The Dangers of Blaming Trump for Anti-Semitism – The Atlantic

Good column by Peter Beinart:

But it now appears that Trump may have been, partially, right. On Thursday, Israeli police arrested a Jewish Israeli American teenager for leveling some of the bomb threats. Earlier this month, prosecutors charged Juan Thompson, an African American who had previously worked at a left-leaning publication, with some of the others. There’s no evidence that either suspect tried to frame Trump supporters or white supremacists. And it’s still possible that right-wingers called in other bomb threats, or committed some of the other anti-Semitic incidents that have erupted since Trump’s election. Still, if two of the primary perpetrators of the JCC bomb scares turn out to be a Jewish Israeli and a left-leaning African American, that will, indeed, turn out to be “the reverse” of what Trump’s critics expected.

Trump’s critics—and I’m one of them—should learn from that.

Many critics have a narrative in their heads: That Trump and his supporters think and do bigoted things. It did not come out of nowhere. Trump really did say that “Islam hates us” and that a judge could not be impartial because he was Mexican American. He really did run a closing campaign ad that featured three Jews alongside language about “special interests” and a “global power structure” that has “trillions of dollars at stake in this election.” Most of his supporters really do dislike Muslims, according to polls. And some of them assaulted African Americans who protested Trump’s rallies.

Still, narratives can explain too much. Trump is like the kid in class who perpetually misbehaves. Liberals—especially Jewish liberals—risk becoming the teacher who sees graffiti written on a locker and sends him to the principal without carefully checking the handwriting.It’s not just the JCC bomb scares. It’s become commonplace to hear Jewish liberals claim that, in the words of former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Trump has given “license and permission to anti-Semites” and thus “opened the floodgates” for anti-Semitic attacks.

But have the floodgates really opened? According to the FBI, anti-Semitic incidents did rise 9 percent between 2014 and 2015, when Trump announced his candidacy. And New York City has announced that there were substantially more anti-Semitic incidents during the first two months of 2017 than during the equivalent period in 2016. But neither the FBI nor the Anti-Defamation League has yet reported national data for 2016. And defining what constitutes an anti-Semitic incident is tricky. If the JCC bomb threats—many of which appear to have been carried out by an Israeli Jew—boost the numbers, does that really show that anti-Semitism is rising in Trump’s America?

If data on rising anti-Semitism is thin, data on rising anti-Semitism by Trump supporters is even thinner. The ADL did find last year that many of the anti-Semitic tweets directed at Jewish journalists came from pro-Trump accounts. Still, there’s no evidence that Trump supporters are behind the recent spike in anti-Semitic incidents, if there even is a real spike. And a February Pew Research Center poll found that Republicans and evangelical Christians—two core Trump constituencies—feel even more favorably towards Jews than Democrats do. Since Trump’s takeover of the GOP, Republican fondness for Jews has actually increased.

If liberals have been too quick to blame Trump supporters for anti-Semitism, they’ve also been too quick to blame Trump’s advisors. Liberals frequently hurl the charge at Steve Bannon or his old publication, Breitbart. But the two Breitbart articles critics most commonly call anti-Semitic—an attack on the Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol that called him a “renegade Jew” and an attack on the Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum that called her “a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned”—were both written by Jews. And even the former Breitbart columnist Ben Shapiro, who calls Bannon “one of the most vicious people in politics,” doesn’t think he’s an anti-Semite. Jewish liberals often accuse Sebastian Gorka of anti-Semitism too because of his associations with far-right groups in Hungary. Yet they’ve never produced a single anti-Semitic thing he’s said.

The problem is this. Trump really is fomenting hate against certain groups. He’s called Islam America’s enemy. Gorka won’t even acknowledge that Islam is a religion. Bannon has proposed closing “seditious” mosques. Breitbart hypes every act of violence by a Muslim or an undocumented Mexican against a white person. What’s happening to Jews, by contrast, is far less severe. Yes, Trump was slow to condemn anti-Semitic attacks. Yes, his presidency pleases alt-right white nationalists like Richard Spencer. But unlike Muslims and immigrant Mexicans, Jews wield influence in the Trump White House. They’re mostly white. They’re highly assimilated. And Republicans like them. There’s a reason that, according to Pew, Republicans are almost thirty points more likely to feel warmly towards Jews than towards Muslims. Republicans consider Jews part of the West.

