“You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.” — George W. Bush, 25 March, 2001.
Stephen Miller, the administration’s latest iteration of Official Screaming Person, flexed his White House muscles last week and made history in all the wrong ways. Everything that has gone down since “Shithole Thursday” — the collapse of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) negotiations, the real threat of a government shutdown and an eruption of unvarnished racist invective from the president of the United States — came about because Miller picked up the phone with one priority in mind: Play to the Trump base.
Unspooling this pluperfect fiasco takes some doing. A week ago Tuesday, Donald Trump staged a bit of theater by not being demonstrably incapacitated by incompetence for 90 whole minutes during a meeting with members of Congress on immigration. The White House felt such a performance was necessary after Trump went on Twitter and accused the leader of a volatile nuclear adversary of having a small penis. Editorial pages from sea to shining sea were dusting off the text of the 25th Amendment again, so a good showing with the Congress members was pretty much required.
During the entire Tuesday meeting, Trump was smiling, friendly and coherent. He was open to several legislative proposals offered by Democrats, including one for a clean DACA bill, to which he reacted enthusiastically — said enthusiasm being later erased “accidentally” from the transcript of the event. The press loved it. That night, most news stations led their evening broadcasts with some permutation of, “Wow, the president didn’t humiliate us all today!”
It was strange because it wasn’t a hot mess… and Stephen Miller hated it, for reasons beyond his own gaudy racism. A deal on the status of the Dreamers would be a quantum-level betrayal of Trump’s still-hardcore base of political support. His current 33 percent approval is comparable to George W. Bush’s 25 percent approval level near the end of his second godawful term. Those voters are The Last Patrol, the true bitter-enders, and if Trump loses them, well… it’s the old joke. What do you call a leader with no followers? Just a guy taking a walk.
It has been widely whispered for a while now that Donald Trump often repeats the last thing he heard as if it were his own wisdom. This mess pretty much proves that out.
In order to save Trump from alienating his base by doing the right thing, Miller called in congressional reinforcements before a Thursday meeting Trump had planned with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and other members of Congress. Miller’s back-up crew — Freedom Caucusers like Representatives Bob Goodlatte and David Purdue along with hard-line Republican senators like Tom Cotton — beat feet to the White House and swarmed Trump like maddened wasps before the Durbin meeting began. When they were finished, Tuesday’s jovial huckster statesman was gone. The growling muddy-eyed dog was back, baring its yellowed teeth again.
Talk about a turnstile presidency. It has been widely whispered for a while now that Donald Trump often repeats the last thing he heard as if it were his own wisdom. This mess pretty much proves that out. “I’m all for a clean DACA bill.” (“No you’re not.”) “NO I’M NOT.”
Shithole shithole shithole! This is journalism now; thanks again, Don.
My wife can verify that as I watched Calm Don at the Tuesday meeting. I pointed at the TV and said, “There’s no way he’s going to hold it together.” He did… for about 48 hours.
The rest is shithole history, drafted by a shithole president who bragged afterward to his shithole friends that calling Haiti and all of Africa “shitholes” would play really well with his base. Shithole shithole shithole! This is journalism now; thanks again, Don. Watching the news anchors try to slither past the word last Thursday night was better than Cats. It’s a good thing TV comes without spam filters, or we’d all be watching the test signal.
Negotiations over DACA and the Dreamers collapsed immediately after the Durbin meeting debacle, and now the threat of a federal government shutdown looms at close of business tomorrow. Congressional Democrats are under heavy pressure to staple DACA to any government spending bill, but are hesitant to deploy this oft-attempted Republican “hostage-taking” tactic themselves.
They just might do it, and God I hope they do, because the alternative is a shattering disaster. With families included, DACA covers more than a million people now caught in the middle of yet another xenophobic nationalist uprising, one more true American tradition. If the Dreamers are turned out, anyone who calls this a moral, Christian nation should be summarily ejected into space.
The rampant racist aspect, right there in the umbra of the MLK holiday (which Mike Pence celebrated by turning Roll-Tide crimson in his church pew on Sunday when the pastor denounced his boss), was further exacerbated when reports surfaced about Trump’s backhanded reaction to legislative input from the Congressional Black Caucus. “You’ve got to be joking,” he reportedly said. CNN’s Jim Acosta opened his evening report that night by calling the president of the United States of America a racist while standing in front of the White House.
This regime tailors public policy and comment to please a dwindling cadre of white voters who still enthusiastically support Trump’s pan-directional hate.
Then came the spin. The press office obviously couldn’t deny Trump said it — there were multiple witnesses, and the man bragged to his friends about it afterward — so of course they tried to deny he said it. When that failed, they backpedaled to, “He didn’t call Haiti a shithole country, only all of Africa,” before trying out the “He-said-shithouse-not-shithole-so-ha!” defense. It didn’t fly, so they were left with, “Well, those countries really are shitholes. The president was just telling the truth. He talks like ‘regular people’ think!” They went with that, because of course they did, because they thought it would play well with the base, again.
For the record: Haiti bears the burden of having shared the hemisphere with the United States during the Cold War. Every president from Eisenhower to Reagan lent US support to the murderous regimes of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, who used their Tonton Macoute militia to butcher and disappear tens of thousands of people while looting the country. Everything since — the invasion, the coups — has been political aftermath from the US’s Cold War game of thrones with the USSR.
Also, Tropical Storm Jeanne killed 3,000 people in 2004. In 2008, Tropical Storm Fay along with Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike left 800,000 Haitians in need of humanitarian aid. In 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, killing an estimated 300,000 people and leaving another 1.6 million people homeless. Another 10,000 died after the quake in a massive cholera outbreak caused when a UN peacekeeping base accidentally poisoned Haiti’s main river with cholera-infected wastewater. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew tore apart most of Haiti’s remaining infrastructure and killed another 3,000 people. The storms of this last hurricane season only exacerbated the crisis further. Nearly a dozen major storms, one massive earthquake and a cholera epidemic in 14 years would undo any nation of similar size — especially given the lack of sufficient support from its hemispheric neighbors, most emphatically the United States.
Haiti is a victim of bad luck, but mostly, it’s a victim of deliberate policy. So was Ireland, once upon a time, when those who fled British oppression and the Potato Blight were the new scourge of these shores. Most of the immigrants who have come here over the generations were running for their lives from dire circumstances beyond their control. Such is the case today. With a rank racist in the White House, however, all bets are off. This regime tailors public policy and comment to please a dwindling cadre of white voters who still enthusiastically support Trump’s pan-directional hate.
This, right here, is what happens when Trump’s base is put in the driver’s seat. Thanks to Stephen Miller’s base-saving phone calls last week, a million innocent people may well have their lives brutally upended with no DACA deal in sight, the despised (by the base) federal government is again on the brink of shutting down and one-sixth of the planet stands racially insulted by a president who works so few hours a day that some think he could qualify for unemployment benefits.
Miller did it for the base. Maybe it’s time to stop listening to those people, yeah?