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I Talked to Conservatives about the #MuslimBan. You Should, Too.



I’ll bet you didn’t think you’d spend the weekend talking about immigration policy.

In the wake of President Trump’s executive order banning immigrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries, the national political conversation has exploded among two camps: those who believe we are veering toward 1930s Germany, and those who think we finally have a leader willing to stick up for American security interests.

I happen to disagree strongly with this action, but in my zen-like quest to quit engaging these issues using anger as my sole vehicle, I figured there was no time like now to get started on peaceful conversations.

So last night on Facebook, I asked for some help from my conservative friends:

facebook status update

At first there were a few likes. Then a few comments, all from my more center-left or left-leaning friends. Pretty soon, those were the only commenters who showed up, leaving the exercise mostly moot. I wasn’t expecting any supporters of Trump’s executive order to walk into a lion’s den.

But a few private messaged me, and we all had civil, substantial, and productive conversations.

Before we go further, though, it’s worth pointing out exactly what Trump’s actions actually did:

It seemingly introduces a weird litmus test for non-citizens in that they are required to support the Constitution. No such prerequisite exists, to my knowledge, anywhere else in our practices for admitting foreigners. It’s not required for me as a citizen, for goodness sakes.

It bans entry into the United States for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. This weekend, the United States officially told residents of those countries arriving into America that they had to turn around and leave.

There are no provisions for known foreigners of those seven countries possessing visas or green cards, unless they’re agents of the UN or NATO. That means students, professors, scientists, and even grandmothers have lost their right to enter the U.S.

The United States will temporarily stop accepting refugees of any country, and when the program resumes, religious minorities will be given preference. This is, essentially, how Trump’s executive action has come to be known as a ban against Muslims, who are in the religious majority in many of the countries from where we currently accept refugees. The president has stated that he intends to put the interests of Christian refugees first, and this seems to be how he’s done that.

So I got in touch with a few of my conservative friends via private message.

We enjoyed productive, respectful opinions, and I promise you it was helpful to my point of view–and I believe it will be helpful to yours, too, to hear a few things they said. Here’s a short summation of common themes:

European Union states have been slow to monitor and qualify migrants and refugees, and they’ve paid a bloody price. The apparent good will of Belgium, Switzerland, France, and Germany has not gone unpunished–ISIS has targeted them all. Having crossed a few of those borders myself, I can attest it’s not hard to wander in and out of countries. America could do well to learn from their mistakes.

Americans are too dismissive of factions in conflict nations that aim to destroy the United States. Many of my friends have served in the armed forces, and they’ve really seen things. Their accounts of what it’s like on the ground in parts of these seven countries is something we tend to gloss over and not take seriously. I wholeheartedly believe that if I had an improvised rocket shot at my head, I’d have a slightly different perspective on why it’s really, really important for us to have appropriate measures to screen people entering the country.

But it’s worth pointing out here that a ban is not an effective means to do this.

We are conflating human rights with civil rights in this issue. Though I am of the persuasion that admitting (peaceful) refugees of any nationality is the morally right thing to do, ours is a nation of laws, policies, and procedures, and immigration law makes it clear that when it comes to deciding who gets to come here, we get to make up the rules–and change them as we please. Our attitudes about immigration have shifted dramatically over the years. We’ve been wildly inconsistent. Remember that up until a few weeks ago, any Cuban who made it onto dry land was granted parole while they waited for a green card. (President Obama terminated that provision, known as the “wet foot, dry foot” rule, in the final weeks of his term, effectively stranding a lot of Cubans who were planning to migrate to our country.)

As I write this, a judge has put a hold on parts of Trump’s executive order–a clear indication that the legality of all of this is a complex matter that I would venture the majority of Americans (including yours truly) doesn’t understand.

Conservatives are seeing more than a little schadenfreude in this. Dismissing the issue at hand, there was some admitted delight among my conservative friends in seeing the furor over this and other executive orders–a little karmic retribution for all of the angst President Obama has imparted through his orders. And this is truly why empathy is important here.

Here’s what I had to say back to my friends.

