Let's stipulate right here that President Trump doesn't understand a lot of things, even as he enters his 28th month in charge of the massive bureaucratic battleship that is the U.S. government. But no issue has flummoxed our rage-prone 45th president more than the rise in unauthorized crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border -- even after promising his xenophobic base that his harsh immigration crackdown would make America great again.
When numbers came into the White House showing this decade's biggest surge in refugees at the border -- with Border Patrol agents detaining as many as 4,000 migrants, many of them women and children, in a single day -- Trump reportedly went ballistic. He yelled and fumed at his then-Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen until he finally forced her out of the job, partly because she wouldn't buy into the president's ideas to fight migration with moves that were probably illegal and unworkable and certainly immoral.
The commander-in-chief wanted even harsher family separation policies, even after the first wave of ripping toddlers and even infants from their mommies and daddies, in 2018, had shocked consciences around the globe. He threatened to completely shut down the border with Mexico, which would have crippled commerce and maybe triggered a recession. He killed the nomination of a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) chief who wasn't "tough enough, fired other top Homeland Security officials, and flirted with ideas like sending detained children to Gitmo. A senior aide told CNN's Jake Tapper that the president was "increasingly unhinged" about border crossings, even as he furiously tweeted out more fear.
A very big Caravan of over 20,000 people started up through Mexico. It has been reduced in size by Mexico but is still coming. Mexico must apprehend the remainder or we will be forced to close that section of the Border & call up the Military. The Coyotes & Cartels have weapons!
Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 24, 2019
To Trump, migration is a ridiculously simplistic zero-sum game. The immigrants are cheaters, frauds or out-and-out criminals, trying to take advantage of us (and, specifically, of Trump). Whether they "get away with it" is solely an equation that depends on how "tough" we are -- on hard-nosed, head-shaved Border Patrol agents named Steve (probably), until Trump can force Congress to build a glorious wall that will make the problem go away.
Donald Trump can't handle the truth.
Because to do that, the Trump administration would have to do something alien to every xenophobic bone in its body: Embrace science. The president would have to stop cursing out and firing every official at DHS, stop rescuing oil lobbyists from the swamp and installing them in his Cabinet, and start accepting that climate change is real, that it's occurring right now, and that responses like mass migration are an unavoidably human reaction to drought, floods and misery.
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Will Bunch is author of the new "Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future", published by Free Press, which examines the calculated effort by the modern right wing to canonize the 40th president, (more...)