Can you believe we’re having a national debate about whether the US government should rip children from their parents and keep them in cages? That’s how far we’ve fallen since November 8, 2016.
I began writing this essay several weeks ago as a general survey of the Trump administration’s deeply xenophobic anti-immigrant philosophy, which is at the very core of what Trumpism is all about. In the interval, the issue has been forced into the spotlight by the dystopian spectacle of armed agents of the US government literally taking small children away from their parents by force, warehousing them like animals, and holding their parents (sometimes indefinitely), with no mechanism for ensuring they’ll be reunited, while the Attorney General cites Bible verses as justification, the White House Chief of Staff nonchalantly tells us the kids will be “put in foster care or whatever,” and the President of the United States—who is of course at the center of this whole stomach-turning campaign—dishonestly claims it’s the Democrats’ fault and he can’t do anything about it, even as he defends the policy as a negotiating tactic on Capitol Hill.
Are you kidding me??????
Trump’s announcement yesterday that he would end the separation policy—after weeks of a blatantly dishonest, contradictory, and typically Trumpian defense of it—signalled a tacit admission that this policy was a loser for him. Not surprisingly, it’s a half-assed fake fix that presents dramatic new problems of its own. More to the point, the poisonous factors that led to this crisis in the first place are by no means neutralized by this hasty tactical withdrawal.
So let us dive into the mentality behind what will surely go down as one of the most indefensible, jawdroppingly cruel, and patently un-American programs pursued by any administration since the internment of Japanese-American US citizens during World War II.
AND THE WINNER IS
Even before the revelation of what was going on at the US-Mexico border, Trump’s stance on immigration was arguably the most purely atavistic and irredeemable aspect of his administration.
It’s a horserace, I know, to single out just one area as the worst in a presidency as gobsmackingly shitty from top to bottom as this one. But here’s my logic.
As bad as Trump’s policies are on defense, the economy, taxes, the justice system, the environment, and almost any other issue you care to name—and to the extent that these chaotic, transactional spasms of executive activity can even be called “policies”—most of them at least have some discernible logic behind them, venal though they may be. To wit:
Trump’s bellicose, drunk-uncle-shitting-on-the-dancefloor-at-the-wedding-reception approach to international affairs pleases the hawks (some of them anyway).
His blessing of the gang rape of our land and water and other natural resources is a gift-that-keeps-on-giving to the oil industry.
The shameless flim flam of his neo-trickle down economics delights the 1% and the Republican donor class, which is the very root of this entire monstrous kakistocracy and the ongoing, indefensible willingness of the GOP to stand by it.
And so forth.
I’m not arguing that any of these constituencies are justified in their positions. On the contrary. But I am conceding that at least Trump’s actions serve a pragmatic or political strategic goal in each case, even if that goal is wrongheaded in the extreme.
But what is underlying Team Trump’s relentless, unmitigated hatred for immigrants? Unlike these other areas, there is no practical benefit to this vicious, inhuman stance. Indeed, although illegal immigration is the hottest button, and one with the added benefit of a similarly reactionary-pleasing “law-and-order” component, Trump and his advisors have an undisguised animus toward even legal immigration, and “outsiders” full stop.
Why, and to what end?
It cannot be attributed to anything other than sheer, unadulterated racism and xenophobia…..which is to say, hate.
99 PROBLEMS BUT IMMIGRATION AIN’T ONE
Notwithstanding the right wing’s hysterical and utterly unfounded claims (which Trump of course gleefully leads), there is no concrete problem that his ferocious demonization of newcomers and attendant policies are addressing. Beginning in the Obama years, illegal immigration into the United States hit its lowest level in over a decade. Many American industries, from farming to tech to the military, rely on a steady influx of immigrant labor—some of it illegal—from the humblest undocumented migrant worker in the lettuce fields of Watsonville to the most educated and technologically savvy coder on a H-1B visa in Silicon Valley.
Trump’s entire xenophobic demonization of immigrants and foreigners at large, and all that it entails—the Wall, the end of the visa lottery, the obliteration of DACA, the Muslim ban that claims to keep out terrorists but doesn’t correspond to the countries that are its main exporters—is a solution in search of a problem.
