A war of words has broken out between the Trump administration and almost everybody else as to whether Trump’s executive order restricting foreign entry into the United States is properly labelled as a “ban,” a form of “vetting,” or something else.
After the White House Press Secretary and Trump himself repeatedly referred to the order as a “ban,” word went out to Sean Spicer and others in Trumpland not only to stop using the term “ban,” but to affirmatively deny that the order was, in fact, a ban. Worse, Trump’s own previous use of the word was ridiculously blamed on the media, despite the fact that Trump and his staff had been boasting for days about the “ban.”
The media response to these verbal gymnastics has been, for the most part, pathetic. Rather than doing actual reporting (God forbid!) on whether or not the Order included a ban, many of the media talking heads presented the story as a he-said she-said battle of wits. Golly, commentators seemed to be saying, how can we ever figure this out if one side says one thing, and the other side says the opposite?
Well, how about looking at the order itself? It doesn’t take a professor of semantics to know what a “ban” is. Common usage and the dictionary are perfectly aligned in defining a ban as a legal prohibition. So the simple way to answer the question is to look at the order and see if prohibits entry into the United States.
It does. The actual words are “I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants” of people from the designated countries for 90 days (with some exceptions for diplomats and others holding special visas). What it does not say is that people from those countries will be subjected to enhanced vetting during that period. They are prohibited from entry, period.
Folks, that’s a “ban.” It may be a temporary ban, but it’s a ban. It is not “vetting,” although enhanced vetting may come later, after the expiration of the 90-day period.
Whether or not it’s a “Muslim ban” is a more complicated question. And this is where the story gets a bit more interesting. Trump’s newly minted Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, is generally regarded as a potential island of sanity in Trump’s sea of crazy. So when Kelly came out in defense of the order, people listened carefully. Kelly, in a small but significant variation on currently authorized Trumpspeak, was more precise in his wording than Trump and Spicer. Kelly did not broadly deny that Trump’s order was a ban. Rather, he argued that it was not “a ban on Muslims.”
Agree or not, Kelly’s statement scores lower on the dishonesty meter than the falsehoods peddled by Trump and Spicer. Whether or not this is a “Muslim ban” is more a matter of interpretation and characterization than a question of fact. There is strong support for the proposition that the Trump order is, in fact, a Muslim ban. No non-Muslim countries are included. The seven countries covered by the ban are all overwhelmingly Muslim. And while all persons from those countries are covered by the 90-day ban, not just Muslims, non-Muslims are favored for a potential exemption that is not available to the majority (read “Muslim”) religion.
So it sure looks like a Muslim ban. It is undeniably, at the least, a ban directed primarily at Muslims. But Kelly can argue that since all people from those countries, not just Muslims, are covered by the order, it shouldn’t be called a “ban on Muslims.” And he can point to the fact that the great majority of Muslims around the world are not covered at all. Therefore, although one can disagree with Kelly’s denial of a Muslim ban, as I do, he is at least trafficking in the world of interpretation, not the world of facts.
Not so those who say categorically that the order is not a “ban.” They are dwelling in the Kellyanne Conway World of Alternative Facts. They are lying.
Philip Rotner is an attorney and an engaged citizen who has spent over 40 years practicing law. His views are his own and do not reflect the views of any organization with which he has been associated.