Donald Trump’s national-security speeches tend to be grab bags of flagrant lies, half-true critiques of America’s discredited foreign-policy consensus, and enough little ironies to fill an Alanis Morissette song. His latest offering is no exception.
In Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday, Trump vowed to “speak out” against countries that oppress gay people, then promised a stronger alliance with Putin’s Russia. He argued that “any country that opposes ISIS should be considered an ally,” then demanded a new round of sanctions against Iran. And he suggested that we need to limit Muslim immigration — because Muslim immigrants tend to make bigoted generalizations about Jewish people.
But it’s possible that Trump has never served up so delicious an irony as his new “ideological test” for prospective immigrants.
On Monday, the GOP nominee unveiled the latest, audaciously vague iteration of his plan to discriminate against Muslims. In his initial proposal — which still adorns his website’s “issues” page — Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Later, he decided to discriminate on the basis of region, rather than religion, vowing to suspend immigration from countries with a “history of terrorism.”
In Youngstown, Trump supplemented that regional ban with a new plan for “extreme vetting” of all immigrants seeking residency in the United States:
In the Cold War, we had an ideological screening test. The time is overdue to develop a new screening test for the threats we face today.
In addition to screening out all members or sympathizers of terrorist groups, we must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles—or who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law. Those who do not believe in our Constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred, will not be admitted for immigration into the country. Only those who we expect to flourish in our country—and to embrace a tolerant American society—should be issued visas.
Let’s put aside the thorny question of whether this ideological test is itself a violation of the Constitution. Trump has made his own lack of belief in the Constitution explicit, dismissing constitutional objections to his Muslim ban by arguing that such concerns are irrelevant.
“Our Constitution is great,” Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “But it doesn’t necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, okay?”
Just yesterday, Trump declared his opposition to the First Amendment, as defined by the Supreme Court.
That Trump has lent support to bigotry throughout his life should go without saying. (This is a landlord who discriminated against black tenants, and once expressed the belief that “laziness is a trait in blacks.”) But even if Trump had been the most “politically correct” man in America before he opened his mouth in Ohio on Monday, he would have disqualified himself for American citizenship by the time he was done talking.
Trump argued that “as we have seen in France, foreign populations have brought their anti-Semitic attitudes with them.” He repeated an extravagant lie about how a neighbor of the San Bernardino killers saw bombs on the floor of their house but didn’t report it because they were too scared of being seen as anti-Muslim (thus suggesting that non-Muslim Americans should resist any inclination to give their Muslim neighbors the benefit of the doubt). Most critically, his entire speech proceeded from a bigoted premise: that the primary threat to America’s public safety is violence committed by Muslims.
The GOP nominee began his speech by cataloguing every high-profile act of violence committed by a Muslim in recent years, from Fort Hood to Paris to Orlando. At one point, he invoked a recent attack in Germany — not the shooting by an apparent white extremist that took ten lives — but the axe attack by a Muslim that wounded five.
Jihadist terrorism is obviously a legitimate threat to our national security. But it is not the only one. Homegrown right-wing terrorists have taken no small number of lives on U.S. soil over the past decade. By suggesting that the “common thread” that runs through all recent acts of mass violence “is that they have involved immigrants or the children of immigrants,” Trump supported bigotry on Monday afternoon.
But the irony of Trump’s proposal may prove even cruder. The GOP nominee’s advisers told the Associated Press that his test would “assess a candidate’s stances on issues like religious freedom, gender equality and gay rights.”
Now, to be fair, Trump’s platform on “gay rights” appears to be that gay people have a right not to be stoned to death. Presumably, Mike Pence could pass that threshold. But Pence is an avowed opponent of gender equality, at least when it comes to military service. And many Republican voters would say that mandating support for “religious freedom” and gender equality is downright Orwellian. And they’d have a point.
Thus, the best thing that can be said for Trump’s ideological test is this: If he proposed it as a requirement for the presidency — rather than for entry into the U.S.— it really would eliminate the No. 1 threat America currently faces.