THE BLOG

Lost In Washington: Political Backbones

03/02/2017 16:45
Yuri Gripas / Reuters

What a bunch of spineless cowards they are.

A year ago, just about every senior US Republican was calling Donald Trump unhinged, dangerous and unfit to be president. Now they either look the other way or make lame excuses as he demonstrates daily how right they were.

Backbones? Who needs 'em? They know they were right all along, yet they stay silent. With a few, heroic exceptions, they are demonstrating a disgraceful lack of any sense that they owe it to their country to bring the Trump disaster to a speedy end.

(Section 4 of the 25th amendment to the US constitution reads: 'Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments, or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.')

For now, Washington watches in horror as the president, ostensibly marking Black History Month, pays tribute to Frederick Douglass, who, he said, 'is an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is getting recognised more and more, I notice.'

Er, what? Frederick Douglass died in 1895 and just happens to be probably the best-known African-American social reformer of the nineteenth century, a former slave who played a massively influential role in the abolitionist movement. President Trump, it seems, has never heard of him.

His ignorance, like his arrogance, is terrifying. He says that the countries from which he has now banned all immigrants -- at least temporarily for now -- pose a major threat to the security of the US.

Evidence? None. Not a single citizen of Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen has carried out a single fatal terrorist attack on US soil. Nor has a single Syrian refugee killed a single US citizen on US soil.

This isn't policy based on facts, fake or otherwise. This is policy based on bigotry.

It is true that the countries singled out by Trump do harbour some terrorists -- indeed, according to one US immigration expert, six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis, and one Yemeni have been convicted of attempting or carrying out terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 1975. Seventeen people over the past forty-two years. No wonder the leader of the most powerful nation on earth is quivering in fear.

On the other hand, the couple who killed 14 people in an attack in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015, were both of Pakistani origin (although one of them had been born in the US). So is Pakistan on the ban list? It is not.

Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people on the Fort Hood military base in 2009, was born in the US to Palestinian parents who had immigrated from the West Bank. So are Palestinians on the ban list? They are not.

The brothers who bombed the Boston marathon in 2013 were of Chechen origin. So is Russia (Chechnya is part of Russia) on the ban list? It is not.

And of course, the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Lebanon. So are those countries on the ban list? They are not.

I apologise. I should choose my words more carefully, because we're told that what President Trump announced last weekend wasn't really a ban at all. According to his spokesman Sean Spicer: 'A ban would mean people can't get in, and we've clearly seen hundreds of thousands of people come into our country from other countries.'

So who was the idiot who said: 'If the ban were announced with a one-week notice, the "bad" would rush into our country during that week'?

Oops. It was President Trump. Who doesn't seem to know that no one from any of the countries on his ban-that-isn't-a-ban list is allowed in to the US without going through rigorous checks. Refugees usually have to wait for well over a year before all the checks are completed.

Never mind. At least we now know who exactly is covered by this ban-that-is-not-a-ban. Mo Farah can rejoin his family in Oregon, because according to the UK Foreign Office, unless you're trying to get into the US directly from one of the seven named countries, you've got nothing to worry about. It doesn't matter where you were born, or even whether you have dual nationality.

So, for example, if you're a British-born jihadi, just back from Raqaa, as long as MI5 haven't spotted you, you can jump on a plane at Heathrow and jet off to New York without a care in the world. If, on the other hand, you're an eminent Iraqi physician, hoping to take up the professorship you have been offered at Harvard medical school, sorry, no chance.

It all makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Carefully thought out, meticulously implemented. And you can tell that it's not aimed just at Muslims because it affects everyone from the named countries. Well, everyone except Christians, of course. And Jews, because if you're an Iraqi or Yemeni Jew with an Israeli passport, you'll be fine as well.

Hmm.

The former mayor of New York and Trump uber-loyalist Rudy Giuliani says he's the one who came up with the plan after Trump asked him to find a legal way to implement a ban - or not-a-ban - on Muslim immigrants. Simples, said Giuliani. 'We focused on... the areas of the world that create danger for us, which is a factual basis, not a religious basis. Perfectly legal, perfectly sensible ... It's not based on religion. It's based on places where there is substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.'

'Substantial evidence?' 'Factual basis'? Presumably that's why nearly a thousand - a thousand! - State department officials and diplomats have signed a letter opposing the measure. Experts, eh? What do they know?

I hope Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil who is Donald Trump's secretary of state, takes a hard look at the madhouse he has entered and decides he wants no part of it. I hope defence secretary James Matiss, a former general in the US Marine Corps, does the same. These men are not deranged ideologues, blinded by bigotry. They should quit now, and explain why.

Their consciences - and those of hundreds more Republican politicians and officials across the US - can bring this nightmare to an end. Just as in Brexitland, the consciences of Tory MPs who know that Theresa May is leading the UK towards a precipice could also end a British nightmare.

I have in mind the Tory MPs who claim to think 'The people have spoken' means 'I surrender.' The Tory MPs who, if they lose an election, rush to tear up their party membership and flock to join the Labour party. 'The people have elected a Labour government. We must now support the Labour government.' I don't think so.

And the Labour MPs like Margaret Beckett, a former foreign secretary, no less, who told the Commons that she was voting for the government's Brexit bill, even though 'I still fear that its consequences, both for our economy and our society, are potentially catastrophic.'

Washington isn't the only town where backbones are in short supply.

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