Pro-Hillary forces are so desperate to find something to pin on the Trump campaign that they resorted to attacking Donald Trump Jr.’s Skittles analogy to the Syrian refugee problem. Actually, Trump’s Skittles analogy and the fake outrage manufactured by liberals in response to it are both wrong.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) September 19, 2016
Wrigley, the candy’s maker, secretly enjoyed the exposure, but publicly disclaimed the comparison.
“Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy,” Vice President of Corporate Affairs Denise Young said in the statement. “We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing.”
No irony there. Skittles aren’t rainbows either, and everything a candy seller could ever say about their product is subject to being interpreted as marketing.
The Washington Post decided to pursue the matter from a purely mathematical angle, using assumptions and suspect math that would make any scientist blush with embarrassment.
So how many handfuls could I grab before I got one that’s poisoned?
Well, it could be one, of course, if the poisoned ones are distributed evenly through the giant pool-and-a-half of Skittles. But the odds say something different. If there is one poisoned Skittle in 3.64 billion, that means I could extract quite a few handfuls before I was likely to pick out a poisoned one.
Specifically, about 68.7 million handfuls. Let’s say it takes me one minute to grab a handful and eat them. I would hit a poisoned Skittle, on average, every 130 years. I would also be consuming the equivalent of a package of Skittles every minute, which is about 330,000 calories a day.
The one in 3.64 billion number is based on a per capita calculation on the odds of being killed by a refugee. There are two major problems with this calculation, which comes from a Cato Institute analysis. The first problem is the numbers are based on past data. We can make the argument that Syrian refugees are safe in any country on earth based on past data, if we go back far enough.
This analysis focuses on the 41-year period from January 1, 1975, to December 31, 2015, because it includes large waves of Cuban and Vietnamese refugees that posed a terrorism risk at the beginning of the time period and book-ends with the San Bernardino terrorist attack. It identifies foreign-born terrorists who were convicted of planning or committing a terrorist attack on U.S. soil and links them with the specific visa they were first issued as well as the number of people they individually murdered, if any, in their attacks.
C’mon, man. What do refugees in the Mariel boat lift have to do with Syrians fleeing a war zone, or radicalized ISIS cells?
The second problem is that the analysis only deals with foreign-born terrorists. What about American-born terrorists like Omar Mateen? The danger of radicalization is not simply a math problem dealing with who are born overseas. It’s an ideology problem with a group that refuses to be assimilated (or has not yet begun the process) into American ideals; whose members are subject to radicalization, training, and integration into a terrorist infrastructure.
In political-military terms, this is called a “fifth column.”
WaPo’s math simply doesn’t work out. Terror is not some cold statistic, it’s fear. There are certain parts of Atlanta or even Macon, Georgia that I wouldn’t venture into at night without a solid reason and destination in mind. My odds of being randomly shot there aren’t very high, but my presence exudes a sense of “he doesn’t belong here,” increasing probability beyond simple math.
Syrian refugees deserve a life better than starvation, abuse, and war. But that doesn’t mean they are safe to harbor without careful consideration given to who is allowed in and what they believe. Even with this “quality control” (borrowing WaPo’s analogy to candy), the poison is not in just one Skittle.
As my colleague Aaron Blake notes, there’s another layer of complexity. The 200 million Skittles a day that end up in the pool have all passed through Wrigley’s stringent quality control system. To continue the analogy in an increasingly awkward way, the United States already screens refugees that arrive in the United States through a multilevel process — the equivalent, I guess, of quality testing Skittles before you take them out of the pool.
Here I have to admit that Donald Trump, Jr.’s Skittles analogy breaks down. Quality control would account for filtering poison Skittles, if they could be detected. The Syrian problem isn’t really one of finding the poison Skittle in a bowl, because all the Skittles are subject to becoming poison.
Here’s a more appropriate analogy; one I’ve heard preached at church for years. I’m baking a batch of brownies, but I put a half teaspoon of dog poop into the batter. It’s such a small amount for two big trays of brownies that you’d never know it’s there. You can’t smell or taste it. But I’m just letting you know I put the dog poop in the brownies. Would you eat them?
Pardon the disgusting imagery, but think about it that way. There’s no way to know whether each individual refugee is completely immune to radicalization, but to a varying degree, they’re all slightly tainted with the same poison. On the surface, this would seem like it’s racism, pure and simple, but it’s not.
Some trays of brownies don’t have any dog poop in the batter, but some do. To figure out which is which, the ingredients themselves must be examined. In the case of Skittles, it’s not the individual Skittles which are poisoned, but the ingredients of a particular batch, or color dye, or process may inject poison. The poison may be added after the Skittles are produced. It may be introduced after you open the package.
The Syrian problem is much more complex than a bowl of Skittles, but the error isn’t in overestimating the danger by applying one-in-three-billion probabilities, it’s by underestimating the danger by refusing to recognize the pervasive and attractive influence of a world view in diametric opposition to America–and therefore Americans.
Both Trump’s Skittles analogy and WaPo’s response are wrong. What drives Ahmad Khan Rahami to try to commit mass murder? The answer does not lie in probability. It lies in ideology.