I hear you saying, “But Trump’s racism does serve a practical purpose for him: it riles up his base!” Undeniably true. But that is not the same thing as serving a practical policy goal.
All of the aforementioned policies in all those different areas excite his troglodyte followers, from pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, to making the Sierra Club’s collective head explode by opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, to shredding post-2008 restrictions on the financial industry designed to avoid another crash, and on and on.
But his immigration policies do nothing else besides give his base a boner. They serve one purpose and one purpose only: hurting people who are not US citizens sheerly for hurt’s sake, and as a bonus, enthralling that racist minority of Americans who take sadistic pleasure in their suffering. It’s therefore hard to conclude that they are driven by anything other than irrational, reptile brain tribalism.
To state the blindingly obvious, the reason that immigration issues are the very heart of Trumpism is because that is what most purely and directly speaks to the racism and unmitigated ethnic hatred that is the core of this “movement,” such as it is.
Don’t talk to me about how globalism alienated the white American working class, the Democratic Party’s neglect of a demographic that was once solidly in its camp, and so forth. By now we know very well that while those were certainly a factor in the rise of Trump, they are far from the whole story…..and the continuing perpetration of that myth plays right into Trump’s tiny hands.
One only has to look to the issues on which Trump chose to launch his political career—and throughout it consistently animated his supporters—to grasp what excites them the most: hating on brown and black people. Indeed, studies have shown that this euphemistic, loosely defined “white nationalism” more than almost anything else, including economics, is the primary indicator of who does or does not support Trump.
In other words, Trump’s chief appeal to the majority of his followers is not in spite of his racism and bigotry, it is precisely because of it.
HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE (IF THEY’RE ASSHOLES)
Undisguised racism and xenophobia are the very wellspring of Trump’s political career, from the vile birtherism that first put him on the political map in 2011, to the Trump Tower speech four years later in which he announced his candidacy with the infamous lie characterizing Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and rapists.
He got the most rapturous cheers at his rallies when he railed about these “foreigners” and the “big beautiful wall” he was going to build to keep them out. (Save, perhaps, for the “lock-her-up” Hillary-demonizing, which is essentially about misogyny, racism’s beloved twin.)
He angrily insisted that a Mexican-American judge could not be impartial in a lawsuit against Trump University, attacked a Gold Star family because they were Muslims, and took office with an insane nativist rant (penned by Stephen Miller) that invoked “American carnage” at the hands of the foreign horde.
He made the Muslim ban—that’s what he repeatedly called it and that’s what it is—his first significant act in office, and subsequently refused to condemn white supremacists, even when one of them murdered a woman in cold blood at a pro-Trump rally, instead defending neo-Nazis as “very fine people.”
He gave the very first pardon of his presidency to Joe Arpaio, the poster child for criminal abuse of power and the institutionalization of racism in law enforcement.
He had delighted in pushing the buttons of liberals and whipping up his base by attacking African-American professional athletes, men whom he calls traitors who deserve to be fired and even deported for having the temerity to think the First Amendment applies to them. Even now he rails about MS-13 as the bogeyman du jour, and spins horror stories about caravans of bloodthirsty South American criminals heading toward our border.
He has directed his most juvenile temper tantrums—even worse than his repeated complaints about Jefferson Beauregard Sessions—at his DHS secretary, Kirstjen “Dr. J” Nielsen, over her failure to “secure the border” (“We’re closed!”). Those tirades were reportedly so vicious that she considered resigning, before turning to bald-faced lies on his behalf. (Also: she’s had to give up Mexican restaurants.)
Little noticed among his other horrors but highly telling, he continues to insist that the Central Park Five—for whose execution he once called—are guilty and ought to be imprisoned even though DNA evidence has exonerated them.
But perhaps most galling—at least until the current border debacle—was Trump’s blasé non-response to the humanitarian disaster of Hurricane Maria, which killed some 4600 Puerto Ricans, devastated the island’s economy and infrastructure, and left it even now—almost a year later—a disaster area. It is impossible to avoid the obvious reason for Trump’s apathy: he doesn’t think of Puerto Rico as part of America, or its brown-hued citizens as fellow Americans.
I could go on.
