Stephen Miller couldn’t help it. As the White House put the finishing touches on its dastardly scheme to block Muslims from entering the United States, Trump’s senior adviser paused the drill, removed Lady Justice’s blindfold, and opened his mouth. “You see, Ms. Justice,” he hissed. “Our brilliant plan cannot fail! And that is because we’ve been very, very clever. Cleverer, even, than you, with your scales and sword and toga and stays and freezes.”
The statue pricked up her ears. “You thought you could make us tear up our original order and start over?” Miller continued. “Bwa ha ha! How droll. What you and the courts don’t realize is … our second ban will have the same policy outcome as the first!”
This, essentially, is how Donald Trump and his immigration ban–defending surrogates have spent the last few months. Step 1: Tell the nation’s judges and the American people how stupendously ingenious their travel bans are and how they’ve been exquisitely tailored to pass muster with a judiciary branch that could never possibly guess that they’re designed to keep Muslims out of the country. Step 2: Lawyers write briefs collecting these diabolical, cackling monologues. Step 3: Judges rule that the travel bans do not pass constitutional muster. Step 4: Trump and his acolytes fume. Repeat.
On Feb. 21, Miller appeared on Fox News while (probably) stroking an invisible cat to assure viewers that Trump’s revised ban was essentially the same as the scrapped, probably unconstitutional one. “Phew!” said the bigots. “Woo!” said the civil rights lawyers.
Recall that the first order was overturned after an appeals court deemed its goals, as helpfully articulated by the geniuses at the White House, un-American and discriminatory. Specifically, the court alit on Rudy Giuliani’s televised explanation of how the original ban came to be. “I’ll tell you the whole history of it,” the former mayor of New York City happily confided to Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro, his hand hovering over an invisible red button that he would use to annihilate us all just a few minutes after he revealed his extraordinarily brainy stratagem. “So when [Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’ ”
The U.S. Constitution forbids policies crafted to disfavor a particular religion. There is no such thing as a “legal Muslim ban.” If you are a Trump staffer tasked with fashioning a “legal Muslim ban,” the correct response is, “Nope.” Conversely, if you are an American Civil Liberties Union staffer listening to Rudy Giuliani during this banner moment in on-air Machiavellian statecraft, the correct response is, “Could you repeat that? Slower?”
Unsurprisingly, Giuliani’s Jan. 29 remarks were quoted in Wednesday’s ruling by a Hawaiian judge blocking Trump’s second order. So too was Miller’s “same policy outcome” comment, along with other statements from Trump’s team of strategy masterminds, as evidence of anti-Islamic animus. Trump himself took part in the I-will-now-be-undone-by-my-need-to-rehearse-my-evil-plan-out-loud-in-front-of-everyone trend that’s sweeping the White House. Speaking to a Nashville, Tennessee, crowd on Wednesday evening, the president—who had an invisible python wrapped around his neck—described his most recent order as “a watered-down version of the first one.” Got that? The new ban is basically the old, unconstitutional ban but a little wetter.
Witness the radiant, oblivious perseverance of people who cannot be dissuaded that their boneheaded idea is actually really great, no matter how much negative feedback they receive. Trump believes in the self-evident correctness of his Muslim ban. He and his surrogates will continue to allude to its origins (as a Muslim ban) and purpose (to ban Muslims). When the courts strike it down because it is a Muslim ban, they will resurrect it, singing about all the Muslims they hope to ban with their Muslim ban. There is no reason for Trump to apologize for seeking to ban Muslims. Is he not the president of the United States? Did he not win Wisconsin?
In his treatise The Art of War, the ancient Chinese scholar Sun Tzu wrote, “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” Once upon a time, before his inner gloating baddie took over, Trump subscribed to this philosophy. As a candidate, the real estate mogul often criticized Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for tipping their foreign policy hands. “You’re telling the enemy everything you want to do,” he complained when Clinton outlined a plan to fight ISIS. As American forces prepared to invade Mosul in Iraq, Trump raged to a crowd of veterans, “Why do we have to talk about it? Why? I never saw anything like this. Every time we are going to attack somebody, we explain. We’re going to attack, we’ll be attacking at 3, noon on March 25.”
Well, well, well. Now it looks like the shoe is on the other foot, doesn’t it, Mr. Trump? The tables have turned, have they not? How are you going to wriggle out of this one, Mr. President? Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Let’s hope that this time, for once, the movie ends right here.