes of consequence. The executive order in question was already in the process of being successfully challenged in multiple jurisdictions, and its legality remains squarely in doubt. The recent stay that it has received from a federal judge who has reopened the borders of the nation and blocked the immigration order is a huge victory. But Trump’s demeaning aggressive attack on the judge–as a “so-called judge” who has stripped “law enforcement from this country” seems to reach for a quite contaminated notion of a “state of exception”
The notion of a suspension of constitutional restraints on an executive of the people whose actions seek to protect the nation seems closely tied to the attack on the independence of the judiciary, who Trump has attacked for their political roles. The idea that the extraconstitutional orders of a chief executive would be allowed, given an emergency stay of the judge’s ruling, is in fact a move straight out of Carl Schmitt, as is the desire to locate dangers to the nation’s order in a specific enemy. The floating of this notion of altering or renegotiating such a Ban, even as airlines have now begun accepting the validity of visas from seven countries once again, seems to be an attempt to reinstate the role of the executive in defining the nation’s borders against who is detected as a threat, independent of DHS officers. Indeed, Trump’s position in issuing such executive orders, without legal vetting, seems to emulate Schmitt’s articulation of the Führerprinzip–itself recuperated in the notion of a “unitary executive” of the President that was so central to the administration of George W. Bush–was expressed by Schmitt in the exuberant article of 1934,“The Führer Protects the Law,” supporting his office as “supreme judge of German people”–and as primarily responsible for their fate. It is troubling that Trump’s reading of the speeches in which Hitler expressed such ideals in his first marriage suggest an antecedent for how he envisioned his hopes to remake the office of the President.
7. The practical consequences of the Immigration Ban were poorly considered in some ways, but seem to have been designed to target members of Islam and to allow the intrusion upon their civil rights. Yet the largely unsupervised agents of the Homeland Security agents at the national border have been charged with having intrusively checked the social media accounts of those holding passports from these countries who were detained to interrogate them about their political beliefs, in violation of their rights. In conducting an inquisition-like grilling for all nationals, en masse declared “security threats” against the nation, the order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” misleadingly suggests there were no controls on immigration in place: it bans all Syrian refugees from entering the country’s borders indefinitely–save, it seems, both Syrian Christians and Jews–in ways that suggests a faith-based Ban of its very nature. T
the chief executive adamantly sustains, as articulately as he is able, “It’s not a Muslim ban! But we are totally prepared . . . We have a very, very strict ban,” he happily stokes fears of a coming Conflict of Civilizations, as underscoring a clear distinction between Friend and Enemy worthy of Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, and dismissed the idea of the ban while boasting about it. Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer tied himself in logical circles describing the executive order–“first of all, it’s not a travel ban . . . . not a ban . . . . that’s not a travel ban . . . I am confused that the words that are being used to describe it are derived from what the media is calling it“–even as Trump tweeted with clear consternation for the difficulties of preparing actions never encountered as a CEO–to make the point more forcefully, he renamed the anti-terrorist “Countering Violent Extremism” to the punchier “Countering Islamic Extremism,” or, evoking his campaignspeak, Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.
Again, that odious term, each of its elements capitalized. The notion of “coutnering Islamic Extremism” was far more palatable to Trump’s team–and to Bannon–as it oriented the nation to what was seen as the primary fault-line of conflict to address. The image of such fault-lines, a mental map rehabilitated after 9/11, but in ways that inevitably seem inspired more by a RISK game board than by actual intelligence–but seemed to find some confirmation in recent years, based on data of major conflicts in 2012 alone, to find actual confirmation in actualities, especially admitting the presnce of the United States in Afgahnistan and Iraq.
The map of military conflicts that is plotted in the distribution to conform with Huntington’s projection echoes an earlier map of the geography of conflict intensity that seeks to confirm Huntington’s thesis:
But the magnification of such a Huntingtonian divide in “Countering Radical Isalmic Extremism” seems less likely to be of service to recognize the actual range of threats faced by our country–or the fairly self-evident fact that most conflicts located in the so-called “Islamic World” don’t follow Huntington’s theory of a conflict between “civilizations” but are internal to it. However, the map is a mental construct is hard to fade–and the image a convenient one to perpetuate the notion of national dangers.