We see the hoofprints of this same philistine mindset in other quixotic Trump policies, like his wanton use of tariffs and his eagerness to start trade wars—policies traditionally opposed by free trade Republicans—or his strange desire to break up NATO and insult our G7 allies—again, contrary to a longstanding GOP bent, at least on the former count. Apparently the Very Stable Genius subscribes to the paranoid presumption that all foreign relations by definition consist of the US being “taken advantage of” and “laughed at” (a persistent Trump bugbear). At the heart of both these impulses is the same pathology that underlies his stance on immigration: a reactionary fear and distrust of the Other.
Accordingly, as Michael Gerson writes in the Washington Post, Trump has undeniably emboldened the lunatic fringe of his party when it comes to immigration, race, and related matters, and in the process moved the GOP center-of-mass rightward. (I don’t recall any neo-Nazis in the Bush, Reagan, or even Nixon administrations.)
When it comes to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, Trump has betrayed American principles in numerous other ways as well, such as slashing the number of refugees the US will accept. The fact, is, Trump (abetted by people like Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller) don’t just want to stop illegal immigration: they want to severely limit any kind of immigration at all. Greg Sargent writes in the Washington Post:
(I)t has become undeniable that Trump’s overriding goal on immigration is to reduce the number of immigrants in the United States to the greatest degree possible. As Eric Levitz notes, Trump moved to end temporary protected status for various groups with no credible rationale for doing so and even though U.S. diplomats have warned that it is dangerously bad policy. And as Trump’s “shithole countries” comment confirmed, his main driving impulse on immigration is white nationalism—rolling back the current racial and ethnic mix of the country at all costs—and this is shaping policy.
In short, Donald Trump is a bigot and a racist and is more than happy to let the world know it. And for all their protestations to the contrary, ultimately that is precisely what a frighteningly large segment of his followers like about him.
CANCER VS. LEPROSY: YOU MAKE THE CALL
No one should be shocked to learn of the hypocrisy on Trump’s part on the topic of people coming to America. His own mother was a Scottish immigrant, and his paternal grandfather came to the US from Germany at the turn of the 19thcentury, although as late as the 1980s Trump was still pretending his family came from Sweden. (See my essay Herr Drumpf: A Thought Experiment).
In 2001 Trump’s Slovenian-born girlfriend mysteriously scored a coveted EB-1 “Einstein visa” for “individuals with extraordinary ability.” That visa eventually enabled Melania—now Mrs. Trump—to bring her parents to the US as legal permanent residents, a practice her husband would later attack on the campaign trail as “chain migration,” in the language of nativist screechers. (His first wife Ivana was also an immigrant, for what it’s worth, making him two-for-three in the foreign spouse department.)
So in fairness to Donald, he isn’t against immigration full stop. Per Sargent, he has recently proclaimed how much he likes the idea of more immigration from lilywhite countries like Norway; it’s just people coming from the “shithole” ones like Haiti and countries in Africa that he’s against. QED.
But in light of what a winner racism has been for Trump politically, and the almost entirely marketing-oriented role of his bigoted policies, might we begin to wonder if the animus behind it is even genuine? The question is a version—writ large—of the familiar debate over whether Trump himself is truly the godawful racist he regularly appears to be, or merely using racebaiting as a political strategy.
I guess my answer would be: does it fucking matter?
I suppose it does, academically speaking. It’s an intriguing philosophical query. Is it more immoral to hold despicable views, or only to pretend to hold them in order to energize the true scumbags out there so they’ll support you? I’m not sure. But I don’t want either kind of person as a dinner guest, let alone President.
So let’s leave that to the historians, and to Almighty God when Donald Trump stands before Her on Judgment Day. The net effect for us is the same….which is to say, toxic.
Would you rather die of cancer or leprosy?
I spoke about this issue of the practical function of xenophobia with the Cuban-American filmmaker Jose Nestor Marquez, formerly vice president ofproduction and development for Univision, and a strong critic of Trump’s immigration policies. New York City born and raised and now based in Los Angeles, Jose offered this textbook definition of how autocrats have scapegoated vulnerable populations throughout history:
There is a subtle but terribly important distinction here. When Trump starts his campaign, he shits on Hispanics in a very public way—the very first thing he does after getting off that escalator. But here’s the thing: I don’t think he cares about Hispanics, Mexicans, etc. He doesn’t think especially ill of them. He hates everyone. Hispanics are just a marker; they’re a stand-in. They let Republicans say to voters who feel they’re on the outside of the party: “YOU are now on the inside because we will push the Hispanics to the outside.We will humiliate them and terrorize them but not you, because you’re with us.” Literally, the Wall is in-group, out-group.
