Looked at in isolation, President Trump's rush to enact executive orders restricting immigration reveals plenty about his administration's incompetence and willingness to engage in petty cruelty. But they are not isolated actions. And taken in context with Trump's other stated views—in particular his opposition to meaningful entitlement reforms—they reveal a frightening holistic worldview of America as an entitlement state that is hostile to immigrants and closed off to the world.
Although Trump's immigration order last week did not specifically ban Muslims from entering the country, it targeted majority Muslim nations, and also included an exception for religious minorities that Trump has said was intended to favor Christians rather than Muslims.
The religious favoritism embedded in the order makes clear that it is intended to bolster America's dominant religion at the expense of another—and to reshape the demographic makeup of the country. Indeed, Trump's own team has indicated that the initial order is likely to be a first step towards a far more consequential revision of America's relationship with immigrants and, implicitly, the rest of the world. As the Los Angeles Times reported this week, "Trump's top advisors on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment to fundamentally transform how the U.S. decides who is allowed into the country and to block a generation of people who, in their view, won't assimilate into American society."
Leaked drafts of two potential executive orders may provide a hint as to what the next steps in the new administration's project could look like. One of those orders would restrict foreign worker visas not found to be in "the national interest," and would require federal inspections of employers who rely on foreign workers, according to The Washington Post, which reported on the two draft orders yesterday. The order's explicit purpose is to reduce the number of foreign-born workers in order to prioritize American workers.
The other would deny entry into the country for immigrants who are deemed likely to use social welfare programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. It would also move toward setting up a system in which immigrants are deported for benefiting from those programs. As Dara Lind notes at Vox, which obtained and published a similar draft order last week, immigrants could be required to reimburse the federal government for the cost of providing those benefits.
At this point it is worth stopping to remember that Trump is on record as a defender of the country's major entitlement programs and a stern critic of those who seek to reform them. In a debate last year, he swore he would "do everything within my power not to touch Social Security, to leave it the way it is." Around the time he launched his campaign, he criticized Republicans for wanting to cut entitlement programs, saying "Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can't do that." Trump's tax reform plans, meanwhile, would blow a $10 trillion hole in the budget.
The combination of Trump's views on entitlements with the immigration orders that he has issued and the ones he appears to be considering is incredibly telling.
Trump is not concerned about runaway entitlement spending. He is not worried about the nation's dangerous fiscal trajectory. He is not focused on reducing the federal debt, or on maintaining even a pretense of fiscal responsibility.
Instead, Trump is worried strictly about entitlement spending on immigrants. He's worried about making sure that the benefits go to the right people—which is to say, the people who backed Donald Trump. Indeed, preserving the entitlement state, regardless of the fiscal consequences, is, like imposing new trade and border controls, central to Trump's project, because it provides him with a way to reward favored groups and exclude outsiders.
Trump has been in office for two full weeks. Yet it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we now have a president a president who sees America as an isolated ethno-nationalist welfare state in which immigrants and outsiders are dangers to the culture and drains to the system. And his rush to implement his executive orders suggests that he and his administration are fully intent on turning this dark worldview into our national reality.