The new name for the agency gives prominence in our mental maps to the freighted flawed phrase which had constituted something of a mantra designed to drive fear into the American electorate in Trump’s campaign. Notably, the charge to cover White Supremacists is rendered noticeably absent from the resulting mandate for the agency’s monitoring terrorist activities, suiting Bannon’s opinion on the dangers outside the nation–orienting it toward the imagined specters by which Trump hope to keep the country afraid, and the deep belief among folks on the right that the term “radical Islam” and pointing the finger at the religion would itself focus deterrence of violent acts on our soil, as if “America First” meant focussing on dangers to the nation external to it, and we must magnify the threat to the nation without considering how actions impact actual people.
8. Although Hillary Clinton remained quite disturbingly unperturbed when Bannon entered the Trump campaign in mid-August as just a sign that he “decided to double down on his most small, nasty and divisive instincts,” but was “still the same”, this may have been a quite costly misreading seen predominantly through the context of Trump’s low poll numbers, probably either not reading the scurrilous attacks and conspiracy theories that Breitbart editor Peter Schweizer assembled in Clinton Cash, or just repulsed by its contents–but not deigning to rebut a set of charges that had already dogged her Presidential campaign. Indeed, the assaults on Clinton–as approving the sale of uranium from a mining company to the Russian government–are based on few facts, and vaguely cited rumors, to suggest the image of outside influence over the decisions Clinton made as Secretary of State. But they suggest the new levels of projecting fantasies–as Clinton “approving the sale of 20% of our Uranium to Russia”–that project a willful mipmapping of reality.
For Bannon sanctioned the growth of an openly anti-Islamist tenor to the Trump campaign that was particularly effective in offering a foreign policy to a candidate whose foreign policy was particularly crude, but reveled in its ability to drive the media. Bannon’s move from Breitbart to being CEO of Trump’s campaign in August was in a sense his return to celebrating conservative Presidents as Ronald Reagan in his film “In the Face of Evil” (2004). Bannon’s later move from a media empire that lionized heroes of the conservative and Tea Party to “Chief Strategist” of Trump’s White House may have not been so great. After all, it allowed Bannon to play an active role in orchestrating the rise Trump’s candidacy among the alt Right. Bannon’s involvement in disseminating destabilizing news to the media had been carefully honed in the past: he had, after all, paid multiple hackers to follow then-Representative Anthony Weiner’s Twitter account 24 hours, later exposing Rep. Weiner for texting obscene images of himself in underwear. And he had helped redefine the public perception of Hillary Clinton during the Presidential campaign, perhaps making him attractive to Trump, by bankrolling Clinton Cash, alleging Hillary Clinton’s compromising by financial ties to foreign governments, questioning her credibility and honesty in what became fatal ways. In each case, he revealed conservatives’ ability to shape the media in disquieting ways, that suggest the percolation of a Huntingtonian view to the nightly news during recent weeks, despite the lack of instructive value in such a news map: Clinton Cash was so influential that it sent reporters on quests to write critical stories about Clinton without lifting a finger, creating a media threat that stalked Clinton in her challenged candidacy. (Bannon’s success with his media empire led Andrew Breitbart to praise him as the Leni Rienfenstahl of the Tea Party movement, only in part for the Wagnerian scores of films like Battle for America (2010) on the rise of the Tea Party; Generation Zero (2010), about the financial meltdown; and The Undefeated (2011) on Sarah Palin.)
Such a new “state of exception” provided the basis for which Bannon, Flynn, and Trump rolled out the executive order on Friday night with such urgency. Ever the showman, in a manner that must make his relation to Bannon less to a political operative, than one of mutual admiration. Trump throws up his hands theatrically at despite over the Executive Order whose aim is pretty darn transparent as purely about nomenclature–“Everyone is calling it a ban! Call it what you want!“–while his Christian Vice President affirms solidly that “calls to ban Muslims from entering the United States are offensive and unconstitutional.” Yet the target of the executive order might be made more clear. Trump uses far fewer syllables to get across the central ideas to his followers in tweets–a form of address designed for the faithful, who aren’t yet distinguished from the nation–to preen his smarts and evoke an imagined invasion of dangerous men that his improvised order has forestalled, downplaying the panic it also caused: “If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the ‘bad’ would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad dudes out there!” Sputnik took time to clarify that the Executive Order has been dubbed “by the Media” as an “Islamic Ban”–it echoed Trump’s campaign promise for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” the line delivered many times to considerable applause and pronounced at the Republican Convention; the executive order, Sputnik points out, doesn’t itself include the word “Muslim,” but only prohibits entry from six Muslim-majority nations for a restricted period of time (ninety days).
