President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees, signed Wednesday, is the document of a nationalist regime. It de facto delivers on Trump’s campaign promise to ban Muslims, closing U.S. borders on the basis of religion, denying refugees from the planet’s worst conflicts the protection of the most powerful nation in the world. It also encapsulates the way the government’s version of reality will be warped by self-serving ideology in Trump’s America. Days after millions of Americans, most of them women, protested the threats they perceive from their Commander-in-Chief, this executive order insinuates that the real danger to women comes from outside our nation’s borders, and that only Trump can keep us safe.
The order slashes the total number of refugees allowed to settle in the U.S. this year by more than half (from 110,000 to 50,000), indefinitely blocks refugees from war-torn Syria, and temporarily bans U.S. entry from a number of other Middle Eastern and North African countries. It also promises that the administration’s Department of Homeland Security will henceforth collect and publicize “information regarding the number and types of acts of gender-based violence against women or honor killings by foreign-born individuals in the United States.” This is propaganda, not policy: As my colleague Christina Cauterucci has reported, Trump has already signaled his intention to eliminate federal grants that support services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
The data Trump wants his DHS to disseminate would function as a free publicity blast for the worldview on which he based his campaign. It’s an old story that some men only begin worrying about women’s rights when it becomes expedient to protect women (especially white women) from an external bogeyman. Trump profited early from stoking fears that Mexicans are “rapists” coming for his supporters’ wives and daughters. Islamophobes also have a history of presenting themselves as feminist liberators. When Trump suggests that Muslims “believe that sharia law should supplant American law” and cannot “share our values and respect our people,” he appeals to ugly prejudices that paint Muslim men as inherently violent and Muslim women as servile and oppressed. Now, he’s vowing to use the reach and resources of the federal government to amass stories that will bolster those stereotypes, boosting his agenda in the process.
The order is staggeringly broad: The category of “foreign-born individuals” seems, on its face, to include lawful permanent residents and even citizens of the U.S. in addition to temporary visa holders. Tracking the violence against women that occurs in America should be the work of the Department of Justice, whose job it is to protect Americans against crimes, and against violations of our civil rights. By making it clear that sexual violence (and, it seems, civil rights) are no longer included in the DOJ’s bailiwick, but instead emphasizing them as a priority for DHS, which handles immigration, Trump is communicating that sexual violence isn’t wrong until it’s perpetrated by a foreigner. Otherwise, as our president has said, “You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy.”