Shock Values 

One of the basic tenets of journalism is to "find the local angle," meaning when major world or national events happen, local media dig up stories about how the event has affected their home community.

The most recent example of this phenomenon was the Trump admistration's blitzkrieg executive order last Saturday that suddenly banned refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. The order sparked a lot of local reporting on how the ban was reverberating in Memphis.

David Waters of The Commercial Appeal wrote a brilliant column that pointed out the fact that Christian churches in Memphis are responsible for most of the immigration work being done here. As he wrote, they were doing so because taking care of those in need is in line with their core Christian beliefs — because, as Jesus said, "I was a stranger, and you invited me in."

The Flyer's Jackson Baker interviewed two local immigration attorneys, Barry Frager and Greg Siskind, who provided insight on how the ban was impacting their clients. "These are harsh actions by the Trump administration," said Frager, "and they are already affecting a lot of people, by their tone as much as by their action."

As the husband of an immigration attorney, I have seen firsthand how our country's immigration policies are often unfairly and arbitrarily administered. On several occasions, we have taken in refugees for a day or two after they've been released from incarceration. We've had folks from Haiti, Central America, Mexico, and Africa. Their crime? They came to the U.S. seeking asylum. After crossing the border, thousands of these folks are sent to federal detention facilities — prisons — where they often wait for months until they are able to get counsel to argue their case.

The "vetting" process is real. The great, great majority of refugees, including those fleeing the war-torn Middle East, come here with nothing on their minds but escaping the horrors of their home country and making a new life. Terrorism is not on their agenda. They are the "huddled masses, yearning to be free."

Most Americans realize this in their hearts. That's why they flooded our airports and the streets of our major cities last weekend. They know this latest executive order from the administration is un-American at its core, thinly disguised religious discrimination meant to divide us and stir up the president's base.

There's a column that was originally circulated on social media and which has since been published in a couple of newspapers. It's by Heather Richardson, a professor of history at Boston College. She writes that executive orders such as Trump's hastily executed immigrant ban are, by design, meant to stir up controversy and anger. She terms them "shock events," adding, "... such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order."

Precisely. Richardson writes that shock events, like the dizzying number of executive orders signed by Trump in his first week, rely on speed and confusion. The idea is to provoke knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines, because a divided populace is much easier to manipulate. We are being played by Steve Bannon and his cabal of extremists. Trump is but a useful, and rather stupid, tool in their time-tested authoritarian playbook.

Refugees are not the "enemy." Your conservative or liberal friend is not the enemy. The churches, many of them evangelical, who are working to help refugees are not the enemy. The real enemies of American values, and our very way of life, now live and work in the White House.


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