Yet Trump himself was pretty clear on implying that it did on Twitter, and that it indeed was a ban, as if to satisfy his Twitter followers that he had made good on his past campaign promises:
Such a self-promoting fantasy preventing the arrival of a planned invasion of ISIS terrorists repeats a narrative that Trump had brandished in Presidential debates with such self-satisfaction, when he scoffed at the policy of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State as if it were naive and unpracticed as an art of making the public statement–and, effectively, of stagecraft, as much as statecraft. It echoes his evocation of the bad hombres that he stated needed to “get out” of the United States. It fulfills Trump’s frequent promises to his constituents that he will act more Presidential– “Why did we have to tell them we’re going in? Why didn’t we go in and then tell the public a week later: ‘Congratulations, we just got the leadership. We didn’t lose many people? I’m telling you folks, our leadership . . . ”–by making good on the new sort of leadership he would offer. “Our leadership is stupid. These are stupid people.” (Trump didn’t know hat the Mosul operation was led by Iraqi soldiers, not the United States, and run against standard military procedure.) But in a quite similar vein, he criticized Clinton as Secretary of State for “telling the enemy everything you do” by announcing an invasion, as later he would mock the attack on Mosul with disdain, asking “Whatever happened to the element of surprise . . . ? . . . What a group of losers we have.”
9. The notion of working by surprise is central to Trump’s notion of how you win and play the game. Trump’s unfounded belief in the relevance of the timing of the Mosul offensive led him to argue that it was primarily decided to help Clinton’s campaign. The claim echoed Kremlin-backed social media, but as absurd–and the attribution of such an error ignores that the offensive was not coordinated by Americans. And this time, the coalition Obama assembled against ISIS was not consulted about the Immigration Ban, as if to keep them in the dark as well and hit them by the crucial element of surprise. And, indeed, Trump’s assertions that “ISIS has spread like cancer”–borrowing the rather repugnant and unsubstantiated metaphor of NATO Gen. Philip Breedlove accusing refugees of “masking the movement” of terrorist–paint the picture of an organization that can only be contained by drastic measures.
But now we are full circle, alas: for the Ban–which immediately sent shock waves through the most vulnerable communities of refugees, and the cooperation between the US and Iraq to fight ISIS that had been created carefully 2014–have been suddenly eroded, as Iraqi MPs on January 30th angrily approved a “reciprocity measure” to ban Americans from their country, and the Iraqi forces outside Mosul to feel “When [Trump] made this decision, he destroyed us.” “This is an insult to us all,” an Afghan official remarked; “to treat all as terrorists is not what inspires support and confidence among friends.” The very distinction between ‘Friend’ and ‘Enemy’ is in effect confused,–or, rather, one notion of ‘Friend’ has been imposed upon another conception, distorted by preconceptions received from writings of the late political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, who provided the lens for Bannon’s world-view.
The problems of implementing the ban aside, the effects of imposing it openly runs against the nation’s interests and very principles. The cultivation of the Muslim Ban–the very one he discussed with his ally Rudy Giuliani, whom Trump had asked how to enact such a ban legally, without any sense of law, but helped nourish a long-held far-right view that Islamic faith is itself is linked to extreme terrorism. For it framed the issue as one of vigilance, without not compromising civil rights of individuals from other states–who seem not to be accorded any rights, given the importance of securing our own in this map, deriving more from Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” than actual intelligence.
The real geography, Trump wants us to think, is one of “bad dudes” a new version of bad hombres. Trump may just want to be one, perhaps. But only by erasing the images of the plight of refugees which Americans have been forced to see, and substituting that image with images of folks out to destroy us, who he promises to keep at bay, can he point the finger to “the hateful ideology of radical Islam”–treating a religious faith as a political opponent, and hope to embody that hated on a map to give it a target–that echoes the anti-Muslim theorizing of Trump’s closest two current aids, Stephen Bannon, he looming over entrance into the National Security Council’s principals committee, the central organ to discuss national security, in consultancy with the State Department, whose staff he has in the meantime eviscerated in an almost premeditated fashion as if to evacuate a reservoir of accumulated Foreign Policy expertise.
