If it weren’t such a serious subject, the irony would be downright hilarious. Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried his hand at being politically correct. Why he did so is a mystery known only to the inner workings of the Trump administration, but the eventual outcome was nothing short of utter failure ― undermined, in the end, by his own boss.
The heart of all the confusion was what to call Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. Trump, back during the presidential campaign, used to brag (inaccurately) that he was the first Republican to start talking about building a wall on our southern border and border security in general. This was not correct ― plenty of Republicans had spoken of both previously. But Trump did introduce many brand-new ideas during the course of the campaign, one of which was the Muslim ban. Nobody was talking about banning entry to Muslims in this country before Trump.
Fourteen months ago, Trump put out a statement which was titled: “Donald J. Trump Statement On Preventing Muslim Immigration.” Pretty clear title, I have to say. This statement began: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” In his announcement of his new position, he repeated this line in person and even embellished it a bit (”what the Hell is going on”).
So, to recap: the Muslim ban was Trump’s idea from the get-go, he called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” and “Preventing Muslim Immigration” was the title theme. That all seems pretty clear.
Rudy Giuliani flat-out admitted as much, last Saturday: “I’ll tell you the whole history of it. When he [Trump] first announced it, he said ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up, he said: ‘Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.’” Again, not confusing at all ― a pretty straightforward explanation of how Trump’s Muslim ban came to be.
Obviously, part of showing Trump “the right way to do it legally” involved some advice along the lines of: “Don’t use the word ‘Muslim,’ because that makes it unconstitutional.” The word Muslim subsequently got dropped, in both the order itself and in the way Trump and the White House spoke of it. This was the beginning of the Trump administration being forced into doing something Trump so obviously hates ― being politically correct. Remember all that chest-thumping at the Republican National Convention over how bold and brave the GOP was to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism”? They were going to be the stalwarts who stood up to all that P.C. nonsense from the left, and call things what they were, plain and simple.
Even so, the word “ban” wasn’t ever an issue at all. Trump tweeted out over the weekend: “If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the ‘bad’ would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad ‘dudes’ out there!” He also said, on Saturday: “We’re going to have a very, very strict ban, and we’re going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years.”
Trump wasn’t the only one to repeatedly use the term. Kellyanne Conway, on Sunday morning, said: “This is a ban on travel, prospective travel from countries....” Most amusingly, Sean Spicer himself used the term twice in the past few days. From Sunday: “It is a 90-day ban to ensure that we have further vetting restrictions so that we know who’s coming to this country.” And from Monday: “The ban deals with seven countries that the Obama administration had previously identified as needing further travel restrictions.”
But then on Tuesday, Spicer astonishingly tried to rewrite the entire history of the term. “It’s not a travel ban,” Spicer insisted, claiming it was all the media’s fault in the first place: “You guys caused the confusion about the Trump administration’s new temporary travel ban... by calling it a travel ‘ban.’” Obviously, he hadn’t gotten his own memo to stop calling it a “ban,” since he did so to define what shouldn’t be called a travel ban as a “travel ban.” Got all that? Spicer plowed on, stating that President Donald Trump was “just using the words that the media is using,” and, later, after a reporter suggested his message was getting confused: “I’m not confused. The words that are being used to describe it are derived from what the media is calling it. He has been very clear that it is extreme vetting.”
Got all that? It’s the dastardly media who started using the term that Trump himself came up with, and now Trump is using this term not because he came up with it himself, but rather because that’s what the media is now calling it. George Orwell only missed being a prophet by 33 years, it seems, as Sean Spicer now seems to think he’s in charge of the Ministry of Truth.
The only problem with all this was clearly identified by Sarah Palin, years ago: “I just hope the lamestream media won’t twist my words by repeatin’ ‘em verbatim.” Oh, wait... that was actually Tina Fey spoofing Palin on Saturday Night Live, but in the spirit of the brave new world of “alternative facts” ushered in by the Trump administration, I’m just going to go ahead and insist that Palin actually said it. Take that, lamestream media!
The abject failure of Spicer’s attempt to rewrite history and reality came crashing back to Earth, though, when Trump distanced himself from Spicer’s ham-handed attempt to engage in such unseemly political correctness. Trump tweeted, in response to all the rampant confusion: “Everybody is arguing whether or not it is a BAN. Call it what you want, it is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of country!” For “Everybody,” read: “My own administration’s chief mouthpiece.”
Thus endeth (one assumes) the “ban” ban from the White House podium. Banning the “Muslim” part of it was hard enough (again, one assumes), but banning the “ban” was just too steep a semantic hill to climb. Spicer’s “ban” ban hasn’t itself been banned yet (which would result, amusingly, in a “ban” ban ban), but who knows what Trump will tweet out early next morning?
Donald Trump was quite clear about his objective, from the beginning. He wanted to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Period. He didn’t use the word ban, instead he called for a “total and complete shutdown” ― which is nothing more than very forcefully defining the word “ban.” Trump portrayed himself as the champion of being anti-PC, so he certainly didn’t shy away from the word “Muslim” in defining his brand-new policy, either. He then tasked Rudy Giuliani with drafting a “Muslim ban” (as Giuliani just helpfully pointed out), since Giuliani is much more familiar with both federal law and the Constitution. Giuliani obviously told Trump at some point to stop saying “Muslim,” since that would undermine the legal defense of the order in a big way. But to insist that the media came up with the term “ban” is just ludicrous, which is why Trump himself had to rescue Sean Spicer from the limb he had crawled out upon.
The real question here (after you finish chuckling at the naked irony, that is) is why Spicer decided to institute his own personal “ban” ban. There’s really only one possible answer, and that is because he felt that the term was causing Trump political damage. There is no other conceivable reason for Spicer to attempt such spin, even if he did fail utterly at convincing anyone. Trump wanted a Muslim ban, plain and simple. He was told he couldn’t legally have one, so he settled for second-best and had to (in fine politically-correct fashion) drop the term “Muslim” in order to preserve the thin veneer of perceived legality that Giuliani and his task force had hastily slapped onto the policy. Then Spicer tried to take this one step further and insist the media had come up with the term in the first place, and was just trying to make Trump look bad by using it. This was laughably and demonstrably false, and Trump himself had to point out how ridiculous the argument had become.
Donald Trump got away with plenty of convenient memory loss on the campaign trail. He could swear that he never said something, and his fervent followers would believe him (even though there was videotape of Trump saying it multiple times). It was all the media’s fault (for repeatin’ his words verbatim), and that’s all they really needed to hear.
But now that he’s the country’s leader, he isn’t going to be able to get away with such selective memory loss any more. It’s not going to be as easy to toss things down the Orwellian memory hole from the White House ― at least, if the press continues to do their job. We have not always been at war with Eastasia, and Trump’s Muslim ban ― ever since he himself introduced the idea to the political landscape ― will always be a Muslim ban, no matter what Sean Spicer tries to call it.
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