Maybe we all know this. Maybe it’s impossible to be a Hispanic and not respond with substantive claims. Absolutely Hispanics must express themselves, and the legal challenges to this horrible ethnic cleansing must be increased. But, on some level… it DOESN’T MATTER! Because the antipathy and the violence are not informed. It’s not specific. It’s precisely because Trump and his followers don’t know Hispanics and have no understanding of Hispanics that they use them as a marker. (And the data shows this; the least Hispanic areas in the country are the most xenophobic.) They’re using Hispanics because of a curious paradox. Hispanics are visible (there are taco trucks on every corner) and yet silent (no major law firms, no studio heads, no governors, hardly any national legislators, etc.) You can easily reach out and slap them and get away with it. And they use the most vulnerable Hispanics on the planet—families seeking refuge—for the cruelest theater of identity.
So the cultural response has to be centered on the arbitrariness of this violence. We have to expose how lazy and shallow it is. The animus is not based on centuries of living together or on some religious identity. It’s a matter of convenience.
ENSEMBLE OF CRETINS
Unsurprisingly, the people with whom Trump has surrounded himself also offer a dead giveaway to this xenophobic bent.
The logical addition of former Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon in the late summer of 2016 supercharged the nativist element in Trump’s campaign, as Bannon’s entire political existence has been based on stoking white resentment and hate.
A Hobbesian immigration policy appears to be the lifelong dream of Jeff Sessions (along with his extreme hatred of weed), a passion so strong that some believe it the thing that has made him willing to endure insults and humiliation from his boss that long ago would have driven out any previous Attorney General.
And of course Sessions brought with him into Trumpworld one of the most consistently vicious voices on the topic, the odious little Stephen Miller, a callow, smirking collegiate provocateur whose face is just begging to be punched. Nativism is a lodestar for Miller, who by some accounts is the driving force behind the separation policy.
Even once highly respected retired generals Mike Flynn and John Kelly both made sharp right turns into Islamo- and xenophobia that made them attractive to Team Trump, to the point where numerous former colleagues have professed not even to recognize them anymore.
The onset of Flynn’s bitterness is usually ascribed to his dismissal as director of the DIA, although clearly that dismissal itself was driven by behavior that had already become erratic. Kelly’s transformation is usually chalked up to the death of his son in combat in Afghanistan, though what that has to do with bigotry toward Mexicans and black people is unclear. In any case, Kelly’s tenure at as head of the DHS was marked by Sessions-like hawkishness on immigration; he has also distinguished himself with a dishonest attack on an African-American congresswoman that he refused to recant even when he was definitely shown to have his facts dead wrong. (See Notes on the Niger Ambush.)
Kelly further betrays his bigotry with comments like these, which he made to NPR (and please don’t write and tell me that just talking to NPR proves he’s not a bigot):
The vast majority of the people that move illegally into the United States are not bad people. They’re not criminals. They’re not MS-13….but they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English; obviously that’s a big thing….They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills. They’re not bad people. They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws….The big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States, and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.
Kelly has his facts dead wrong: as Vox’s Zack Beauchamp points out, “The best evidence suggests that undocumented immigrants integrate well and commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans.”
But the real irony is Kelly’s own family history, which—spoiler alert—does not involve passage on the Mayflower.
Seven of Kelly’s eight great-grandparents were immigrants (four from Italy, three from Ireland). All of them were working class and had little formal education, and at least two of them never learned English at all, even after decades in the US. As Kelly himself might say, none of that made them, ahem, “bad people.” Somehow they managed to assimilate, didn’t they? Hey, one of their descendants even became a four-star Marine general and the White House chief of staff. Pretty impressive for a bunch of uneducated foreigners.
If, as is widely reported, Kelly is miserable in his job as Trump’s major domo and designated punching bag, it’s nothing less than he deserves.
