Is there any more odious concept than Donald Trump, Jr.? His father already embodies the danger of inherited wealth: a 70 year-old brat whose claim to the presidency is that he’s been rich his whole life. Must we push the joke by giving him a child of his own? And must that child look like an extra in American Psycho? The less said about Trump, Jr. the better, lest we repeat the mistake we made with his dad. Unfortunately, he deployed a robust analogy yesterday, when he posted this image on Twitter:
It really makes you think. It also makes you dumb, by directing how you think away from basic facts about how refugees work. Letting them into the country is like eating Skittles, but their number is not like a bowl, a terrorist is not like a Skittle that kills you, and malnourished kids with big eyes and scared parents are not like candy. Otherwise, it’s a great analogy.
First of all, nobody at Trump/Pence reads this stuff over for punctuation? We’re not talking about semicolon versus em dash, here; we’re talking comma versus period. But this campaign is not about usage. It’s about ideas, and the idea that only a very small number of refugees are dangerous becomes less comforting when you think about them as the three poison Skittles in the bowl.
Fortunately, that number is way too high. If you had a bowl with 10,000 Skittles in it, that number would still be too high, by three Skittles. No Syrian refugee admitted to the United States has ever committed an act of terrorism. No refugee to the United States has ever turned out to be a terrorist. There’s probably one out there, but we haven’t found him yet.
If I told you it’s never happened, but there’s probably a poison Skittle out there somewhere, would you still eat them? Because that’s basically what you’re doing when you buy Skittles. That’s our food safety and inspection problem, not our Syrian refugee problem.
But let’s not pretend letting that terrorist disguised as a refugee into the United States would be the equivalent of eating a Skittle that “would kill you.” “You,” in this Skittle-eating analogy, is the United States. Even if the number of bad Skittles were three in a bowl instead of zero in tens of thousands each year, three terrorists are not going to kill the United States. They might make it metaphorically less healthy. For example, they might make our politics more vulnerable to bigots and fear-mongers. But if we’re going with the America-as-you analog, making you less healthy is, again, what regular Skittles do.
So it’s a bad analogy. It encourages people to think about the issue of refugees in a wrong way. But you won’t change people’s minds by telling them their analogy is bad. As the Bullshit Asymmetry Principal reminds us, the amount of energy it takes to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude higher than the energy required to produce it. Even if you did somehow convince your aunt and all her Facebook friends the analogy was flawed, she’d still think of it whenever the topic of refugees came up. It’s a really good analogy, insofar as it catches people’s attention and is easy to understand. It’s only bad insofar as it’s misleading and callous.
It’s callous because admitting Syrian refugees to the United States is not like sitting around popping Skittles in our mouths. It’s like letting people into our house after we blew up their house and let the neighbors fight over their yard. Even as Donald Jr. exaggerates the danger with the Skittle that kills you, he minimizes the stakes with the bowl of candy. It’s actually a camp full of human beings. They don’t live anywhere or do anything beisdes wait to go someplace else, because a war broke out where their lives used to be.
We had something to do with that war. It’s a pretty sweet move to say we can’t risk letting even one terrorist into the United States, when we’ve sent soldiers, bombs, cruise missiles and drones to another part of the world for the last 15 years. American lives are at stake, yeah. But we should ask ourselves whether the important word there is “American” or “lives.” The Skittles analogy can’t help us with that one, but at least it helped another Trump get famous off his dad.