Donald Trump

FDR's Wartime Violations of Civil Liberties Are Not a Good Precedent for Anything

And you don't get points for not being as bad.


Last night on The Kelly File, Carl Higbie, the spokesman for a pro-Trump PAC, defended the idea of a federal registry of Muslims by citing the World War II–era internment of Japanese Americans as a precedent, weakly adding "call it what you will, it may be wrong":

Megyn Kelly immediately leaped on this, and Higbie quickly declared that he did not in fact favor internment camps. The video then went viral.

The video also gave me a dose of deja vu. Last December, shortly after Trump started pitching the idea of keeping Muslims out of America, this exchange took place on Good Morning America:

Texas Historical Commission

DONALD TRUMP: What I'm doing is no different than what FDR— FDR's solution for German, Italian, Japanese…

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're for internment camps?

TRUMP: This was a president highly respected by all. He did the same thing. If you look at what he was doing, it was far worse. I mean, he was talking about the Germans because we're at war. We are now at war. We have a president that doesn't want to say that…

STEPHANOPOULOS: I've got to press you on that, sir. You're praising FDR there. I take it you're praising the setting up of internment camps for Japanese in World War 2?

TRUMP: No, I'm not. No, I'm not. No, I'm not. Take a look at Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527—having to do with alien Germans, alien Italians, alien Japanese—and what they did. You know, they stripped them of their naturalization proceedings. They went through a whole list of things. They couldn't go five miles from their homes. They weren't allowed to use radios, flashlights. I mean, you know, take a look at what FDR did many years ago. And he's one of the most highly respected presidents by—I mean, respected by most people. They name highways after him.

The good news, I guess, is that Trump said he wasn't in favor of the camps. The bad news is that he thought Hey, at least it's not as bad as this stuff that FDR did! was a compelling argument, just as Higbie seemed to think It may be wrong, but it's a legal precedent! would be a compelling argument last night. Is this the way the next four years are going to go? "I'd like to point out that this bill is not nearly as restrictive as the Alien and Sedition Acts." "You may not like the Palmer Red Raids, but you must admit they showed this could be done." "Eisenhower was president when COINTELPRO started, and they've got a memorial to him right here in D.C.!"

You want some more bad news? Korematsu v. United States—the 1944 Supreme Court decision that declared the Japanese internment camps constitutional—is still technically the law of the land. Sleep tight, mates.

Bonus link: "America's Other World War II Internment Camps."