Keeping Donald Trump (and ourselves) Honest

Part of Donald Trump's plans for immigration and dealing with "terrorist" attacks on American soil is what he calls "extreme vetting" of refugees from "nations of risk." Most recently, he tweeted about the case of Abdul Artan, the young man from Somalia that wounded 11 people at Ohio State with a knife.

This was one case out of ~100,000 Somali refugees since 9/11. Amateur that I am, I tried to find some statistics regarding crime rates, but only came up with some vague notions. That’s enough for this article, which is not seeking to resolve this debate — suffice it to say that the crime rate for this group does seem to be somewhat elevated when compared with the national average.

What I AM here to talk about is some of the implications buried in Trump's ideas of "extreme vetting." Such a policy requires certain trade offs, most notably that of the safety of U.S. citizens on domestic soil versus the safety and general well-being of Somalis seeking refugee status. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that even The Donald doesn't consider the issue to be an all-or-nothing affair, but rather that he believes there is currently an imbalance in this trade off, and he thinks "extreme vetting" would help to make it right.

I have been promoting the idea of a site, the Wikipedia for debates, that is meant to help us resolve these controversial issues in a more intelligent, or at least more informed manner. But there are two halves to being informed. The obvious half is with regards to external information. Via the site, users will have access to all the relevant information out there. But the other half of this proposal is that it can help us better understand ourselves and how our values influence our decisions.

If we consider specifically the question of extreme vetting, this site would reveal statistics about crime, immigration, and the situation of Somalis. It would also show what the trade off is in choosing one side or the other: the safety of Americans vs. the well-being of innocent refugees.

Once we express (privately) our personal decision in such a debate, the site should remember this for us. This has two uses: first, it can help us keep an eye on related issues by pointing us to other debates which are facing similar trade offs. Second, it can help us by reminding us of how our stated values have influenced us in the past.

Consider again the case of Donald Trump and his concerns for the safety of American citizens. You can imagine that the stated value would come up again in the debate on gun control. This time, one can say that the main trade off is between public safety (again, of American citizens) and the freedom to bear arms.

Would it show that his values are consistent from one issue to the next, or might it show a bias towards "safety" when dealing with this category of immigrants, and "personal freedom" when dealing with American rights to guns? Would this reveal some dissonance in a resistance to "extreme vetting" for semi-automatic weapon purchases? (Interestingly, I started writing this article based on comments from Bill O'Reilly on the same subject, but as I investigated, I discovered that he does seem to regard the two situations in a consistent manner.)

I don't know if Mr. Trump would change his views after the gentle reminder of his earlier position. It's quite possible he regards personal freedoms in a much higher light than he does public safety in this case. But perhaps the gentle reminder would give him pause to think. If not, there's still the rest of us. From those on the alt-right who may never support gun control no matter how many mass murders there are, but have no qualms about keeping out the "barbarians", to those on the left horrified by shootings, but stalwart on the question of helping those in need, a little self-reflection might help us be more honest with ourselves, and lead us to a place of more moderation.

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