There’s been lots attention-grabbing opposition to Trump’s “Muslim ban” executive order, from demonstrations to court orders. But polls make it clear public opinion is much more mixed. Standard phone polls show small majorities opposed, while web and automated polls find small majorities continue to support it.
What surprises me about the poll results isn’t that lots of Americans like the ban — but that so many Americans don’t. Regular people have lives to lead and can’t investigate complicated issues in detail. Instead they usually take their cues from leaders they trust. And given what politicians across U.S. political spectrum say about terrorism, Trump’s executive order makes perfect sense. There are literally no national-level American politicians telling a story that would help ordinary people understand why Trump’s goals are both horrendously counterproductive and morally vile.
Think of it this way:
On February 13, 1991 during the first Gulf War, the U.S. dropped two laser-guided bombs on the Amiriyah public air raid shelter in Baghdad. More than 400 Iraqi civilians were incinerated or boiled alive. For years afterward visitors to a memorial there would meet a woman with eight children who had died during the bombing; she was living in the ruined shelter because she could not bear to be anywhere else.
Now, imagine that immediately after the bombing Saddam Hussein had delivered a speech on Iraqi TV in which he plaintively asked “Why do they hate us?” — without ever mentioning the fact that Iraq was occupying Kuwait. And even Saddam’s political opponents would only mumble that “this is a complicated issue.” And most Iraqis had no idea that their country had invaded Kuwait, and that there were extensive United Nation resolutions and speeches by George H.W. Bush explaining the U.S.-led coalition’s rationale for attacking Iraq in response. And that the few Iraqis who suggested there might be some kind of relationship between Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and the Amiriyah bombing were shouted down by politicians saying these Iraq-hating radicals obviously believed that America’s slaughter of 400 people was justified.
If that had happened, we’d immediately recognize that Iraqi political culture was completely insane, and that it would cause them to behave in dangerously nutty ways. But that’s exactly what U.S. political culture is like.
In an interview last March with Anderson Cooper, Donald Trump tried to puzzle out what’s behind the terrorism directed at the U.S. “I think Islam hates us,” Trump learnedly opined. “There’s a tremendous hatred there, we’ve got to get to the bottom of it.”
“In Islam itself?” asked Cooper. Trump responded, “You’re going to have to figure that out. You’ll get another Pulitzer.”