This week, for United States President Donald Trump, has certainly been an eventful one. While most of us were sipping poolside mocktails in Thailand or happily receiving red packets from relatives, Trump’s most recent executive order resulted in protests, online outrage, global disapproval, and the firing of an Attorney General – and all in the space of this Chinese New Year holiday. Since then, the drama has unfolded further, with protests (near-riots, really) against the visit of editor of Breitbart News at Berkeley and Trump’s most recent diplomatic efforts resulting in a “heated exchange” with both the Australian Prime Minister and Mexican President.
HOW THE STORY GOES
On Friday, Trump signed an executive order that enacted several restrictions on immigration:
- barring entrance indefinitely for Syrian refugees
- enacting a 120-day suspension for all refugees (exempting those of “minority religions”)
- Imposing a 90-day ban on travel to the US for persons from seven Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen).
At the time that this order was issued and enacted, it resulted in widespread confusion throughout US airports. The status of green-card holders and those with dual citizenship was also unclear, as they were initially disallowed entry (it’s since been clarified that they would likely be allowed through). As passengers were taken off flights, stopped at security and detained for questioning, refugees, some of whom had waited years for legal US-entry, were held in third countries.
Once the ban was put into action, protesters began to gather in front of several major US airports, demanding freedom for those detained. Lawyers working to release the detained and reporters covering an unprecedented story were also quick to arrive on scene.
The political spheres also took aim at Trump’s action. The day following the order, a federal judge blocked part of it, and following, more judges in several US cities have overruled portions of the order. Over the weekend, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) not only overruled parts of Trump’s order in court but also reportedly received $24 million in donations. Nevertheless, despite statements from Republican politicians (like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham) decrying Trump’s decision, the President’s staunch supporters remain encouraging of the ban, some of whom see it as Trump keeping his campaign promises to tighten immigration and a move for improving national security.
Cue the response of then-Attorney General Sally Yates, a holdover from Obama’s administration: On Monday, Yates told Department of Justice lawyers not to defend Trump’s order in court, and hours later, she was fired from her position. Whether or not her duty as Attorney General allowed for her to take action against the President’s order is the subject of current debate.
Liberals label Yates’s refusal to defend Trump’s order as heroic and a stand for justice. Conservatives tend to back the White House’s decision to strike her position. Nevertheless, it does seem ironic that Senator Jeff Sessions, who will likely be confirmed as Attorney General in upcoming months, asked Yates during her confirmation whether or not she would refuse to act against the President if he was to enact something unlawful. Her response, which was praised by Republicans at the time, was that the Attorney General must commit to the Constitution and advise the President as a result.
THE GLOBAL RESPONSE
Outside of the United States, Trump’s executive order has met with backlash from foreign political leaders and the United Nations. Germany’s Angela Merkel disapproves of the ban, and Iran’s government has placed a reciprocal ban on Americans traveling through its borders in response to Trump.
According to the BBC, over one million Brits have signed a petition to have British PM Theresa May’s invitation for Trump to “make an official State Visit” rescinded “because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.” Since then, an opposing petition calling for Trump’s visit to remain a State Visit has arisen and garnered over 200,000 signatures.
Parliament will debate the two petitions on February 20. The UK’s government, which has been friendly with Trump’s administration, has disagreed with his executive order, although Theresa May was reluctant to comment this past Friday.
On Wednesday, Foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates Abudllah bin Zayed denied that the travel ban is an Islamophobic or Muslim ban, citing that most Muslims and Muslim countries were not included. Other officials from Gulf Arab countries, such as senior Dubai police official Dhahi Khalfan, expressed total support for Trump’s action, citing the right of a nation’s government to protect its people and ensure security.
WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
Defenders of Trump say that his action is trying to protect America from future terrorists — and let’s face it, there isn’t a “nice” way to do that. Others are clearly outraged, calling it un-American and unconstitutional. Still, why should you care? You might not be a citizen of any of the countries directly targeted by the ban; you might not even be American. Yet as students at a large international school, we are influenced by the current world superpowers, including (at this moment) the USA. Some of our parents are hired by American companies; some of us have relatives in the States, so some of our jobs are going to be affected by economic policies that result from a wave of America-first
nationalism and unprecedented approaches to foreign affairs. Certain diplomatic decisions can affect the entire world, not just those of a specific nationality. If country leaders cannot find a way to work with one another, there will be consequences on an international scale. So, as students at an international school and as students, period, we should do what we do most: learn. Learn from these political happenings and think about what they mean for the future of this world.
For example, to delve briefly into the dubious realm of “what-if” statements, what happens if there’s another ethnic group the Trump administration deems potentially dangerous to American interests — say, the Chinese? Will Chinese-Americans have difficulty returning home? What would China do in response? And will these rather strong-armed tactics encourage the flourishing of racist and xenophobic attitudes? For those of us moving on to university in the US, consider how the political climate may change. Consider the benefits and dangers of free speech. As students of the Singapore American School, we should take part and interest in what happens in the future of this administration. What Trump does may just define what it means to be “American” to the rest of the world.