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Tough Talks in Tough Times

By John-Walt Boatright  —

The first week of the Trump presidency was a productive but controversial one. A flurry of executive actions, meetings with several foreign leaders, and a steadfast course toward nearly every campaign promise. It should come as no surprise when Trump moves to enact the policies he has vociferously advocated. As I clairvoyantly stated in my last piece, the tears are literally streaming (see Schumer, Pelosi statements on Trump travel ban). Not kidding!

Executive actions by presidents are common throughout our history, dating all the way back to George Washington. They often are used to undo or revise previous orders, and draw criticism from the opposing party. Republicans called Obama’s executive orders unconstitutional; the same can be expected for Democrats in regards to Trump’s.

Yet, the backlash was grossly miscalculated by this administration regarding the travel ban from certain countries largely because they failed to appropriately explain to media sources. Failure to do so allows the media, Hollywood, and liberal protesters to assume, to jump to conclusions, and to raise a kerfuffle on false pretenses. The fake news spread by media sources is that it is a Muslim ban. Just not so. The travellers are banned by country, not by religion. I know this would neatly fit into the left’s perpetual narrative of Trump engaging in bigoted behavior, but it just isn’t there in this instance.

Yes, I understand these are Muslim-majority countries. But why these specific countries? A substantive debate exists about whether they pose a legitimate terror threat. Opponents of the policy state that we have never faced an attack from these countries. That seems like an irresponsible argument. Our threats are changing daily, and our only credible knowledge of these threats is received by sensitive intelligence sources. We don’t have access to these sources, but the President and security officials do. Furthermore, this security issue is non-partisan, for the Obama administration pegged these countries as concerns in 2015 and 2016.

It is clear that, not unlike past administrations, Trump must pick his battles wisely and communicate effectively. Let’s take a case in point: Obama’s first two years. After Obama expended all of his political capital by pushing through healthcare legislation, he paid for it dearly at the polls. The merits of the bill, and the manner in which he sold it to the country, reaped negative consequences for his party– over 900 Democratic seats were lost at the state and federal levels in the subsequent elections. With record low favorability numbers, Trump must adjust to the heightened criticism with poise and resolve and take time to listen as well as explain. It will pay dividends later. (Sean Spicer has to raise his game as well – he looks ill equipped to handle his new challenges in his first week. Try smiling a little, Sean.)

A worrisome tone of venom and hate has settled over the country in this political age. It has been percolating for a while, and just as both sides are culpable, the responsibility lies with both to elevate conversations and discuss ideas without emotional reactions. From media interviews to Facebook posts to our dining room tables, people are more willing to confront opposing views out loud and to not let politics be a spectator sport any longer. Awareness outside of election season is a good thing, but when it translates into intimidation for different viewpoints, it becomes detrimental to a democratic society.

Our challenge is to have meaningful and thoughtful discussions without diminishing the value of an individual and an ability to express their opinions. Let’s assert our political positions with passion, but not with poison. Because with just enough dosage, it could kill the patient.