Say a prayer for the unscrupulous Justice Department lawyer in your life: As a Supreme Court battle over Trump’s “travel ban” looms, the president chose to start his week by trading the credibility of his administration’s case for some likes and retweets.
The president has the impulse control of a 14-year-old who just discovered Red Bull–vodka shots — and the racial politics of an elderly white man who just discovered Breitbart. Trump’s Monday tweetstorm is yet another example of that first trait mitigating the destructive potential of the latter one.
The president’s latest posts make life harder for defenders of his embattled executive order for at least four reasons:
1) The administration wanted to keep its distance from the word ban, ostensibly because it harkens back to the (inarguably unconstitutional) “Muslim ban” that Trump had promised on the campaign trail.
Thus, days after Trump signed his initial executive order barring residents of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., the administration berated the press for describing the measure as a “travel ban.”
“It’s not a Muslim ban. It’s not a travel ban,” Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted. “It’s a vetting system to keep America safe.”
2) The case against the president’s travel ban centers on the Trump administration’s motives for pursuing it. Challengers maintain that the order was motivated by animus against Muslims, rather than reasonable concerns about national security. The order’s defenders must argue that there is no connection between Trump’s campaign pronouncements and his narrowly tailored, temporary ban on immigration from a select list of high-risk nations.
Now, Trump has admitted that the executive order his administration will defend does not, in fact, represent his true intentions for immigration policy. This cedes one of the challengers’ core premises: that one cannot divine the president’s motives from the text of the order itself. What’s more, if Trump sees his second travel ban as a more politically expedient version of the first, it seems all the more reasonable to assume that he saw the initial travel ban as a more politically expedient version of his campaign’s Muslim ban.
More concretely, the first travel ban established a preference in refugee admissions for those who belong to “minority religions” in their countries of origin. Since the ban was concentrated on Muslim-majority countries, it wasn’t difficult to read discriminatory intent into the provision. And the president made doing so even easier when he told the Christian Broadcast Network that his executive order would give priority to Christians over Muslims.
Such a preference likely violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Which is why, when the Justice Department sought to clean up the mess Steve Bannon had made, it discarded that provision. Now, Trump says that he wishes that bit was still in there. (He also, bizarrely, suggests his administration’s executive orders are dictated by the Justice Department instead of by the president.)
3) The official rationale for Trump’s travel ban is that it restricts immigration from countries that are too unstable — or unwilling — to provide the U.S. with the information necessary to effectively “vet” their residents for immigration. But Trump’s final tweet suggests that the United States is already capable of conducting “EXTREME VETTING,” even though that second travel ban has been blocked by the courts.
4) Trump renewed his public advocacy for the travel ban Saturday night, when news of the terrorist attack at London Bridge first broke.
As of this writing, there is no public indication that the attackers were immigrants from any of the countries blacklisted by Trump’s ban. Thus, the fact that he saw the attack in London as a testament to his ban’s necessity, is one more indication that the executive order isn’t rooted in cold-headed risk assessment, but rather, in the same bigoted fear that produced Trump’s previous proposal for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”