By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS — As usual, Troy Riggs talked sense.
The former Indianapolis Metropolitan Police chief and public safety director and I chatted over the air about President Donald Trump’s troubled executive order banning immigrants from seven largely Muslim countries. Joining us were security expert Peter Beering and Butler University Prof. Marvin Scott, a former Republican congressional candidate.
The show was one part of a pair of bookends. Just days before, I’d talked with immigration advocates passionately opposed to the ban.
One might have expected Riggs, Beering and Scott to line up behind the president.
But, right at the top of the program, Riggs called Trump’s executive order “unfortunate.” He also said that the president’s proposed ban — which is in serious legal trouble — had “polarized” public opinion at a time and on an issue when people should be thinking with cool and clear heads.
His argument, with which Beering and Scott agreed, was that the challenges confronting American security were greater and more complicated than shouting matches between pro- and anti-Trump crowds could accommodate. The choices aren’t simply about being safe or being free, but about finding ways to be both safe and free — or about being as safe and as free as we can in a rapidly changing world.
Our challenge is what it always has been — a balancing act between liberty and security.
And we won’t find that balance if we do nothing but scream at each other.
Among the many things disturbing about Trump’s presidency, one of the most disturbing is the eruption of so many tensions and divisions that have been festering in our country for years. The president’s angry, confrontational, binary style of leadership — you’re either with me all the way or you’re my enemy and no one can be undecided or ambivalent — already has piled up a long list of casualties.
Now, add rationality to that list of things lost.
This country is a product of the Enlightenment, what was called the Age of Reason. Our founders had tremendous faith in human beings’ ability to arrive at the truth if they inquired persistently and thought clearly enough. They believed there were few problems Americans couldn’t resolve if they just talked them through, which is one reason they built legislative and judicial branches of the federal government that are designed to be deliberative rather than expedient.
That faith has been tested many times in our history — most notably during the Civil War, when we tried to resolve our problems by having brothers, cousins, neighbors and fellow countrymen slaughter each other by the hundreds of thousands.
But our country has worked best when we have tried to honor our creed.
When we have tried to be reasonable.
That’s what we should do in this situation, even if the president of the United States does his best to make that impossible.
I don’t have many doubts that his executive order regarding immigration will be struck down. So long as it contains language expressing any kind of religious preference, it is in clear violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The president can grouse — inappropriately — about judges and courts all he wants, but if he persists in trying to do things the nation’s founding document clearly prohibits government from doing, he doesn’t give the people on the bench much choice.
But as Riggs points out, the president’s refusal or inability to balance or reconcile his duties does not relieve the rest of us of the responsibility to do so.
We can start that process by acknowledging on one side of our angry, divided nation that, even though the president’s ban is unconstitutional, the concern that prompted it is in part valid. There are people in this harsh world who wish to do us harm. And it is prudent to make their task as difficult as we can.
On the other side of the divide, we could start by recognizing that we are a country of laws and a people who play by a set of rules — and punishing innocent people simply because of the way they pray is against those rules.
Against the law.
Troy Riggs is right. Polarization won’t help us meet our challenges or solve our problems.
But listening to each other just might.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to [email protected].