On Monday night, Donald Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to enforce his executive order on immigration. The order, issued Friday night, temporarily bars the entry of anyone from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Trump and his supporters insist that the order is valid and that the Justice Department must enforce it, because its text doesn’t explicitly target a particular faith. Yates disagrees. She says the order is religious discrimination because the intent behind it, manifest in statements by Trump and his aides, is to exclude Muslims.
Yates is correct. A mountain of evidence shows Trump did this to target Islam.
Trump’s executive order doesn’t use the word Muslim, and it doesn’t apply to all Muslim countries. Based on these distinctions, Trump and his defenders in the conservative media insist it’s “not a Muslim ban.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, while cautioning that we mustn’t alienate Muslim allies, says: “I’m not going to make a blanket criticism of this effort.” The office of House Speaker Paul Ryan, noting that the ban is technically “not a ban on people of any religion,” contends: “President Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country.”
Yates takes a different view. On Monday, she sent Justice Department attorneys a letter instructing them not to enforce the order. She conceded that the department’s Office of Legal Counsel had approved the order as “lawful on its face.” But this level of scrutiny, she argued, “does not take account of statements made by an administration or its surrogates close in time to the issuance of an Executive Order that may bear on the order’s purpose.” According to the New York Times, Yates rejected the order based on “repeated comments from Mr. Trump and his advisers about barring Muslims from entering the United States.”
Yates has the facts on her side. The record of anti-Muslim demagoguery behind this order is overwhelming. Ryan, McConnell, and anyone else who defends the president’s ban should be required to review the record and explain why, in light of it, they’re giving Trump the benefit of the doubt. Here’s a recap.
Dec. 7, 2015: Following the terror attack in San Bernardino, California, Trump calls for a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” He bases this on a confused and distorted claim that “large segments of the Muslim population” favor Sharia (Islamic law) and violence against Americans.
Dec. 8, 2015: Trump rejects arguments that his proposal is discriminatory and wrong. On MSNBC, he says even supposedly innocent Muslims are guilty of protecting terrorists. He escalates his threats, falsely accusing Muslims of failing to report the San Bernardino plot:
The Muslim community is not reporting what’s going on. They should be reporting that their next-door neighbor is making pipe bombs and they’ve got them all over the place. The mother’s in the apartment, other people, his friend was buying him rifles. Nobody was reporting that. … The Muslim community has to help us, because without the Muslim community, we would have to get very tough and much tougher.
Jan. 14, 2016: In a Republican primary debate, moderator Maria Bartiromo asks Trump: “Is there anything you’ve heard that makes you want to rethink this position?” “No,” he says. “We have to stop with political correctness.”
March 9: Trump tells CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “Islam hates us.” Cooper asks: “Is there a war between the West and radical Islam, or between the West and Islam itself?” Trump replies: “It’s very hard to separate, because you don’t know who is who.”
March 10: At another debate, Sen. Marco Rubio says: “If you go to any national cemetery, especially Arlington, you’re going to see crescent moons there. If you go anywhere in the world, you’re going see American men and women serving us in uniform that are Muslims.” Trump brushes off these objections: “You can be politically correct if you want. I don’t want to be so politically correct. I like to solve problems. We have a serious, serious problem of hate … where large portions of a group of people, Islam, large portions want to use very, very harsh means.” He suggests additional reasons to beware of Islam: “Women are treated horribly, and other things are happening that are very, very bad.”
June 13: In a speech responding to the terror attack in Orlando, Florida, Trump pledges to “suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe, or our allies.” This formulation—which, according to Rudy Giuliani, was orchestrated by Trump’s advisers as a legally permissible alternative to his original “Muslim ban”—appears to replace the explicit ban. But Trump suggests that Muslims from other countries are still a problem: “Each year, the United States permanently admits more than 100,000 immigrants from the Middle East, and many more from Muslim countries outside the Middle East.” He also adds a new rationale for excluding Muslims: that “they’re trying to take over our children and convince them how wonderful ISIS is and how wonderful Islam is.”
July 17: On 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl reminds Trump that his running mate, Mike Pence, once called a Muslim ban unconstitutional. Trump shrugs: “So you call it territories. OK? We’re gonna do territories. We’re gonna not let people come in from Syria …” Stahl asks: “So not Muslims?” Trump replies: “You know, the Constitution, there’s nothing like it. But it doesn’t necessarily give us the right to commit suicide as a country, OK?”