Again, this isn’t at all about people. It is about the global projection of an ideology of the most rigid sort. Bradley Burston has quite terrifyingly argued in quite sinister terms that “Trump needs a war” against a non-Christian, non-white, non-negotiable enemy. The possibility of one would echo Bannon’s own cherished views, descending directly from Huntington. Huntington was convinced that the deep conflict between global civilizations would provide the next phase of global evolution was widely taken as a way to legitimize the post-9/11 Global War on Terror. But the notion that groups of nations would participate in such a conflict that could be mapped in simple ways is pure Bannon–imagining that the fault-lines among groups of nations could be defined single-handedly, without banking on the experience of a trained foreign office.
Bannon payed his bills only recently by promoting conspiracy theories online and offering a platform for white supremacists, and may well have wanted to stage manage the cultural conflict that Huntington described. The result was to lead former NSA director Susan Rice to ask, “Who needs military advice or intel to make policy on ISIL, Syria, Afghanistan, DPRK?” The dangers of open conflation of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State with the nonviolent Muslim Brotherhood, and the 1.7 billion Muslims in the world, is designed to promotes conspiracies about Shariah law as a national danger, but its mental map pits an inevitable struggle between Islam and the “Judeo-Christian” West in an a reductionist master-narrative to purify our Christian nation through war, through the resurrection of the “Church Militant” as Bannon has long believed. America First means that we must find the enemy that the whole country is condemned to face, and that, perhaps, America is First and Foremost White and Christian. Indeed, Huntington described “the decline of the nation state from the conflicting pulls of tribalism and globalism” in a new emerging reality that folks like Steve Bannon would be particularly interested in seeing themselves helping to create, energized by the notion of helping to speed along “the battle lines for the future” in the “evolution of conflict in the modern world.”
The extreme cartographical myopia defined by the not too subtle knife of Huntington’s discovery of meaning in a map. For Huntington famously used maps to make his case, superimposing fixed boundaries atop a Mercator projection, so that people are erased, and one is left with different hues of what passes for “civilizations”–
–in a new version of “the West and the Rest” that folks continue to argue remains “the driving force in the post-Cold War world,” of particularly Cold War stamp.
Even if globalism has increasingly shattered the tidy coherence of this projection, the image first produced by Huntington twenty years ago is still in circulation, and has been once more revived in the newborn Trump administration. The map scarily provides quite a distorting lens for a President who is distinctly not cosmopolitan–almost all cities voted overwhelmingly against him in the 2016 election, if this needs remembering–and with probably quite limited familiarity with global geography, whose reliance on the distillation of all world history to a handy infographic and superimposes on it another layer of fear. For this most frightened man who reminds the country of the need for the Immigration Ban by the incantatory mantra that “you gotta be safe, you gotta be secure,” reinforcing how we look at that map through a lens of our worst fears.
If much have America may have grown disheartened and disillusioned by what they saw as empty promises to take terrorist strikes seriously, the map of an eventual conflict that Bannon & Co. provide is eerily Huntingtonian, and is informed by Bannon’s own past predictions that “there’s no doubt” the US will soon be in another “major” war in the Middle East for which we just need to wait. Bannon endorsed Huntingtonian ideas of global conflict seem now translated into a GIF he seeks wants to implant in the minds of all Americans of an “expansionist Islam and . . . expansionist China,” both “motivated,” “arrogant,” and “on the march,” who misguidedly believe that “the Judeo-Christian west is on the retreat”–as Bannon said long before he joined the Trump campaign, in February 2016.
Did the power of this map provide a basis that Trump, Bannon, and the thirty-one year old Miller imagined no resistance to occur after the executive order was signed? If so, they were misguided. The map is not only outdated, but fails to correspond with most Americans’ view of the world in the manner that it may have during the Bush regime, when, after 9/11, the notion of a “clash of civilizations” was trotted out to emphasize the “bloody borders of the Muslim world” which can only be expected to come into inevitable conflict with other civilizations, and understand historical change in terms of the ineluctable tendency toward conflict that governments can only escalate.