‘Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience’.
John F Kennedy, ‘A Nation of Immigrants’.
I started subscribing to The Washington Post to keep a closer eye on The Trumpian Agenda and America’s response to it. The articles are too addictive and too numerous to stick to the quota of a non-subscriber and it was money well spent. Today I read a very good piece written by Ishaan Tharoor. In it, he compares Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau’s immigration policies to those of Donald Trump and what a stark contrast there is. Following this weekend’s ‘inverse’ terrorist attack on Muslims praying in a mosque in Quebec City (this time the attack was carried out by radical white nationalists as opposed to Muslim extremists), Justin Trudeau addressed the Canadian House of Commons and said that, despite this blatant lack of tolerance, he would continue to welcome refugees to his country:
‘To the more than one million Canadians who profess the Muslim faith, I want to say directly, we are with you’, a response which won a standing ovation from those present, including his opponents (Washington Post).
Trudeau’s twitter feed on 28th January 2017 addressed those who were ‘fleeing persecution, terror and war’. In it he promised that Canadians would welcome them, regardless of their faith. Trudeau is already a firm favourite in the hearts of many, myself included, for his good looks and liberal views; but it is his warm hearted comments on twitter welcoming immigrants that have propelled him into the hearts of many more.
Tharoor writes that: ‘For thousands of Americans now marching against Trump, Trudeau represents much that they see missing in their current president, from his celebration of feminism and belief in man-made climate change to his openness to other cultures and willingness to apologies for his nation’s past deeds’, qualities that do not come to the fore when we look at the American president.
So where is Obama and what does he think of all of this?
President Obama said in his final speech in Chicago:
‘Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power – with our participation, and the choices we make. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms’.
He spoke to the American people and asked them to stand up for their beliefs. On leaving office, Obama informed reporters in his final news conference that he would only comment on Trump’s actions if he believed America’s ‘core values ‘to be at stake (Juliet Eilperin, 31.1.17, Washington Post). Some of the values he championed during his presidency were tolerance for minorities, immigrants and political dissent. Obama also expressed, as outlined above, the need for greater political participation amongst the American population. Now as the crowds roar in protest, Obama has broken his silence. Whilst still on holiday with this family, he has issued a statement through his spokesman, Kevin Lewis, following an onslaught of requests from journalists. Mr Lewis said that Obama:
‘… fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion’ (Juliet Eilperin, 31.1.17, Washington Post).
In this statement, Obama urged Americans to:
‘Publicly protest President Trump’s move to ban citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries – as well as refugees from across the globe – from entering the United States’ (Eilperin, WP).
Already Americans are standing up to Trump in their droves: not just the ordinary populace and those celebrities who spoke out at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards from LA this Sunday; but Judges across America, more notably Sally Yates, the acting Attorney General, who Trump has just fired after she ‘ordered Justice Department lawyers not to defend his immigration order’ (Zapotosky, Horowitz and Berman, WP).
Obama did quite well to keep his silence for so long, didn’t he?
Yes he did, although one can imagine he has received more than a few frantic phone calls from senior Democrats (and Republicans).
It is not normal ex-presidential etiquette to criticise the incumbent, as presidential historian, Robert Dallek, points out:
‘I don’t think it’s very common at all for an ex-president to be commenting on the performance of his successor’.
(Eilperin does mention that Theodore Roosevelt broke with this convention when he criticised the way in which his successor, William Howard Taft, was going in 1908; see her article below).
Dallek goes on to say:
‘This current incumbent is so out of synch with what the normal behaviour of a president is that it calls for ex-presidents to respond’ (Robert Dallek, Eilperin, WP).
Whilst reading this article to my mother before publishing it, (always good to have an extra opinion), she reminded me of the words of Martin Luther King, who once said that our lives begin to end once we are silent about things that matter. Now is not the time to be silent. On the contrary, it’s time to break with presidential convention and speak up. Perhaps all former Presidents should set up their own petition: ‘Ex-Presidents Unite to ‘Dump the Trump’.
Back to Canada…
Ah, what a model of justice and honour to aspire to. Like the masses of Americans who have come out in droves, Canadian Senator Rant Omidvar echoes the sentiments of her Prime Minister. Omidvar is originally from Amritsar in India and was educated at the University of Delhi. Yesterday she wrote in Canada’s Globe and Mail, which was quoted in the Washington Post (the article can also be found on her twitter feed). In her article, she is hopeful that whilst America closes its doors to immigrants, Canada will ‘open a window’. She cites Trump’s new cap of 50,000 refugees to be resettled in America this year (as opposed to the 110,000 set out by Obama last year), suggesting that the difference of 60,000 can be balanced by Canada and her allies; not only in a governmental sense, but in private collaborations. Her article states that churches, mosques and several other community groups have all reported an ‘overwhelming demand for private sponsorship’ (Omidvar).
