In the last few days, the news media has finally turned the bulk of its attention to policy. Of course there was still entirely too much coverage of Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with Russian’s who promised to provide dirt on Clinton, but the horserace has largely focused on the GOP’s disastrous healthcare bill.
While a piece of legislation that would throw more than 20 million people off their health insurance is obviously important to discuss, it’s also crucial that we don’t lose site of the other awful behavior of this administration.
This is the big fear of the Trump Presidency. As shown by the initial Muslim Ban EO, the proposed border wall, and the failed healthcare bill, Trump and his cabinet are too incompetent to maneuver the political landscape and get things accomplished when everyone’s paying attention. Trump’s unpopularity and Twitter habits look like they are going to stifle any major piece of legislation that opponents have time to mobilize against.
But for people to have time to mobilize against something means the media has to first pay attention to it. The average American isn’t scanning House Resolutions or White House press releases, they’re reading newspapers or watching cable news. This is a danger that’s present with any administration, but the reality show component of Trump intensifies it tenfold, especially with this persistent Russia scandal. Russia isn’t a “nothing-burger” as has been the catch phrase of Trump defenders, it’s an important story that potentially implicates the President and/or his team in illegal activities. That said, talking about it ad infinitum isn’t going to make Robert Mueller’s decision come any faster. While new developments should of course be discussed robustly, spending a week or more of wall to wall coverage of one specific story is an example of news media reneging on their duty to keep the American people informed.
Which brings us to the Muslim Ban. Remember that thing? Someone who just started watching the news in the last few weeks may not even know it exists, because it’s gotten little press attention. More likely, new viewers would think it was a relatively unimportant side story that the news covers for 3 and half minutes before reconvening to their octo-panel to talk about Donald Trump Jr. for another 90 minutes straight.
The Muslim Ban was temporarily put on hold by a court in Hawaii, and opponents of the Trump administration largely let down their guard on the issue. A few weeks later, the Supreme Court upheld portions of the ban until the case could go before SCOTUS in October.
As Farhana Khera and Jonathan Smith detail in the New York Times, the administration has been quietly setting up harsh directives barring Muslim immigrants. The State Department recently put in place more onerous visa application requirements and slowed down the entire visa process. Opponents of the ban worry that the temporary review will turn into a permanent ban of all Muslims entering the United States rather than the 30 day language contained in the Executive Order.
“The Twitterverse and cable news pundits are unlikely to be mobilized by policy changes that come about through these types of bureaucratic processes,” Khera and Smith note in their editorial. “Most people are not closely following the intricacies of visa vetting and screening.”
With healthcare now dead, it would serve the public to refocus on the Muslim Ban and pressure the President to revoke it. A 30 day ban can be devastating enough for some families. Without sufficient activism and opposition, 30 days will likely turn into a permanent ban. We can’t let that happen.