Just when you thought he couldn’t go any lower, he did.
The “he” here is President Donald Trump. And what he did was pressure Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to take undocumented immigrants detained trying to enter the country and bus them to sanctuary cities located in the congressional districts of prominent Democratic members of Congress including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California). (Nielsen was removed from her post on Sunday, the first of a broader purge within DHS executed by Trump over the past five days.)
The cynicism here is towering. Trump – and top aide Stephen Miller – pushed this idea on two occasions under the belief that if they could put undocumented immigrants in the backyards, quite literally, of opponents of the administration’s hard-line immigration plans that they would change some minds among those opponents. Or at the very least, make their lives harder.
Trump confirmed the reported plan in a set of tweets Friday: “Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only … The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy – so this should make them very happy!”
Trump’s tweets contradict what administration officials said Thursday night – that the busing policy had been floated and dismissed. The President’s tweets suggest it remains under active consideration.
The fact that this would even be considered speaks volumes about how Trump (and Miller) view not only the ongoing crisis at the border, but human beings more generally.
Because this is, at heart, a story about people. People who tried to enter the country illegally, yes. But people nonetheless. And what the President of the United States wanted to do to these human beings was turn them, literally speaking, into political pawns. Ship them somewhere so that they could, maybe, accomplish a political goal of his – and, if not that, then just make things more uncomfortable for his political opponents.
Sit with that for a minute. And then remember that this is the same administration that instituted a zero-tolerance policy at the border that led to mass separations of families – including very young children. And seemingly had no set policy on how to track where the kids went after they were separated from their parents or any real clue on how to reunite them once Trump called for an end to the policy. And has proposed closing the border entirely to keep any immigrants from coming in. And has declared a national emergency – and thereby diverted funds appropriated for other purposes – in order to build a wall that even immigration hard-liners do not believe is the solution. All after the President blasted immigrants coming to America from “sh–hole countries” and asked why the US wasn’t getting more immigrants from countries like Norway.
All of these policies – those actually instituted and those merely dreamed up in the mind of Trump, Miller and others – are in service of making good on Trump’s spoken and unspoken campaign pledges that, if elected, he would stop the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country and, thereby, stop the dissolution of American culture.
That’s why “Make America Great Again” was getting at – that something was being lost amid PC culture, amid globalization and, most importantly, amid unfettered immigration into the United States. That who this country once was had been slipping away for years and that he was the only person who could return us to true greatness.
Inherent – if largely unstated – in that pitch was this fact: The America Trump was venerating was largely one dominated by white people – and, more specifically, white males. And that the influx of immigrants into the country was to blame for this cultural “loss.”
The creation of the “other” – people who don’t look like you, talk like you or share your belief system – was a hugely potent weapon for Trump in the campaign. He created an image of an America teetering on the brink of destruction – which he cast as a total loss of the culture that made America great. And he set the stakes of the election simply: If he didn’t win, the America that his supporters loved would be gone forever.
Even in his inauguration address, Trump cast America as a declining empire – brought low by its abandonment of the way things used to be. Said Trump in that speech:
“Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
It’s only through a worldview of “us vs. them” that you can justify proposals like busing undocumented immigrants to sanctuary cities in Democratic districts. Only by seeing certain people as lesser or a threat can you treat them like political pawns on your broader chessboard.
And when you see people as something less than, well, people you can rationalize treating them in ways that no person should be treated. That’s where we are with President Trump on immigration. There is no bottom. He just keeps going lower and lower.