Donald Trump announces he is running for president
Sally Kohn: Trump isn't in the election to win but to spout off his own fringe views
There were about three seconds on Tuesday when I was excited about the idea of Donald Trump running for president, if only for the entertainment value. Then he opened his mouth.
Perhaps the lowest point, in a speech filled with low points, was when Trump started bashing Mexico and Mexicans – and, in so doing, also bashed the fundamental values on which our own nation is founded.
“When Mexico sends its people,” Trump said during his presidential announcement, “they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”
Let’s spend a moment on that, shall we?
Trump is explicitly playing into an us-versus-them narrative that is not only factually dumb but divisive and dangerous. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, given Trump has continually questioned the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, but it’s shocking nonetheless.
In Trump’s formulation, it’s not just Mexicans who are evil – they’re all rapists and drug lords, Trump asserts without any facts to base this upon – but Mexico the country is also evil, deliberately sending “those people” with “those problems.”
Trump is not only preying on, but feeding the xenophobic fears of mostly conservative white Americans who see immigration not as about economic realities but as a national threat – people who use rhetoric about “hordes” “swarming” the border, which is also the kind of talk that undermines any notion of humane immigration policy.
I also hope it goes without saying how deeply offensive such comments are not only to Mexican-Americans, but Latino Americans in general. And frankly, it should offend every American whose own ancestors once came to this country as immigrants, immigrants who were almost all at one point denigrated and demeaned by the majority. Immigration and integration are among the best parts of America’s story. Xenophobia and racial bias run through our ugliest chapters.
“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border,” Trump continued in his speech, “and I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” Never mind that we already have a significant fencing system along key parts of the border, and that Border Patrol agents laying more fencing will not stop desperate migrants and crafty smugglers.
Facts are nothing to Trump. Nor, apparently, is common sense. How, for example, would he get Mexico to pay for such a wall, especially if the country is as wicked as Trump suggests? One also wonders why he’s not concerned there’s no fence at all along the northern border. Canada must not be an evil nation.
“The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everyone else’s problems,” Trump thundered. But actually, the world has become a dumping ground for U.S. economic policy. And few countries feel this more than Mexico, where our free trade agreements opened the border to cheap American-grown corn – cheap because it’s subsidized by our tax dollars – which flooded the Mexican market and killed local agriculture.
By 2001, just seven years after the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect, one out of every three tortillas in Mexico was made with imported corn, one report suggests. And a similar dynamic affected other crops and industries. We’ve literally been dumping our cheap subsidized crops and low-wage factories in Mexico – not the other way around.
Immigrants don’t generally leave their families, home countries and everything they’ve ever known just because they want to – it’s usually because they feel they have no choice. You would think a successful businessman would know the realities of these economic and policy forces. But certainly, we should expect such basic knowledge in our president.
Of course, there’s no way Trump will become president. Polling suggests Trump is, in fact, the most disliked political candidate since 1980. And that’s saying a lot. But Trump isn’t in this election to win; he’s in this election to spout off his own fringe views – cheered on by a tiny but equally loud right wing of the Republican base. Somehow, like Trump, the more absurd and self-destructive and marginal those views become, the louder they are yelled.
We are an increasingly pluralistic and global nation, and hopefully increasingly inclusive nation as well. If Trump doesn’t like it, there’s no one he can fire to change things. He should just quit.