Speaking of the Auld Sod, let us not forget Mick Mulvaney, the current embodiment of “the grotesque and and stereotypical character of Irish identity in America,” in the words of Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, a title previously held by Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. More floridly, O’Hehir calls Mulvaney “the dark-hearted leprechaun of the Trump White House, who single-handedly combines all the worst propensities of Irish America in one shamrock-festooned package.” To add to that, Mulvaney is also son of the Confederacy, a former GOP congressman from South Carolina and Tea Party firebrand—a lethal combination. O’Hehir:
Mick Mulvaney is like a stagnant pool collecting the long, swirling current of Irish-American doubt, shame and self-hatred, which has manifested all too often as bigotry, cruelty and a false or exaggerated sense of racial pride. The Irish came to America as miserable and despised immigrants, subjects of both a quasi-genocidal colonial conquest and a pseudo-Darwinian social experiment (during the Great Famine of the 1840s). As (Tom) Hayden wrote in 2002, they gradually “became white, became conservative, became superpatriotic,” and did everything possible to separate themselves from African-Americans, the one group clearly below them in social status.”
This is not to single out the Irish as somehow particularly racist (itself a hateful stereotype). It’s simply a predictable replication of the pattern of each generation of new arrivals attempting to gain some heightened social status by shitting on the one that follows.
That said, one would think that a hundred years after the great influx of Irish immigrants that Lord of the Flies mentality might have abated a bit. I guess not.
LAW & ORDER: A LA CARTE EDITION
Which brings us back to the atrocity currently taking place on the United States’ southern border.
Throughout this debacle, the right wing mantra has been, “These people are breaking the law! They deserve what they get!” No doubt these self-described hardliners see themselves flatteringly as “tough love” types—realists—as opposed to bleeding heart liberals and other snowflakes who would open the floodgates and let the wretched refuse flow in.
But of all the scummy arguments Trump and his true believers have mounted, this appeal to “law and order” is perhaps the most vomit-inducing. This from the most criminal presidency in modern history, and a man who relentlessly attacks his own DOJ, AG, FBI, the courts, and the rule of law at large? Gee, Team Trump sure is picky about whose crimes they demand be punished.
Above all, these craven hypocrites argue that a brutal policy like this one serves as a deterrent.
First of all, I’d like to see some empirical evidence that a policy like this has a deterrent effect at all. (The DHS’s own numbers suggest that it does not.) Absent that, we can’t even begin to have a rational discussion about the severity of the problem relative to the extremity of the countermeasures.
Except that we can.
Per above, we do know the numbers for the first part of that equation—how bad is the problem?—which is effectively nil. So why the fuck are we engaged in brutal, cruel, and draconian policy of taking children away from their families—indefinitely in some cases, and with criminally negligent lack of accountability—all to address an issue that is all but non-existent? What does it say about the United States that we would do this to children, and worse, to stop something that is not even really a problem?
The deterrence defense is utterly dishonest in any event, as in some cases ICE is keeping children separated from their parents even after those parents are released from custody. Likewise, it is also breaking up families who have come here legally, seeking asylum and following the rules to the letter. As The Washington Post’s Salvador Rizzo explains: “Undocumented immigrant families seeking asylum previously were released and went into the civil court system, but now the parents are being detained and sent to criminal courts while their kids are resettled in the United States as though they were unaccompanied minors.”
But let’s set that aside for the moment. Let’s stipulate, for the sake of argument, that there is a problem and that deterrence is called for.
Does that justify cruel and sadistic countermeasures disproportionate to the crime (that “crime” being—need I remind you—fleeing poverty and political oppression for a better life)?
As Nick Kristoff writes in The New York Times, if separating children from their mothers and fathers is a good deterrent, why not do even better and have ICE shoot them dead on sight, East German border guard style?
By that logic, let’s not stop there. (Channelling Jonathan Swift now.) Just shooting them dead? Don’t be soft. Why not slowly torture them to death in front of their parents? that ought to deter their folks from crossing the border. Why not minefields? Why not bomb Mexico and wipe out the whole root of the problem?
May I submit the obvious reason we don’t do that sort of thing? Because, in theory, we are not sadistic, soulless barbarians.
(I say again: in theory.)
The point, it goes without saying, is proportionality. And in this case, we are watching one of the most savage and unforgivable practices imaginable, utterly disproportionate to the situation, and all to stop an essentially non-existent problem. As WaPo columnist Catherine Rampell explains, “The Trump administration’s goal is to inflict pain upon these families. Cruelty is not an unfortunate, unintended consequence of White House immigration policy; it is the objective.”