For Jews, this is strange. When they see their government foment hyper-nationalist bigotry, their historical memory inclines them to see themselves as its target. But for the most part, they’re not. As opportunists usually do, Trump and his advisors are going after weaker prey: less assimilated minorities who Fox News has already been demonizing for a decade or more. Anti-Semitism isn’t central to this spasm of American nativism in the way it was a century ago. There’s nothing wrong with being vigilant about anti-Semitism so long as it doesn’t blind you to reality. Strange though Jews may find it, this time they aren’t the main show.

Source: The Dangers of Blaming Trump for Anti-Semitism – The Atlantic

How a Crazy Idea About Islam Went From the Fringe to the White House | Mother Jones

The Islamophobia ‘industry’ and its influence:

In 2011, shortly after the controversy over the so-called Ground Zero mosque and the spread of a conspiracy theory that Shariah was taking over America, the Center for American Progress published a lengthy report titled “Fear Inc.,” which documented what amounted to a cottage industry of Islamophobic misinformation. Prominent players include Act for America, a “national security” group that currently boasts Flynn as a board member. Another is Frank Gaffney, the founder of the Center for Security Policy, which has pushed the unlikely notion that Islamists are secretly trying to infiltrate the American government and prominent organizations—including the National Rifle Association—through a process he calls “civilization jihad.”

“These were people who were always on Fox News, being cited on Pamela Geller’s blog, who were always on Sean Hannity, the Christian Broadcast Network, the National Review, and others,” says Faiz Shakir, the national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union and one of the authors of the report. (Pamela Geller writes a prominent anti-Muslim blog.) “You had major political groups who were then taking this and getting it into the mouths of lawmakers. At that time it was Allen West, Herman Cain, and Michele Bachmann. We went through a period where we had really fought back and marginalized some of these voices,” says Shakir. “They lost some credibility and respect in Republican circles—until Donald Trump came around. He gave them the biggest platform they ever could have imagined.”

This network also had links with what would become Trump’s inner circle. Gaffney appeared on Bannon’s radio show 34 times. Gorka, a former Breitbart editor, has regularly appeared at Center for Security Policy events and on Gaffney’s own radio program. Gaffney once defended the disgraced former FBI agent turned anti-Muslim crusader John Guandolo—who has said that mosques in the United States “do not have a First Amendment right to anything” and has helped draft anti-Muslim legislation.

Trump himself has expressed some of the key tenets of the Islamophobic right. In late 2015, Trump proposed a total ban on Muslims entering the country, justifying the idea by citing a debunked survey commissioned by Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy and conducted by Kellyanne Conway, who would become Trump’s campaign manager. The survey claimed that 51 percent of those polled believe that Muslims in America should have the choice to be governed by Shariah, and a quarter agreed that violence against Americans in the United States “can be justified as part of the global jihad.” A few weeks earlier, he stated that the United States will have “absolutely no choice” but to shut down mosques because “some bad things are happening.”

There have already been previous efforts to prevent mosques from being built using the “Islam is not a religion” argument. “Those are all real efforts,” says Shakir. “They have been on the back burner and bubbling up for a long time, and now they have people in positions of power who can effectuate these radical ideologies that they’ve long held on to.” Until Trump provides some clarity on his true views, people on both sides of the issue may assume that he is unwilling to publicly state that Islam deserves the same legal status and protections as other religions.

Source: How a Crazy Idea About Islam Went From the Fringe to the White House | Mother Jones

Donald Trump: Facts, Fascism and Tyranny: Snyder | Time.com

Historian Timothy Snyder (Bloodlands, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century) on the risk of Trump:

The Founding Fathers designed the constitution to prevent some Americans from exercising tyranny. Alert to the classical examples they knew, the decline of ancient Greece and Rome into oligarchy and empire, they established the rule of law, checks and balances, and regular elections as the means of preserving the new republic. Thus far, it has worked. But it need not work forever.

