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Daniel Hannan sees the Muslim ban as a valuable lesson to the American Left

Well, it's a position.

By Jonn Elledge

This weekend President Trump – will those words ever stop causing my skin to crawl? – outraged millions of people the world over when he signed an executive order banning those born in seven Muslim countries from entering the United States.

Thousands of New Yorkers peacefully blockaded John F. Kennedy Airport, all the while chanting “Let them in”. Lawyers showed up to offer free immigration advice; local cab drivers went on strike. Here in the UK, 1.2 million people and climbing have signed a petition calling on the government to cancel Trump’s state visit, in protest at this flagrant violation of human rights. 

On Daniel Hannan’s Twitter feed, meanwhile, it emerged that the true villains of the piece were arrogant lefties and their insufficient adoration for the traditions of constitutional democracy.

I’m finding it hard to articulate why, but I think what most annoys me about that tweet is the capitalisation of the word “NOW”. It’s a bit Daily Express, isn’t it? (“NOW PENSIONERS FORCED TO EAT PETS TO PAY TV LICENCE” etc.)

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It’s worth saying, before we unpack this, that Hannan opposes the Muslim ban. He said as much. Here’s how he said it:

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One could argue that these critiques of the Obama administration and the broader left are not so much wrong as ill-timed: executive orders are scary, precisely because no bugger can stop Trump signing them.

But it is catastrophically ill-timed. A US president, who it is swiftly becoming clear it is not an exaggeration to describe as “far right”, has banned several hundred million people from entering the US based purely on their place of birth. Those excluded include 500,000 US green card holders; untold numbers of people who work in the US university or healthcare systems; those who risked their lives to work as interpreters for the US army in Iraq; a Conservative MP; and Sir Mo Farah.

Those not excluded by the ban include the populations of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and the UAE, the four countries from which the 9/11 hijackers hailed. The entire policy risks turning into a recruiting sergeant for Islamic extremists the world over, by making it abundantly clear that the US’ problem is less with terrorists than it is with Muslims. 

And who does Dan think the bad guys are? The mean cool kids who wouldn’t let him sit with them when he came to lunch at the Guardian offices, and who took the piss out of him because he insists on carrying a copy of Magna Carta with him wherever he goes (“Magna Farta” they called him, probably).

Even if there is a legitimate argument that the left is too comfortable with executive power as long as it happens to be the left that holds it, this is not the time to make that argument. There are real people whose lives are being ruined by a government that is very much of the right – yet Dan’s instinctive response is “this will be valuable lesson in constitutional theory for my political opponents”.

Incidentally, it’s worth asking why President Obama came to rely so heavily on executive orders. Well, firstly, he didn’t – he signed fewer executive orders than Reagan, Clinton, or George W. Bush (though he did sign rather more of the classified presidential directives).

Secondly, he did this at least partly because the Republican Party decided to offer “united and unyielding opposition” to Obama’s policies in an attempt to undermine his administration at every step of the way – thus rendering it impossible to govern in the co-operative way envisioned by the men who wrote the US constitution.

Oddly enough, in the Washington Examiner article from last February that Hannan’s tweet was an excuse to re-promote, he doesn’t find space to mention the Republicans’ obstructive behaviour.

That article begins with the following line:

The most depressing phenomenon in modern politics, as this column keeps glumly pointing out, is people’s indifference to process when they happen to favour the outcome.

Which might just be the most magnificent example of transference I have ever come across. Hannan opposes the Muslim ban: he has said as much. But somehow he can’t quite bring himself to attack a right-wing government without slating its left-wing opposition too.

The headline of Hannan’s International Business Times column today.

Lord knows the left has made mistakes. Lord knows that liberals can be complacent. But in a week when a hard right Republican government is violating both the US constitution and the Geneva Convention, it’s just possible that the left are not in fact the bad guys here.

The most depressing phenomenon in writing this column is Daniel Hannan’s complete inability to be honest with himself about the fact that, sometimes, the right is the problem. If this is the best liberal Leave had to offer, it’s no wonder we’re plunging towards a Hard Brexit.