Given the lack of a practical goal beyond mindless atavism, another way of looking at this situation is to ask whether securing the border is really the goal here at all. What we are seeing, as Masha Gessen writes, are the actions of a police state (and she should know). “Hostage-taking is an instrument of terror. Capturing family members, especially children, is a tried-and-true instrument of totalitarian terror.”
Should we not be in the streets right now demanding an end to this practice? You’re damned right we should.
PARADE OF RATIONALIZATIONS
The standard argument in the right wing media is that this policy of taking children away from their parents isn’t new. (“Thanks, Obama!”) But as usual when it comes those journalist manqués, the truth is rather different.
While it’s true that children were sometimes separated from their parents in immigration detention under previous administrations, what’s new in the last six weeks is the no-quarter-given scope and inflexibility of the enforcement.
In the past, few border crossers were detained and prosecuted; mostly they were just sent home. Under Trump’s new “zero tolerance” policy, however, the intent is to arrest, incaracerate, and prosecute everyone, which at last count has necessitated the separation of over 2300 children from their parents, with insufficient facilities, personnel, childcare resources, medical capability, and even simple bureaucratic systems in place to do so. Hence the arbeit macht frei scene at a Texas Wal-Mart.
In response, the administration has vacillated between defending what’s happening and—insanely—claiming it isn’t happening at all. As New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg reports, DHS Secretary Nielsen—embattled from both sides—lies through her teeth when she stands in front of a microphone and says with a straight face that ICE is not separating familes. (Does she think we’re blind, or just idiots?) Meanwhile White House spokesperson Kellyanne Conway contradicts Nielsen with a different lie when she says, “The president wants this to end,” thereby admitting that it is in fact happening, while echoing the falsehood that it’s somehow beyond his control.
In other words, the Trump administration can’t decide if it wants to own this policy proudly or disavow it and blame it on someone else. Predictably, the Insane Clown President himself does both, depending on how his morning cheeseburger is sitting in his bowels.
This past week I watched a few minutes—about all I could stomach—of Trump’s speech to the NFIB, one of the most despicable spectacles yet in a presidency rife with strong candidates for that honor. It was like listening to the scummiest right wing radio shock jock spewing racist bile and unadulterated lies. Trump loves children, he hates this gosh darn policy, he wishes it could end but his hands are tied, the Democrats forced it on us, but it’s good because it’s keeping those brown-skinned rapists and murderers from killing your own kids. Oh, also, he can use it as leverage in Congress to get his great big beautiful border wall.
So let’s be clear about this lie.
There is no law that mandates these separations.
Speaking to CNN’s Kate Bolduan, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) blew up that lie (even as he perpetuated the bullshit of the alleged deterrent effect): “President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call. I’ll go tell him: If you don’t like families being separated, you can tell DHS, ‘Stop doing it.'”
Orrin Hatch and a dying John McCain are among the other GOP senators who have seconded the point, as did Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who wrote on Facebook: “The administration’s decision to separate families is a new, discretionary choice. Anyone saying that their hands are tied or that the only conceivable way to fix the problem of catch-and-release is to rip families apart is flat wrong.”
But by now we should hardly be shocked that Trump spouts lies as naturally as he breathes. His recent announcement that he is caving to pressure and ending the policy serves as a humiliating confession that he could have done so all along, and was full of horseshit in pleading otherwise.
The senators cited above represent a minor groundswell of Republicans—including some evangelical leaders, in a rare break with Trump—who spoke out against the policy, which is itself remarkable, given their cowardly deferrence to the White House on almost every issue heretofore. Whether it was out of genuine principle or mere recognition that this policy is a disaster with voters is beside the point, even though I think we know the answer. As John Cassidy writes, “Even usually gutless pro-Trump Republicans weren’t willing to enter a campaign season defending a policy of tearing infants from their parents and keeping them detained in tents and metal cages.”
All four living former First Ladies also spoke up in opposition, as did the current one—albeit repeating her husband’s lie about who is to blame. But grading on a curve, having half a heart in the Trump family puts you at the front of the class.
