by Fintan 'Toole // Irish Times Literary Editor
Probably the smartest thing anyone said about Donald Trump before his election was the explanation by Salena Zito in The Atlantic of why he could get away with making wildly exaggerated or flatly false statements: “When he makes claims like this, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”
And yet Zito’s insight has turned out to be insufficient. In the mad days that have followed his inauguration, it has become clear that Trump takes himself both literally and seriously.
He mistakes his own impulses for facts. He does not know the difference between self-aggrandising symbolic gestures and lived human realities, and this tiny-minded literalism has very serious consequences for millions of people.
The most important thing to understand about the executive order keeping immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim countries out of the US is that it has no relationship whatsoever to its stated purpose. That purpose is, supposedly, to keep America safe from terrorism. The order is actually called “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”.
Memory of 9/11
As the chaos, anguish and shame erupted last weekend, Trump’s surrogates and supporters repeatedly evoked the memory of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
But Trump’s order would do absolutely nothing to prevent a repeat of those attacks. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. Saudi Arabia continues to be the primary sponsor of the extremist versions of Islam that feed into militant jihadism. Yet Saudi Arabia is not one of the seven countries whose citizens are affected by Trump’s order.
On the contrary, the Saudi government this week reiterated its delight at Trump’s accession to the presidency and declined to utter the smallest criticism of the order.
By contrast, not one American has been killed since 9/11 by any immigrant or refugee from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – the countries targeted by Trump. Every jihadist who carried out a lethal attack inside the United States since 9/11 was a citizen or legal permanent resident of the US itself.