President Donald Trump’s rushed move to block entry to the U.S. for refugees and travelers from selected Muslim-majority states is sure to exacerbate the perception of a “clash of civilizations” between the West and the Islamic world. It will likely lead to more radicalization, shrink America’s soft power, and weaken its brand as a rule-of-law country. The silver lining to this story is the showcase it has provided for the vitality of American civil society, which has mobilized to resist these harsh measures.
Seeming to savor his role as disruptor in chief, Trump blithely undermined several essential features of U.S. migration policy last week, indefinitely suspending Syrian refugee admissions and blocking entry to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, including many who are already legal residents of the U.S. By the weekend, the White House was modifying certain elements of the relevant executive order to clarify that green-card holders were not intended to be at risk, and that the suspension of access was intended to be temporary, possibly lasting no longer than 90 days.
But the shock and outrage on display in European capitals, the more muted confusion in the Muslim world, and the dismay and anguish in American cities cannot be easily assuaged. Much harm has been done. America’s soft power and its brand as a strong rule-of-law culture have been damaged. U.S. courts and law enforcement will have their hands full as agitated Americans work hard at the grassroots level to block Trump’s moves. And major Muslim-majority countries have to navigate the treacherous waters of engaging America on long-standing bilateral or regional issues amid a toxic cultural climate.