America, born with the aspiration of becoming “a city on a hill,” faces the serious danger of becoming a fortress, deluded in the belief that walls and airport detention rooms will offer security and prosperity. Through hard work, entrepreneurship, and complete allegiance to their adopted country, generations of immigrants helped create the most prosperous, powerful, and open society in human history. Throughout American history, but especially in the last two decades, immigrants have risen to the forefront of the country’s business, technology, science, and culture. But now the United States runs the risk not only of gravely damaging its competitive edge but also undermining its security by shutting its doors to a broad group of people whose cooperation America needs, both for economic growth and to win the war on terror.
America is one of several countries witnessing a new wave of rightwing, nativist populism, which claims to have the solutions for fighting Islamist extremism. But the notion that one form of prejudice can defeat another is an illusion. In reality, prejudice and brutality beget more of the same, feeding a vicious cycle. In the Islamic world, radical extremists have long claimed that only they offer an alternative to what they perceive to be the challenges of globalization and American hegemony. President Trump’s order last Friday, temporarily banning the citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, is arguably the most potentially consequential of such fallacious thinking. The problem with the new administration’s ill-advised policies and pronouncements is that they are not only heartless, cruel, and hostile to the spirit of what makes America great, but they are also clumsy, impulsive, and counterproductive.