We might imagine that the American system must somehow always sustain itself. But a broader look at the history of democratic republics established since our own revolution reveals that most of them have failed. Politicians who emerge from democratic practices can then work to undo democratic institutions. This was true in the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as during the spread of communism in the 1940s, and indeed in the new wave of authoritarian regime changes of the 21st century. Indeed, absent a truly decisive revolution, which is a rare event, a regime change depends upon such people — regime changers — emerging in one system and transforming it into another.

It is in this light that we should consider President Donald Trump and his closest advisors and spokespeople. Although they occupy the positions they do thanks to an election, there is little reason to believe that they support the American constitutional system as it stands, and much to remind us of authoritarian regimes changes of the recent past. A basic weapon of regime changers, as fascists realized nearly a century ago, is to destroy the concept of truth. Democracy requires the rule of law, the rule of law depends upon trust, and trust depends upon citizens’ acceptance of factuality. The president and his aides actively seek to destroy Americans’ sense of reality. Not only does the White House spread “alternative facts,” but Kellyanne Conway openly proclaims this as right and good. Post-factuality is pre-fascism.

The function of the press, as the Founding Fathers understood, was to generate the common knowledge on which citizens could understand and debate policy, and to prevent rulers from behaving tyrannically. Whether from the far right or the far left, the regime changers of the twentieth century understood that the media had to be bullied and deprived of importance. When Steve Bannon refers to the press as the “opposition,” or Mr. Trump calls journalists “enemies,” they are expressing their support for the demolition of the historical, ethical, and intellectual bases of the political life we take for granted. Indeed, when Mr. Trump calls journalists “enemies of the people,” he is quoting Joseph Stalin.

Since the end of the cold war, the new authoritarian regimes that have emerged in eastern Europe have taken the form of authoritarian kleptocracies: Russia is the most enduring example of this model; a revolution halted the development of a similar regime in Ukraine in 2014. The Founders, opponents of a British monarchy, were alert to the danger that government might serve to enrich a single family. The emoluments clause of the constitution confirms our common sense: no one can be trusted to defend the interests of citizens if his policy choices can make him richer. This president has not revealed the basic financial information about himself, but we know that he has business interests at home and abroad. Russians and Ukrainians have been quick to notice a familiar pattern.

In recent authoritarian regime changes, in Poland and Hungary as well as Russia, the executive power has been able to sideline the judiciary and then humble the legislature. The idea of checks and balances is enshrined in our constitution, but of course also in theirs, is that none of the three branches of government can dominate the others. In denigrating judges, Mr. Trump attacks the geometry of the system. Once the courts are tamed, the legislature cannot defend itself, and we have authoritarianism. If legislators do not support the judiciary, then their turn for humiliation will come, and the laws they pass will be unenforceable. This has been the pattern in recent authoritarian regime changes around the world.

Right-wing authoritarians today use the threat or the reality of terrorism to seek and hold power. The one consistent policy of the Trump administration thus far has been to encourage a Muslim terrorist attack within or upon the United States. Everywhere the first executive order on refugees and immigrants was understood as directed against Muslims. The major consequence, most likely the intended one, is the alienation of Muslims at home and abroad. The proposal to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem is similar: it will never take place, so serves only to alienate and enrage Muslims. Michael Flynn is in the same category: though he was only national security advisor for three weeks, few Muslims will forget that he referred to their religion as a “cancer.” Modern authoritarianism is terror management, and so modern authoritarians need terror attacks: real, simulated, or both. As James Madison noticed long ago, tyranny arises “on some favorable emergency.”

The experience of the 21st century, as well as the experience of the 1930s, teaches that it takes about a year to engineer a regime change. To what, exactly? We cannot deduce, from the Trump administration’s destructive chaos and ideological incoherence, what the post-democratic American regime would be. We can be sure, however, that we would miss being free. The prospect of children and grandchildren growing up under tyranny is terrifyingly real. History can remind us of the fragile fundaments of our own democracy. But what follows now is us up to us.

Source: Donald Trump: Facts, Fascism and Tyranny | Time.com

Trump may praise Canada’s immigration model, but he would never adopt it: Ibbitson

Good analysis by John Ibbitson:

Although Donald Trump praised Canada’s immigration system in his speech to Congress on Tuesday night, he does not understand that system. To emulate the Canadian model, Mr. Trump would have to transform not only U.S. immigration, but his own thinking.

