The US Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision is but a sample of the country’s divide
The US Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld President Trump’s executive proclamation that banned entry of citizens from seven Muslim majority countries (later revised to include two other non-Muslim countries, North Korea and Venezuela) by a 5-4 margin.
The decision was along the conservative-moderate/liberal divide of the court, which is also reflective of the overall division in the country along the party line.
From the inception of his presidential term, Donald Trump had kept the travel ban in the front burner, and one of his first executive orders was implementing his campaign promise of prohibiting entry into US, citizens from largely Muslim countries.
In his own words, he was “calling for 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.” Although many qualifiers were subsequently given out by his campaign office about the intent and extent of this ban, and speculations were made by some of his own party stalwarts that the ban would be more rhetorical than real, Trump issued his executive order in January 2017, forbidding entry of citizens from seven Muslim centuries either as immigrants or non-immigrants for 90 days until a more elaborate method of vetting visitors from these countries was development by the government (this executive order was followed by another in March 2017 at the end of the 90-day period).
The ban was immediately decried by moderates and Democrats alike as discriminatory and biased against a particular religion, and against the constitution of the country. A few states filed suit against this order and were able to obtain a stay order on the proclamation.
When the federal government lost the appeal to an appellate court, the Trump government decided not to file an appeal in the Supreme Court. Instead, the government went to an overhaul of the original order and came out with a well-camouflaged executive proclamation in September 2017 by including two non-Muslim countries -- North Korea and Venezuela, in the ban list.
The proclamation, purported to “protect the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the US,” was again contested by the state Hawaii (followed) in a federal district court which issues a country-wide ban on the implementation of the order. The appellate court upheld the lower court decision, but this time the federal government pursued the case to the Supreme Court.
The decision from the Supreme Court has taken nearly six months, but the general direction of the court toward favouring the proclamation was palpable from the time it stayed the decision by a lower court late last year, till the Supreme Court has had heard the government’s arguments. The June decision is the final one in this travel ban saga.
The Supreme Court 5-4 decision is just but a sample of the country’s divide, not only on Trump’s travel ban order but also on immigration in general. One of the most important comments on the decision came from the Democratic Party Chairman, Tom Perez. Calling it a major discriminatory order, Perez stated, “discrimination is not a national security strategy, and prejudice is not patriotism. Let’s call this ban for what it is: An outright attack on the Muslim community that violates our nation’s commitment to liberty and justice for all.”
A hard line
A large part of the boost the Trump campaign received from his base was his position on immigration. From day one, he had taken a hard line on deporting all illegal aliens from the country (more than 11 million in most estimates), stopping illegal migration from Mexican border by building a wall (and making Mexico to pay for it), and finally by hyping up anti-Muslim sentiments in the wake of various terrorist attacks.
There had been a wave of support for Trump on these issues, particularly from conservatives and their neo-nationalist cohorts. Many argue this support is a major reason why Trump was able to snatch his victory in the last elections.
It is ironic that Trump is riding on the shoulders of a group who are wedded to an ideology that Trump himself was not known for. He thrived on a political philosophy of expediency. He was once a registered Democrat, and then for a time, he was independent in the sense that he contributed to political campaigns of both major parties.
Yet today, he is an icon of conservatism, because he is canvassing for their support. His recent defiance of G-7 leaders, nixing of the Iran nuclear deal, and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem are acts heroism for conservatives.
Even though not an ideologue, Trump has embraced the conservative values of low taxation, less government, strict law enforcement, and decreased immigration. His recent acts of imposing tariff on trading partners with whom US has deficits, bringing down tax rates, and visible attempts to shrink the government, have only increased his popularity in this base.
Unfortunately, popularity is a fickle element in politics. A person can rise and fall with ebb and tide of popular politics. History has shown that popularity, when restricted to rhetoric without substantial improvement in the quality and substance of delivery, cannot last long. This is particularly in countries where democracy rules and leaders are elected on popular votes.
The US cannot operate on executive orders and proclamations alone. These have to be endorsed and legislated by people’s representatives in the legislature. There are 535 of these individuals in both houses of Congress, and they all are not conservatives, nor are they ignorant of the international opinion of their country.
They are also not immune from re-election. The other 65% voters (deducting the 35% or so conservatives) also count. As mid-term elections to Congress approach, people may see a different face of Trump. We all hope this will be for the better.
Ziauddin Choudhury has worked in the higher civil service of Bangladesh early in his career, and later for the World Bank in the US.