But writing in The Atlantic, McKay Coppins has posited that the aforementioned Stephen Miller sees even the backlash over what’s going on at the border as helpful to Trump, rather than a fiasco that hurts him. This belief depends on the assumption that sufficient numbers of Americans are so coldhearted and venal that they actually like seeing children suffer, so long as they are brown in color of course. Miller is so cocksure of that assumption that he puts it at 90-10 in favor of this horrific policy.
Even by the most damning assessment of the sadism of the American people, that figure seems off. Despite his impressive record as an alt-right troll going back to high school, Herr Miller may have miscalculated Americans’ appetite for images of wailing children ripped from their mother’s breast and thrown in cages by armed ICE agents. Indeed, the current hue and cry exposes the fallacy at the center of his formulation: if this uproar is good for Trump because 90% of Americans support his immigration policies, why is there such uproar in the first place?
But this approach is not new for the White House. Allegedly, Miller (and Bannon) had the same view of the shitshow that was the implementation of the Muslim ban in the early days of the Trump presidency: an act of theatrical provocation the very outrageousness of which was deliberately designed to delight a certain segment of Trump’s base. And it may have succeeded on that count. The question is whether solidifying the support of a group of people who already worship Trump is a winning strategy if it alienates and likewise energizes an overwhelmingly larger group of decent human beings who are also registered to vote.
Next November will begin to tell the tale.
RIGHT THIS WAY UP THESE STEPS, MISS ANTOINETTE
Last December, Ivanka Trump, speaking about Alabama Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore and his history of sexual relationships with underage girls—a man for whom her father campaigned—famously remarked, “There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children.”
It was already ironic then, and it’s even more ironic now.
You know who else there’s a special place in hell for, Ivanka? Smug faux Marie Antoinettes who stand by while their fathers and their fathers’ minions prey on children in similarly unconscionable ways. (I’m an atheist, so when I say “hell,” I’m being purely figurative. But I know some legitimate Christians who will back me up on this.)
Ivanka’s verbiage seems to be contagious in Trumpworld: just last week, Trump economic advisor Peter Navarro hyperbolically announced that there was “a special place in hell” for Justin Trudeau, for the mortal sin of having politely opposed US tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, eh? (The VIP section of hell is getting kind of crowded.)
Why am I singling out Ivanka when there are many others in the administration much more culpable for this particular (and particularly abhorrent) policy? Because she has made a point of positioning herself as a great defender of women’s rights, absurd as that is. It’s one thing for a retired Marine general like John Kelly to be callous about this policy; it’s another for a supercilious little fake princess who fancies herself a champion of American motherhood—whom Rudy Giuliani inexplicably thinks is a beloved figure to Americans—to be complicit in that way.
Some might even call her feckless.
We are now told that Ivanka and Melania helped convince Donald to end the policy with an executive order. If so, two cheers for them. Given their collaborationism in the current regime, it’s the least they can do.
EMMA LAZARUS, WELFARE QUEEN
In closing, it behooves us to remember that Donald Trump didn’t create this xenophobic fever in the American metabolism: he merely fed a sickness that was already there, with roots that go back to the earliest days of our country. But it is a shameful indictment of all of us as a people that he was so handsomely rewarded for this strategy.
With this new order ending the separation policy, Trump will surely portray himself as a great humanitarian for solving a crisis that he himself created (after weeks of dishonestly claiming he didn’t have the authority). Moreover, this “solution” still maintains the zero tolerance policy on border crossings, and merely provides for the imprisonment of children with their parents rather than apart from them. Nor does it include any plan to deal with the 2300 children already taken from their parents, let alone reunite them. The picture of caged families—children and all—will continue to be a horrific one, making it clear that we have not yet reckoned with the real problems: this brute force approach to border crossings, an unworkable approach to immigration at large, and the ugly strain of nativism that runs through the American soul and that gave us this nightmare in the first place.
There is a meme on the Internet that asks about those countries throughout history that wantonly arrested and imprisoned large numbers of their residents without any kind of due process and sent them to prisons and concentration camps, sometimes indefinitely. The meme asks: “Did you ever wonder what the hell the other people in that country were doing while that was happening?
The answer is: “Whatever you’re doing right now.”
Illustration: Edel Rodriguez for Der Spiegel