“Nations around the world – like Canada, Australia and many others – have a merit-based immigration system,” Mr. Trump observed in his address. “It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially.”

This is correct, as far as it goes, which is not very far. Yes, this country employs a points system that recruits immigrants based on their ability to integrate into the Canadian economy.

But if Mr. Trump truly wished to adapt the Canadian immigration ethos, he would have to embrace concepts he currently rejects. First and foremost, he would have to fling open the doors.

The United States brings in about one million legal permanent residents each year, about a third of one per cent of its population. Canada will bring in 300,000 immigrants this year, just under nine-tenths of one per cent of this country’s population. So to make the U.S. immigration system more Canadian, Congress and the Trump administration would need to almost triple the current annual intake, to around 2.8 million new arrivals a year.

That increased intake, if the Canadian way became the American way, would include 280,000 refugees. While most immigrants to Canada are either economic class or family class, about 10 per cent are refugees, brought in on humanitarian grounds. The United States typically brings in about 70,000 refugees a year, a quarter of the Canadian equivalent, and Mr. Trump wants to ban refugees entirely. That’s really not very Canadian of him.

The President believes immigrants should be self-supporting, and indeed they should. But the most successful immigrants to Canada often do not have the professional degrees or fat bank accounts Mr. Trump no doubt has in mind. As my colleague David Parkinson reported, Canada seeks immigrants not only for the professions and knowledge industries, but in the skilled trades and other blue-collar sectors.

Those sorts of jobs in the United States are often filled by illegal Latino workers. To emulate the Canadian system, the United States would have to convert the stream of illegal immigrants from Mexico into a legal stream. Mr. Trump is trying, instead, to choke off the flow altogether.

The President would have to welcome Muslim immigrants. The Canadian system is blind to ethnicity or religion. Muslims are as welcome as any others, provided they meet the criteria. Mr. Trump, in contrast, wants to ban the citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States in any circumstances.

Most important of all, Mr. Trump would have to embrace multiculturalism: the celebration of diversity within a united society. Such a concept would be alien to the President and his supporters.

Immigration is the key to prosperity and growth for any advanced country. Both the United States and Canada have a fertility rate below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per mother. (The United States is at 1.9 and Canada is at 1.6.) Efforts to increase fertility rates in Europe and in Quebec have mostly failed. (You cannot bribe a couple to have a child; it is insulting even to try.) Immigrants are the best – indeed, the only – way to keep an economy filled with young workers paying the taxes needed to sustain the growing ranks of the retired.

But Mr. Trump, however much he might praise the Canadian model, will never adopt it. That sort of openness to the world just is not in his nature.

Source: Trump may praise Canada’s immigration model, but he would never adopt it – The Globe and Mail

Muslim Refugees Were Admitted at a Lower Rate During Trump’s Refugee Ban – The New York Times

Numbers tell the story:

During the week when President Trump’s refugee ban was in effect, refugees were allowed in on a case-by-case basis. Just 15 percent of the 843 refugees who were admitted during this time were Muslim, compared with a weekly average of 45 percent in 2016.

Only two refugees were allowed in from the seven Muslim-majority countries affected by President Trump’s travel ban. About 1,800 refugees from these countries had arrived in the United States every week on average since 2016.

Where’s Jonathan Swift When We Need Him? – The Daily Beast

Nice piece by John Stubbs on Swift’s enduring relevance in a “post-truth” and “alternative facts” world (George Orwell is also worth re-reading):

Jonathan Swift’s “Essay upon the Art of Political Lying” tells us that “post-truth” statements are nothing new. “As the vilest writer hath his readers, so the greatest liar hath his believers: and it often happens, that if a lie be believed only for an hour, it hath done its work.” He was writing in 1710, but his words have been borne out by much that has happened in the last year. Swift also begged a question that many are asking now: Will there be any room left in politics for those who aren’t prepared to lie?

