Donald Trump is using executive orders to establish positions that he knows are not completely defensible. They are also not completely logical. For example, the countries listed in yesterday’s executive order banning refugees are not the countries where the 9/11 terrorists originated. In a piece in the New York Times yesterday, Michael D. Shear and Helene Cooper pointed out this particular non-sequitur:
Most of the 19 hijackers on the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pa., were from Saudi Arabia. The rest were from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. None of those countries are on Mr. Trump’s visa ban list.
Trump’s history of negotiation and deal-making is riddled with examples of staking out extreme positions only to scale back his demands to get what he wanted in the first place. That is, in short, his art of the deal. If you want half a pie, make bewildering, outrageous, and illogical demands for the whole pie. No claim is too bizarre, and eventually your opponents will just give you half of the pie to go away.
It is important for progressive and anti-Trump activists is to consider two things in the face of these executive orders:
- Trump doesn’t care what progressives think and angering them is exactly what he wants. The angrier progressives are and the more they scream, the more Trump’s base feels that he is delivering on his campaign promises. It little matters that many of the provisions in his executive orders will founder in courts or drown in the swamp of special interests and legislative compromise. He is satisfying his base and staking an extreme position that will make it easier for him to concede some ground and accomplish other goals.
- Progressives need to be thinking ahead and try to figure out where Trump wants to be at the end. Unconventional or surprising responses might achieve more and will not play the game out the way he hopes.
Here’s the important work that needs to be done: The hard-core Trump supporters that are cheering a ban on refugees from Muslim-majority countries or the daily fights with the media present a much bigger challenge for progressives. But there are many, many conservatives who understand that the visa ban is both ineffective and ungenerous. Some would even call it un-Christian. Anti-Trump supporters have to find a way to speak to soft Trump supporters and influence how they see the actions of Trump’s first week. Success will come with facts, activism, conversation, and persistence.