It’s enough to make your head spin. Tashfeen Malik — the Pakistani immigrant jihadist who helped carry out the deadliest terror attack on American soil since 9/11 — passed three background checks without a single American official discovering that she openly supported “violent jihad” on social media. Moreover, this was no oversight. Instead, the Department of Homeland Security has an actual “secret policy” that prohibits immigration officials “from reviewing the social-media messages of all foreign citizens applying for U.S. visas.”
This is sheer insanity. In an era when jihadists are extraordinarily active on social media and often count on supporters’ sharing and retweeting jihadist messages to help spread Islamist propaganda, our government decided it would create a “civil liberties backlash” if it were known that America actually reviewed the public social-media posts of immigrants and visitors.
Immigrants don’t have a civil-liberties interest in their public postings. No one does. Any decent employer looks at potential employees’ public social-media pages before making a hiring decision. Any competent law-enforcement officer knows to comb through social media when investigating crimes. And any semi-sentient immigration official should know that social media can be key to evaluating visa applicants, including by helping determine whether they’ve lied on their application or whether there is evidence that they intend harm when they come to the United States.
While it’s important to condemn the idiocy of our governing elite, it’s vital to understand why they are so foolish. After all, the senior leadership of this country includes many of our best-credentialed and most-experienced civil servants, yet not only do they keep failing, they’re failing at an ever-increasing rate. Why is this? I can think of three related reasons.
First, mankind has always been plagued by yes-men and craven power-seekers, and the American political system is no exception. No human system is immune from the tendency for subordinates to seek advancement by affirming their superiors, regardless of the facts. In our political culture, it’s common for a leader’s inner circle to be dominated by people who think you’re brilliant, that your contributions are indispensable. Even intense public criticism can be disregarded if it comes from the wrong kind of people. If you’re a liberal politician or bureaucrat, an attack from the Right is a badge of honor, not cause for self-reflection.
Second, we’ve magnified the natural problem of craven political and bureaucratic conformity by insulating our civil servants from accountability for failure. In the American bureaucracy, each new position functions as a floor for your career — there is nowhere to go but up. Firing a civil servant is such a complex and difficult process that there are entire federal bureaucracies where employees are more likely to die than be fired. Thus, not even reality can function as a check on bureaucratic incompetence. It goes unpunished, while blind loyalty to the system is rewarded. And thus bureaucrats just keep failing up.
Third, to the extent anyone is truly held accountable in the modern bureaucracy, it is only to the monstrous lies of political correctness. Thus you see an actual fear of a “civil liberties backlash” and “bad public relations” for examining whether an immigrant might hate the country he’s seeking to enter. But a backlash from whom? The hashtagging readers of HuffPo? The squeaking editorialists of the New York Times? Is there a significant American constituency outside the readership of Salon or the faculty lounge at Brown (but I’m being redundant) that supports admitting openly anti-American Muslim radicals into the United States?
One of the great lies of political correctness is that no policy is truly “fair” if it has a “disparate impact” on any “marginalized” identity group. Scrutinizing social media for anti-American sentiment would expose the extent to which millions in the Muslim world are captured by the most bizarre anti-American conspiracy theories, the extent to which disturbing numbers idolize the most violent terrorists, and the shocking amount of celebration of American and Israeli deaths. Let them hate us overseas. Only a nation intent on committing intellectual, spiritual, and cultural suicide would allow immigrants in its borders who despise the very nation they seek to inhabit.
No government can change human nature, but we can stop rewarding its worst impulses. Our present system rewards conformity — a dubious enough trait — and magnifies that fundamental flaw by demanding that our civil servants believe a series of lies about the world and — especially — our most vicious enemies. Our leaders are worse than foolish. They’re cowards. And Americans are paying the price for their failures.