Swift’s hatred of falsehood sat oddly, in fact, with his love of a good fib. Some of his most celebrated works were elaborate hoaxes: His best known book, Gulliver’s Travels, was presented to the public as a voyager’s genuine memoir, and large numbers of readers were apparently taken in. Swift is generally regarded as the foremost satirist in English. It’s mentioned less often, though, that he was also a master of the primary art of getting facts in order and checking sources. By the time Gulliver emerged into the world, Swift had already made a formidable name for himself as a journalist as well as a satirist.

Satirists of course have license to exaggerate and distort; but Swift insisted that there was an absolute link between verifiable fact and moral truth. He had a devastating way of letting figures speak for themselves. In one of his first publishing sensations, an anti-war work called The Conduct of the Allies (1711), he used secret information provided by friends within government. The Conduct was an epoch-shattering critique of the corrupt means being used to prolong Britain’s war against France. Swift exposed a political and financial elite set on warfare for the sake of profit, and demonstrated that “Shock Doctrine” tactics were in use long before 20th century economists figured them out. His astounding book, staggering for its deployment of research and privileged information as well as lethally brilliant writing, helped end a long and largely senseless campaign.

Swift often wrote of satire as holding up a mirror or magnifying glass to reality. Before Swift, the word “satire” was often synonymous for “libel,” the idea being that satirical writers could say more or less anything they wanted about someone they hated. Swift was not at all timid when it came to voicing his dislikes, but sought to restore a higher purpose to his chosen mode of writing. For it to carry weight, satirical mockery had to be based on solid claims. And it was important, then as now, that satire scored the points it needed: for by making people of influence seem ridiculous when they acted wrongly, it made them seem a little less frightening, and opened a space in which there could be meaningful free speech about what such people were doing.

As a protest writer in the 1720s and ’30s, Swift laid bare the injustice of British rule in Ireland. He was an Irishman himself, born in Dublin in 1667, but to English parents. To give his writing substance he went to inordinate lengths in checking the situation in the Irish countryside, where people were starving as a result of exploitative land practices and repressive legislation. He made sure that he was fully up to date with the most reliable trade figures and consulted widely with well-placed sources in business and administration.

His subsequent approach to writing itself was a dangerous one, namely to take a “post-truth” mentality as far as it could go. He fought hypocrisy by creating a series of masks. The most memorable specimen in his portfolio was his Modest Proposal, a short essay of 1729. In this he assumed the voice of an entirely sincere and indeed socially concerned psychopath. Swift’s “proposer” argues calmly that poor Irish children could be sold as delicacies for wealthy tables. The essay’s power comes partly from Swift’s vision of where callousness might lead, but also from a ruthlessly detached observation of reality. He described scenes of deprivation that all his readers could recognize.

Many of the great satirical hits in Gulliver’s Travels also take their strength from Swift’s honesty about facts that his fellow Britons and Europeans preferred to ignore or view differently. One such moment comes when Gulliver explains to the gigantic king of Brobdingnag how politics and war work in Europe. Nothing he says is very sensational; Swift’s readers could deny none of it. And so the king of Brobdingnag concludes that most of them must belong to a really horrible species of “vermin.”

A large part of Swift’s cultural legacy is his way of showing how even morally developed people can be brought to accept horrifying practices. The secret is tied up with what those people assume to be the truth. In the Travels, a morally “superior” race of horse-beings—Swift loved horses—share their land with rather brutal, dishonest and undeniably filthy humans, the Yahoos. The horses decide they have no choice but to exterminate their two-legged neighbors. This “final solution” is arguably the punishment Swift is saying we humans will ultimately deserve—for our violence to each other and contempt for the environment. But he leaves a less than inspiring image of those killer horses, which had recognizable counterparts in Swift’s actual world.

The scale and daring of “post-truth” politics might lead some to think that lies can only be fought with lies. The work of Jonathan Swift should make us pause at such a moment: the moral case, Swift urged, is undeniable when the empirical case has clear validity. This unparalleled creator of satirical fiction demonstrated that those concerned with truth should keep faith with it.

