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Panem et lumina

In Kanye West’s 2007 song “Flashing Lights,” Dwele, a favorite son of Detroit, chorally and reflectively inquires “what do I know?” while the title of the song is repeated. Although “Flashing Lights” is, or can be, about infidelity and the conviction of a woman who has been cheated on, the seductive chorus returns to me in this political climate.

Forgive me for the Latin title, but I do not think we are seeing a combination of bread and circuses in this first week of the Trump presidency; I think we are receiving crumbs instead of loaves, but now with lights flashing in our eyes. Crumbs that citizens have to sift through false reports, poor analysis, sponsored content and the notion to get a story out as fast as possible in order to truly learn.

If this article reaches you, you have heard, seen, skimmed or investigated the Muslim refugee executive order. Muslim citizens of seven nation-states, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, are barred from entry for 90 days, while refugees’ admissions have been suspended 120 days while vetting processes are, ironically, vetted. In Section 5(d), the President claims that more than 50,000 refugees in 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the country. Customs and other security agencies were briefed on the order when it was signed on Friday, which may explain why there were so many misapplications of the order. The National Review argues that the 50,000 cap on refugee admissions is reasonable compared to the Bush and Obama administrations, which is problematic because it makes me wonder why we need new policy if we want to keep things the same: the quizzical “if it isn’t broke, fix it.” So what do we know?

We know that post-inauguration, Sean Spicer stood for the first time as the press secretary, attempting to establish a relationship by calling objective reporting aspersion. Spicer even went so far as reprimanding the media, inimically stating what the media should have reported — a concerning and telling play for the growing mess of a presidential media team. Spicer would later suggest a 20 percent import tax in another press conference, conveying just how much you, as an individual citizen, need to know how to get in touch with your congressional representatives.

We know hate crime reporting has increased in the U.S. since the election, but that may be a phenomenon seen every election cycle. We know that a mosque in Texas was burned down, but we do not know the cause (though over $800,000 has been raised to help rebuild the mosque and churches neighboring the mosque have offered their services and assistance). We know that Canada has opened it doors even wider to refugees. The Canadian refugee resettlement program has become so effective, it is continuing to expand. We know a Canadian mosque was just shot up Sunday night, killing six.

Why does it feel, though, that lights are being flashed before my eyes? A “Muslim ban,” however short, is relatively low-hanging fruit for this administration. Trump led a campaign seeking to divide people, gave an inaugural speech seeking to divide people and seems to carry the trend of divide et impera through his policies. What better way to get people on the right arguing that this a necessary step for national security while the people on the left argue that Lady Liberty is crying. Granted this ban has a bit of sleight of hand, as in an interview with CBS news, Trump argued we need to look at San Bernardino and 9/11 as reasons for this policy. Oddly enough, none of the terrorists from San Bernardino or from 9/11 were from the aforementioned nation-states listed in the ban. Even more oddly, some have called into question where this policy lines up to the Trumps’ business interests.

I am curious as to what the new administration is attempting to do while we are mired in arguably one of America’s most cyclical moments. American history has shown the scales of security and liberty losing balance. John Adams was motivated by the threat of war from France, so come forth the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798, which made it difficult for people conveniently deemed dangerous to become citizens. The treatment of another group of individuals from my own family’s history comes to mind — they were seen as dirty, subhuman and uneducated as they came to America attempting to leave oppression and famine. They came across anti-Catholic legislation, signs and advertisements tersely stating, “No Irish Need Apply.” The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 consciously resurfaces, and I recall learning about Japanese Internment camps when I grew up in Japan. The MS St. Louis, a ship of Jewish refugees, being turned away from Florida. These historical instances only shed a small light on a larger portion of American history, but they provide a basis for analyzing the implications of this executive order and what, fundamentally, the administration is willing to trade for a veil of security.

Now, it is difficult not to determine the recent executive action as delineating who is a second-class citizen and who is not. Regardless of how you feel, this haste and the ensuing enforcement of this policy has, in fact, forced people who have earned the right to live, work and laugh on American soil to choose between family and the aspirations they pursue in this country. History cannot be unlived but with humility and diversity, it need not be lived again.

So what don’t we know? What is going on behind closed doors that this administration does not even give us the opportunity to be misinformed about? I do not know, or else my article would be better. But please do not just skim the headlines. One does not live on crumbs alone, and I believe we should prioritize confirming and pursuing our ignorance rather than our intransigent, pyrrhic “knowledge” of an administration rife with uniquely alternative facts.

 

Contact James Stephens at james214 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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