In most of my conversations, I had similar things to say in response.

First, that this was an attempt to swat flies with a baseball bat. Trump’s order was a blunt-force instrument, and surely there were better means of achieving the same result.

The order took on an unnecessary scope. People with green cards or appropriate documentation shouldn’t face deportation or be denied entry, because it takes effort and verification to gain such approval.

Trump’s administration clearly acted in haste. This is slowly being verified from within the administration–granted, through anonymous sources at this point–but it’s pretty clear that the Trump team made little effort to coordinate their executive order among the many agents tasked with enforcing it. From Homeland Security officials to gate agents in foreign airports, there were multiple interpretations of the order, and many of those were revised as time progressed.

I think there are clear moral and Christian principles directing us to be more accommodating to our neighbors in distress. This is an entirely different conversation, one that cannot be summed up in a paragraph, but I feel that we have a human obligation to aid the very same people we’re currently embargoing. Now there’s a bit of irony here–I’m also somebody who ardently insists religion and government are best kept in separate corners–but I understand there are others who feel differently, and I think this is worth pointing out.

Did we fix anything with last night’s conversation? Nope.

But you know what feels better than winning an argument? Being respected by and giving respect to people who disagree with you.

I’ve seen a lot of friends draw lines in the sand and decide that if you cannot agree with them on issue X or Y, then perhaps you aren’t a real Christian. Or American. Or human being.

That’s absurd.

How can we pull out of this swan dive of a decade if we keep arguing over who gets to hold the controls? Everybody has to pull the stick back. We don’t have to sing Kum-Bah-Yah or anything, but we’ve got to stop ourselves from fundamentally denying the validity of our fellow brethren over every disagreement.

I’m trying my hardest to keep my perspective and my facts and my cool. I know I won’t always get it right–but that’s why I so desperately wanted to have these conversations. I don’t want to lean on my facts too hard until I had a chance to test them out with people who might disagree with me.

And I have to remember always that I don’t know everything–not nearly everything. Even though I read a lot, I’ve never worked in Border Patrol, nor have I worked inside the State Department. Nor have I walked the streets in Kabul. (Anyone notice Afghanistan was left off the list?) If nothing else, that’s all the more reason to talk to people who disagree with you.

Keep the conversation going in the comments here or on Facebook. Keep it civil. And if you’re worried your opinion will get shouted over, send me an email or private message. And thank you, genuinely, for being willing to try.


On the Exhaustion of Rage, and Rhythm


Quick Takes, early February


  1. Clay Crouch

    President Trump’s decision to enact this ban did not happen in a vacuum. Appalling ideologies surround our president. Consider the background of his closest advisor, Steve Bannon. The alt-right is alive and well and growing in their organized militancy.

    I am puzzled by my evangelical friends who voted for Trump. I am angered by the lipstick they are vigorously applying to their decision. Racial-religious nationalism has no place in our country. I fear we are exhibiting the symptoms of being engaged in a cold civil war. It will take courage, wisdom, humility, and above all, love to navigate the no man’s land we religious and political moderates find ourselves inhabiting. I truly believe we hold the key to healing our divided country.

    I leave you with this quote from J.R.R. Tolkien. “A man who files from his fear may find that he has only taken a shortcut to meet it.”

    Keep the faith.

  2. Brent

    On the face of it, I do not think the order is so bad assuming Trump has legitimate concerns regarding the vetting procedures in place but it seems this should apply prospectively. I do think he went too far by not allowing green card holders to return. If there were specific concerns it would seem ok to revoke a green card but not a blanket ban on everyone from those countries.

    Given the cost to vet some of the refugees it would seem more of them could be helped by spending those funds that would have spent vetting them on different things for their benefit. Not sure exactly what but perhaps agreeing with a neighboring country to take them temporarily and then providing better protection, etc.

    I do think it is wonderful to see someone actually try to listen to the other side as opposed the normal assumption that there is only one point of view and if you do not agree you are backwards. I did not want Trump to be elected but I think that many folks who might not have voted for Trump ended up doing so as they were being pushed too far.

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