Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury has received a huge amount of attention since it was published three weeks ago. While much of the media has focused on the book’s salacious descriptions of President Trump’s sex life and his family’s disturbing connections to the Russian government, comparatively little has been said about Wolff’s description of Trump’s immigration policy.
This is strange because Wolff says that when the new president took office, “the first step in the new Trump administration had to be immigration.” Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, and Donald Trump himself saw restricting non-white immigration as both a visceral imperative and as a political goldmine.
The white nationalist trio clearly detested immigrants from non-European countries, while at the same time understanding that Trump’s base felt an almost automatic disgust with the growing diversity of the American population.
“People want their countries back,” said Bannon. “A simple thing.”
Attacking immigrants had the added benefit to Trump of outraging the political left.
This analysis played out in the first Muslim Ban issued in the early days of the Trump presidency. The Muslim Executive Order (EO) was issued as soon as Trump could find his signing pen. According to Wolff, “Bannon meant his EO to strip away the liberal conceits on an already illiberal process. Rather than seeking to accomplish his goals with the least amount of upset—keeping liberal fig leaves in place—he sought the most.” The point of the order was to stoke outrage.
The executive order, as we all now know, was so badly drafted that it collapsed in the face of court examination. It was always more of a political document than a legal order. Wolff writes:
“The EO would be drafted to remorselessly express the administration’s (or Bannon’s) pitiless view. The problem was, Bannon really didn’t know how to do this—change rules and laws. This limitation, Bannon understood, might easily be used to thwart them. Process was their enemy. But just doing it—the hell with how—and doing it immediately, could be a powerful countermeasure. Just doing things became a Bannon principle, the sweeping antidote to bureaucratic and establishment ennui and resistance.”
“Chaos was Steve’s strategy,” former Trump-aide Katie Walsh told Wolff. Bannon had the inexperienced ideologue Stephen Miller write the text of the Muslim Ban. Wolff describes the arrogant Miller:
“Miller, a fifty-five-year-old trapped in a thirty-two-year-old’s body, was a former Jeff Sessions staffer brought on to the Trump campaign for his political experience. Except, other than being a dedicated far-right conservative, it was unclear what particular abilities accompanied Miller’s political views. He was supposed to be a speechwriter, but if so, he seemed restricted to bullet points and unable to construct sentences. He was supposed to be a policy adviser but knew little about policy. He was supposed to be the house intellectual but was militantly unread. He was supposed to be a communications specialist, but he antagonized almost everyone. Bannon, during the transition, sent him to the Internet to learn about and to try to draft the EO. By the time he arrived in the White House, Bannon had his back-of-the-envelope executive order on immigration and his travel ban, a sweeping, Trumpian exclusion of most Muslims from the United States, only begrudgingly whittled down, in part at Priebus’s urging, to what would shortly be perceived as merely draconian. In the mania to seize the day, with an almost total lack of knowing how, the nutty inaugural crowd numbers and the wacky CIA speech were followed, without almost anybody in the federal government having seen it or even being aware of it, by an executive order overhauling U.S. immigration policy.”
The Muslim Ban was often criticized for its complete lack of any legal tethering. Wolff says that is just what Bannon wanted. He bypassed the lawyers and immigration experts in the federal government and left the executive order to an ignorant neophyte. Wolff describes what happened next:
“On Friday, January 27, the travel ban was signed and took immediate effect. The result was an emotional outpouring of horror and indignation from liberal media, terror in immigrant communities, tumultuous protests at major airports, confusion throughout the government, and, in the White House, an inundation of lectures, warnings, and opprobrium from friends and family. What have you done? Do you know what you’re doing? You have to undo this! You’re finished before you even start! Who is in charge there? But Steve Bannon was satisfied. He could not have hoped to draw a more vivid line between the two Americas—Trump’s and liberals’—and between his White House and the White House inhabited by those not yet ready to burn the place down. Why did we do this on a Friday when it would hit the airports hardest and bring out the most protesters? almost the entire White House staff demanded to know. ‘Errr … that’s why,’ said Bannon. ‘So the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot.’ That was the way to crush the liberals: make them crazy and drag them to the left.”
The disruption to people’s lives, the separating of families, and the worldwide anger the order generated meant nothing to Team Trump.