Donald Trump, Jr. stirred up quite a bit of righteous internet anger in his Twitter post comparing the willingness to take in Syrian refugees to grabbing a handful of potentially deadly candy (one of my favorite retweets pictured).
Now much of the outrage came from the sheer insensitivity of the comparison, and the Twittersphere hummed with people posting brutal images of suffering refugees and demonstrating the heartlessness of the false equivalence.
But, because I like to think about things in their rhetorical context, this tweet brought two other things to my mind:
First, a lot of the anger with the comparison is just the shocking nature of the comparison. But much great writing is based on the comparison of wildly–even uncomfortably–different things. We marvel at the conceits of the British Romantic poets; I distinctly remember a certain sappy departing graduate student giving his girlfriend-later-to-be-wife a copy of Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” with its elaborate and slightly bawdy comparison of a drafting compass and a long-distance relationship.
My problem with the comparison here is not as much its insensitivity as its stupidity.
- There are a few bad refugees and a few poison Skittles. Sure. The proportions posed by the image above are completely off base (see the statistics from the Libertarian Cato Institute below) but let’s assume there are some dangerous folks amongst the near-starving children and families.
- If you told me that, before I ate the Skittles, scientists would be evaluating them to see if they were poisonous or not, I would probably still take a handful. I like Skittles a lot.
- Everyone is excited about the prospect of Skittles. The prospect of bringing in refugees, even leaving aside the risk of terrorism, is much dicier. You’re bringing in people who need resources and medical care, and who must be monitored. It’s not something you take on lightly, but because you feel a moral responsibility to show kindness in the face of a desperate situation.
- And that desperateness is the biggest omission in the false equivalence. A better (but still faulty) analogy might be: if there was a cabin burning down, and twenty doors to open with children trapped inside, and you knew one of the doors would cause a backdraft explosion, would you open any of the doors? I’m have a sneaking suspicion Donald Trump, Jr. and his old man would say no, but a lot of people would say the moral thing to is show courage in a terrible situation rather than fear.
And so you have to ask: why would someone offer up a metaphor that is so stupid? There are two options. Either the persons who keep offering this sort of thing to you are very dumb, in which case you shouldn’t vote for them, or they aren’t dumb, and just think that you are.
The second thing touches a lot on this notion of helping people in a desperate situation. Several of my religious conservative friends have rejected Trump outright because they vote based on certain values-based issues and Trump doesn’t support those values. I don’t like voting that way, but I deeply respect their convictions and intellectual consistency.
But, on social media, I sure see a lot of my fellow Christians who are supportive of the Trumps’ views on this issue of refugees, particularly because many are Muslim. Now, if you want to say that this is a church vs state issue and that the churches can support refugee resettlement (mine does, so do many Southern Baptists and Catholics) but the government shouldn’t, then I can get on board with your consistency there.
But if you are one of those Christians who says we need to base our laws on Biblical teaching, then you have a real problem with saying we should turn away refugees:
“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
— Matthew 25: 41-45