Source: Where’s Jonathan Swift When We Need Him? – The Daily Beast

What Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand About Anti-Semitism – The New Yorker

Thought provoking piece by James Carroll:

Telling friend from foe: The Trump team is dogmatic on Islam, but Russia is more pragmatic | The Economist

Interesting Trump/Putin contrast – telling:

WITH every passing day, there seems to be fresh news about the Islamophobic sentiments harboured by people close to Donald Trump. It’s not so much that anything fresh is being said now. Rather, the ideological backgrounds of some senior individuals close to America’s new president are being studied ever more closely as they settle into power.

And at the heart of their declared ideology, it seems, is an essentialist view of Islam: in other words, a view that the religion itself, as opposed to some nasty misinterpretation, can push people to violence and is therefore to be treated as dangerous.

As one obvious example, Stephen Bannon, Mr Trump’s chief strategist, has spoken with utter contempt of the two previous occupants of the White House because of their optimistic insistence that Islam, in its heart, is a peaceful faith.

You would expect the former boss of Breitbart, a far-right news service, to be scornful of Barack Obama’s ideas about the Muslim faith. But as people are now recalling, Mr Bannon was equally dismissive of George W. Bush, who a few days after the 9/11 attacks insisted that Islam was “a religion of peace.” Such naivete, in Mr Bannon’s acerbic opinion, was to be expected from a “country-club” politician whose faint-hearted view of the world was little better than the Clintons’. In truth, Islam was a religion of submission and therefore it could not be a force for peace, he insisted.

One of Mr Bannon’s lieutenants, a former Breitbart writer who now has a job at the White House, takes a similarly Manichean view. That is Hungarian-born Sebastian Gorka, who will report to Mr Bannon as a member of his Strategic Initiatives Group. An ex-soldier and military lecturer, he was quoted by the Washington Post as saying he “completely jettisoned” the idea that the causes of terrorism were complex: on the contrary, what mainly inspired anti-American terror was the martial messages delivered in certain parts of the Koran.

To see a third strain of Islamoscepticism, take Ben Carson, an ex-presidential candidate and Mr Trump’s nominee for the job of housing secretary. A fundamentalist Christian with an apocalyptic streak, the retired neurosurgeon has espoused the view that Islam is not really a religion at all but rather a “life-organisation system”. It follows, he thinks, that no adherent of that faith should ever be president.

Whatever the intellectual merits of these arguments, one striking comparison immediately occurs. Although some of his Western admirers might be surprised to hear this, it is virtually unimaginable that Vladimir Putin or any of his well-disciplined team would allow themselves to make such a generalised critique of Islam or any other global faith.

If anything Mr Putin grows more insistent over time in following and even outdoing the Bush-Obama school: respectful of Islam as a religion, determined to give his own Muslim citizens a decent existence as long as they obey him, and open to geopolitical co-operation with Islamic countries. And in the regions of Russia where Islam prevails, loyalty to Mr Putin sits comfortably with an increasingly conservative religious culture.

In a news conference last December, Mr Putin firmly told a questioner he did not like to hear Islam “wrongly linked to terrorism”. Earlier last year, the president said that “in Russia, Islam will always find a reliable ally, prepared to cooperate in solving world problems.” Opening a mosque in Moscow in 2015, he excoriated the Islamic State terror group for “discrediting a great world religion”.

Does this mean that he or other powerful figures in Moscow have pored over the Koran and come to conclusions which are different from those of Mr Trump’s zealous advisers? Of course not. It simply means that the Russian state, like any confident geopolitical player in a diverse and volatile world, wants to keep its options open. To commit yourself unconditionally to supporting one global religion against another is an act of irrational self-limitation. Such a one-track approach would be, to use a favourite Russian word, netselesobrazno (“inexpedient”).

The same sort of flexibility (call it ruthless pragmatism if you like) characterised 19th-century Britain and France when they battled to support the Muslim Turks against Christian Russia. A similar approach was taken by American cold-war strategists who forged deep alliances with Muslim powers such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Indonesia.

By contrast, some of Mr Trump’s people talk as though they really do put religious or cultural differences above all else in the way they analyse the world and plan America’s course. Mr Bannon, for example, thinks present generations should be inspired by the example of their forefathers and their “long history of the Judeo-Christian West [and its] struggle against Islam.” But the truth is that those forefathers were often more utilitarian in their choice of friends and foes than we might imagine.