July 24: On Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asks whether the territorial ban is a “rollback” of Trump’s position. Trump says no: “In fact, you could say it’s an expansion. I’m looking now at territories. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. ‘Oh, you can’t use the word Muslim,’ ” he says, mockingly. “But just remember this: Our Constitution is great, but it doesn’t necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, OK?”
July 27: At a press conference, Trump repeats that Muslim neighbors and congregants are responsible for terrorism: “I think that the people in the community know what’s going on, whether it’s in a mosque or it’s in the community. And they have to report these people.” The next day, at a rally in Iowa, he warns: “If a community isn’t going to report when they know something’s going to happen, those people have to suffer the consequences.”
Aug. 15: Trump extends his proposed crackdown. “In addition to screening out all members or sympathizers of terrorist groups,” he says, “we must also screen out any … who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law.” This clause taps into a misconception that Muslims who revere religious law, unlike Christians who do the same, can’t accept pluralism. By making such reverence disqualifying, Trump is able to exclude many more Muslims.
Sept. 14: Trump says of Syrian refugees: “We don’t know if they have love or hate in their heart, and there’s no way to tell. We can’t let these people come into our country.” On its face, this statement makes the presumption of unacceptable risk unfalsifiable.
Oct. 9: At a debate, ABC’s Martha Raddatz asks Trump about the Muslim ban: “Was it a mistake to have a religious test?” He doesn’t answer. He says the ban “has morphed into extreme vetting from certain areas of the world.” Raddatz presses: “Would you please explain whether or not the Muslim ban still stands?” Again, Trump refuses to say yes or no. “It’s called extreme vetting,” he says. “We are going to areas, like Syria.”
Nov. 10: Two days after his election, Trump speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol. A reporter asks: “Are you going to ask Congress to ban Muslims from entering the country?” Trump stares at the reporter, says “Thank you, everybody,” and walks away.
Dec. 21: In Florida, a reporter asks Trump whether he has decided “to rethink or re-evaluate your plans to create a Muslim registry or ban Muslim immigration to the United States.” Trump replies: “You know my plans. All along, I’ve been proven to be right.”
Jan. 27: In an interview for the Christian Broadcasting Network, David Brody asks Trump: “The refugee changes you’re looking to make—as it relates to persecuted Christians, do you see them as kind of a priority?” Trump says yes. “If you were a Christian in Syria, it was impossible, at least very tough, to get into the United States,” he says. “If you were a Muslim, you could come in. But if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible.” This characterization is grossly misleading. But Trump concludes that the process “was very, very unfair” to Christians. “So we are going to help them.”
Later that day, Trump issues his order. It suspends “entry into the United States of aliens” from countries in which “a foreign terrorist organization has a significant presence.” In practice, this means seven Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The order doesn’t mention Christians, but it commits the United States to “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.”
Jan. 29: Trump tweets: “Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting … Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!” Trump doesn’t mention Shiite Muslims, who are executed in greater numbers and are less likely than Christians to be admitted to the United States.
No principled person, looking at this record, would tolerate, much less defend, a Trump-initiated ban on migration from Muslim countries. The temporary character of the ban, the avoidance of explicit references to Islam or Christianity, and the omission of other Muslim countries don’t excuse the obvious animus behind the order.
In every way, Trump has targeted Muslims as a class. He has rejected the distinction between Islam and radical Islam, since “you don’t know who is who.” He has assigned all Muslims the burden of proving they’re not radical, since “there’s no way to tell.” He has held all Muslims responsible for terror plots that go unreported. He has added rationales—Sharia, sexism, conversion—for excluding Muslims without regard to terrorism. He has proposed better treatment for persecuted Christians but not for persecuted Shiites. He has never conceded that a ban based on religion is wrong, nor has he retracted it. He has said his current approach is an expansion of it.
Anyone who thinks Muslims would be the sole casualty of unchecked Trumpism is naïve. Throughout his crusade against Islam, Trump has dismissed the Constitution as a politically correct impediment to national survival. Nor does he respect the Geneva Conventions: Last week, in an ABC News interview, he endorsed torture (so we’re “playing on an even field” with ISIS) and the seizure of Iraq’s oil (to get “wealth”). Trump is an incipient despot and war criminal, and this order is his first attempt to test how far his party and country will let him go. Sally Yates has drawn her line. Where is Paul Ryan’s?