On Friday President Trump signed an executive order – written by one or both of his strategists named Steve – that restricts immigration from seven majority Muslim countries, suspends all refugee admission for 120 days, and excludes all Syrian refugees indefinitely. (Not included in the list of restricted countries: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, all countries in which the Trump Organization has business dealings.) The order was popular among Trump’s rapidly dwindling fan base – his approval rating last week, which Gallup placed at 42 percent and Quinnipiac at 36 percent, is the lowest in modern times for an incoming president – and vehemently opposed not only by Democrats but also by several prominent members of the party Trump claims to represent.
Monday’s Wall Street Journal carries an editorial headlined “Trump’s Refugee Bonfire” that called the executive order “no doubt legal” but took issue with its implementation. (Experts cited by the New York Times say the ban is unlikely to be effective in curbing terrorism. The Times’s editorial board called it “cowardly and dangerous.”) The WSJ editorial uses a quaint term, blunderbuss, to describe the ban:
Mr. Trump campaigned on a promise of “extreme vetting” for refugees from countries with a history of terrorism, and his focus on protecting Americans has popular support. But his refugee ban is so blunderbuss and broad, and so poorly explained and prepared for, that it has produced confusion and fear at airports, an immediate legal defeat, and political fury at home and abroad. Governing is more complicated than a campaign rally.
17th-century wheellock blunderbuss. Source.
Blunderbuss entered English as a noun in the middle of the 17th century. It was an altered import: In Dutch, a donderbus is literally a “thunder gun.” (Bus means “box” or “tube.”) The OED says blunderbuss was “perverted in form after blunder (perhaps with some allusion to its blind or random firing).” The etymology of blunder – a gross mistake or bewilderment – is murky; the noun has been documented in English since the late 14th century, and the verb since the 16th. It may be related to Scandinavian words meaning “to doze” or “to shut the eyes.”
The blunderbuss was an early form of shotgun; effective at close range, it had little accuracy with long-range targets. The word blunderbuss began to appear as a verb in the late 19th century (“The risk of being pistolled or blunderbussed by a patriot” – Daily News, London, 1870), but it’s much less common to see it used as a modifier, as the WSJ does. I did find some other examples, a couple of them connected to Donald Trump. (The connection does seem apt, on several levels.) Last August, Wall Street Journal reporter William Galston referred to Trump’s “blunderbuss attack on globalism.” In November 2015, the National Review called “the notion of a Muslim registry” “constitutionally offensive” and also “stupid,” and criticized Trump’s “blunderbuss tough-on-terror rants.” And in February 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown called a $9 billion school-bond measure “a blunderbuss effort that promotes sprawl and squanders money that would be far better spent in low-income communities.”