What about people’s fears that immigrants take up domestic jobs and threaten the economy?
Omidvar disputes this. There is no evidence to show that they raise unemployment. Rather they create jobs and take up the lower skilled ones, thereby raising wages for everyone else.
Other people of interest?
Trudeau appointed a minister of immigration who was himself a refugee. Ahmed Hussen was born in Somalia and arrived in Canada as a teenager in the mid 90’s. He subsequently trained and worked as a lawyer before taking up the post which was created by Trudeau in direct response to the immigration crisis. This weekend Hussen assured people who were stranded in Canada as a result of Trump’s Executive Order that they would be granted temporary residence. Whilst sidelining questions from the press as to what he thought of Trump’s controversial policies, he did make a comment on those of his own country:
‘Our principles are of openness: open to ideas, open to people, open to those who want to come here and make a better life for themselves, contribute to our economy [with] their high skills, and also to continue to have compassion for those who seek sanctuary in our country’ (Tharoor, WP).
It is a sad fact to say that the United States are not as united as once they were. Speaking at an event at Chatham House in London last night, Lord Mark Malloch-Brown of the International Crisis Group and former Deputy UN Secretary General under Ban Ki-Moon, said that with an estimated 54% turnout in November’s US elections, only around 25% of America’s population voted for Trump. His popularity at this stage is lower than any other American president in history. (This argument is supported in the Telegraph survey below). Whilst last night’s talk focused on the lesser known conflicts of the world that the International Crisis Group was set up 21 years ago to focus on (in the wake of the Yugoslav wars), Trump’s influence cannot be ignored. Lord Malloch-Brown compared him to the one of the latest figures in a rising trend of ‘Caesars’ who are all ‘at the authoritarian end of the political spectrum’. Other figures he cited in this recent trend, or as he put it, ‘the falling dominoes of political order’, are Erdogan in Turkey; Duterte in the Philippines; Modi in India; Putin in Russia (not so recent this one); Orban in Hungary and perhaps the ruling Law and Justice Party in Poland (although the latter is less likely to align itself with Russia than the others).
Why is Trump so dangerous?
According to Lord Malloch-Brown, whilst Duterte is far, far worse than Trump, his influence does not sweep the globe like that of Trump’s in America. Trump’s rhetoric has far greater and further reaching ramifications. Not only does his voice promote political disharmony and isolationist, nationalist tendencies in Europe; further afield in the emerging markets like Brazil, Mexico and China, his proposed punitive tariffs on foreign imports; protectionist agenda and distaste for international trade deals that have taken years to establish are likely to create economic chaos and when there is economic chaos, tempers flare and political chaos ensues.
It is notable at least that last Friday’s conference with Theresa May has impelled him to change his views on NATO. Trump may argue however, that if he manages to establish peace with Russia under a new Yalta style agreement (post WW2 conference), a defence organisation such as NATO would not be required. However, that has yet to be seen.
Of other note, thankfully Trump has toned down his views on torture and has agreed to defer to his Defence Secretary, James Mattis, who opposes it.
Possible problems lie ahead for global organisations like the United Nations amidst rumours flying around Washington that the US, under a Trump administration, may reduce funding. This would be a great shame after Obama had finally, 7 years into his term as President, started to place more emphasis on the role of the UN, realising the need for greater funding. Former First Lady Eleonore Roosevelt championed human rights when the United Nations Charter was written.
It could be said that Trump is right to throw up some challenges to the global political order as is stands. Perhaps he is also right in suggesting that some NATO members do not pull their weight in terms of membership costs; that cannot be denied. He is also right to address the American fears of terrorism; but we should not meet hate and intolerance with the same.
Perhaps Trump should take a leaf out of Canada’s ‘boy next door’s’ book and show a little more empathy and compassion for the needs of others. Anne-Marie Slaughter said in the FT recently that it’s not about what you do, but what you undo. Obama, in his final speech, placed great emphasis on the generations before us who have worked long and hard to establish, promote and enshrine social change in America’s constitution. He quoted Harper Lee, from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’:
‘ … if our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”’
Trump professes to understand the needs of the forgotten few but in so doing, he is self-selecting who those ‘forgotten few’ are.
WP Article by Ishaan Tharoor:
On Obama breaking his silence, by Juliet Eilperin:
Transcript of Obama speech:
On the firing of Sally Yates, acting Attorney General, on Monday night (Zapotosky, Horowitz and Berman, WP):
Article by Canadian Senator Ratna Omidvar:
Chatham House event:
Telegraph survey on Trump’s dwindling popularity:
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