In contrast with America’s new masters, Mr Putin’s Russia is closer in mentality to Lord Palmerston, the British statesman who said in 1848 that in matters of diplomacy, “we have no eternal allies and…no perpetual enemies, [only] our interests are eternal.” Whatever their own affiliation, single-minded strategists usually apply the same principle to religious diplomacy too.

U.S., Australia have ‘very strong’ relationship despite reports of tense phone call

A reminder that despite all the preparations and efforts by the Canadian government to meet the Trump challenge, there is a high degree of unpredictability at play, and a real challenge for the first Trump-Trudeau meeting:

Australia’s prime minister said his country’s relationship with the United States remained “very strong” but refused to comment on a newspaper report on Thursday that an angry President Donald Trump cut short their first telephone call as national leaders.

At the heart of the weekend conversation between Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was a deal struck with the Obama administration that would allow mostly Muslim refugees rejected by Australia to be resettled in the United States.

Turnbull declined to comment on reports in The Washington Post that Trump had described the agreement as “the worst deal ever” and accused Turnbull of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers.”

The Boston Bombers refer to Tamerlan and Dhozkar Tsarnaev, U.S. citizens born in Kyrgyzstan, who set off two bombs at the 2013 Boston marathon, killing three and injuring more than 260 people.

Turnbull also would not say whether Trump had abruptly ended the expected hour-long conversation after 25 minutes as the Australian attempted to steer the conversation to other topics.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wouldn’t go into details about his phone call with the U.S. president, only saying ‘I can assure you the relationship is very strong.’ (David Gray/Reuters)

“It’s better that these things — these conversations — are conducted candidly, frankly, privately,” Turnbull told reporters.

Turnbull said the strength of the bilateral relation was evident in that Trump agreed to honour the agreement to resettle refugees from among around 1,600 asylum seekers, most of whom are on island camps on the Pacific nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Australia has refused to accept them and instead pays for them to be housed on the impoverished islands.

“I can assure you the relationship is very strong,” Turnbull said. “The fact we received the assurance that we did, the fact that it was confirmed, the very extensive engagement we have with the new administration underlines the closeness of the alliance. But as Australians know me very well: I stand up for Australia in every forum — public or private.”

Hours after the Washington Post story was published — and after Turnbull’s comments — Trump took to Twitter to slam the deal.

“Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why?” Trump tweeted. “I will study this dumb deal!”

Source: U.S., Australia have ‘very strong’ relationship despite reports of tense phone call – World – CBC News

Trump administration backs off immigration pledge – Macleans.ca

Some small signs of a more reasoned approach to immigration:

President Donald Trump will focus immigration enforcement efforts first on criminal immigrants in the country illegally, his administration said on Monday, offering hope to more than three-quarters of a million young immigrants protected from deportation under the Obama administration.

Those protected from deportation under former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have been worried that Trump would follow through on a campaign pledge to immediately end the “illegal amnesty.”

While White House spokesman Sean Spicer, at his first press briefing, did not explicitly rule out action on the program known as DACA, his comments suggest that Trump’s initial policies will be similar to Obama’s. Spicer noted Trump has said his focus would be on immigrants in the country illegally who have a criminal record or pose a threat.

“That’s where the priority’s going to be, and then we’re going to continue to work through the entire number of folks that are here illegally,” he said.

He added that those immigrants who have overstayed visas will also be among the administration’s enforcement priorities.

Spicer’s comments echo what Trump said in an interview shortly after the election, when he told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that the focus would on “probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million” criminals living in the country illegally. They also suggest continuity with Obama, who also focused on immigrants with criminal records.

Obama created the DACA program in 2012. The program allows young immigrants who were brought to the country as children to apply for a two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit. The protection and work permit can be renewed.

Information about the program and applications documents remained available online from U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, the Homeland Security agency that manages DACA.

Immigration advocates bracing for elimination of the program are pushing members of Congress to protect the young immigrants after failing to do so in the past. The immigrants, often referred to as Dreamers, are seen as the most sympathetic group among the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally.

Source: Trump administration backs off immigration pledge – Macleans.ca