There is no missing the messages Donald Trump has been sending even before white nationalist senior adviser Stephen Miller was given control over the administration’s immigration policy: Go away, migrants and asylum seekers, the country is full. That this is nonsense — Nordics need not apply? I don’t think so — is inconsequential to him and the people who carry his dank water. Cruelty is the coin of the realm, racism the language spoken to his devout base, and the rule of law broken and forged again in the fires of white nationalism is the final goal.
The latest iteration of this ongoing degeneration arrived last Thursday, when The Washington Post reported that Trump had proposed shipping thousands of migrants to various “sanctuary cities” around the country as a way to punish Democrats who refused to give him his southern border wall. The idea, to the shock of none, was credited to Miller.
According to The Post, the idea was shot down by officials and legal experts for being illegal, logistically unworkable and (worst of all) terrible optics. After a day of horrified reactions, which included a White House statement claiming the strategy had been dispensed with, Trump jumped out of his spider hole and doubled down on the plan. “The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy,” he tweeted, “so this should make them very happy!”
Once in a while, and all too rarely these days, we are afforded a moment when the better angels of this nation’s nature rise up and spread their wings. So it was when sanctuary city after sanctuary city – there are more than 300 declared jurisdictions within 27 states – called Trump’s bluff. The front page of Saturday’s New York Daily News spoke for all with a bellowed response: WE’LL TAKE THEM. “We will do what we have always done, and we will be stronger for it,” wrote Jenny A. Durkan, mayor of the sanctuary city of Seattle. “And it will only strengthen our commitment to fighting for the dignity of every person.”
That wasn’t the idea, however. Actually, doing the right thing and pursuing a human policy does not serve Trump’s interests. His (read: Miller’s) plan was to bus thousands of migrants into a city like San Francisco in the dead of night without prior notice, proper planning or adequate funding, and abandon them to the streets. In the ensuing chaos, the Fox News cameras would descend to take it all in, whereupon Trump would crow, “See? I told you! Liberals hate immigrants because immigrants are terrible! Build that wall!”
Trump may yet do it if he can. A redacted version of the Mueller report is expected to be released on Thursday, and not everyone in Trump’s circle is as confident as he is in the exonerating powers of the document. Creating a crisis in order to capitalize on it has been Trump’s style going back to his bankrupted business days, and he may fling thousands of people into the night simply to change the subject. It won’t last, because it never does, but he will win the headline wars for that day, and that is as far as he ever thinks.
There is a piece of traveling public art that stood for a time outside the headquarters for the Saint John’s Hospice on Race Street in Philadelphia. It depicts Jesus Christ as a homeless person wrapped in a blanket sleeping on a park bench. The only visible physical features of the figure are the feet, each with nail holes visible. The holes are not properly placed anatomically, but the overall effect remains striking. So striking, in fact, that police were called after the art was placed in a wealthy North Carolina community when someone thought it was an actual homeless person, because irony.
I would like to take every self-labeled Christian Trump supporter who cheers the idea of dumping exhausted, frightened men, women and children who are far from home into the middle of unsuspecting and unprepared cities as “punishment” for Democrats, and march them past that bench. If such a thing as miracles actually exist, the statue might sit up and ask them why. The Bible has quite a bit to say about welcoming immigrants, none of which involves harming them in order to harm opponents. Meanwhile, residents of those sanctuary cities are prepared to mobilize to welcome and support immigrants, in the event Trump follows through on his threat.
It is all of a piece with this White House. Even as the Trump/Miller proposal to use migrants as blood pawns in a game of gotcha, reports surfaced that Trump illegally ordered acting Homeland Security secretary Kevin McAleenan to close the border to migrants, and told McAleenan he would pardon him if he ran afoul of the law. In doing so, Trump committed two impeachable offenses. “The first one was ordering a member of the Executive branch to commit a crime,” writes Esquire blogger Charles P. Pierce. “The second was promising that the employee would be pardoned if he did.”
So it goes. This president has been busy in his quest to refashion the United States into some authoritarian capitalist dystopian wasteland. His nomination last month to the Federal Reserve Board of Stephen Moore, co-founder of the far-right Club for Growth, is further proof of his motives. “Capitalism is a lot more important than democracy,” Moore said in 2009. “I’m not even a big believer in democracy.” Neither is Trump.
The only people with the power to put a stop to this are Trump’s fellow Republicans, but so far, the best they have summoned are various permutations of “concern” with no actual action forthcoming or even suggested. “I don’t know whether it’s legal or illegal,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Florida) regarding Trump’s proposal to dump migrants into sanctuary cities. “I mean, maybe he’s just saying this to make everybody crazy, make everybody talk about it on their shows.”
That is what passes for a bold statement from a Republican in the age of Trump, simply because it’s half-accurate. Trump does want to scramble the conversation, and he does want everyone talking about him on the television, but that is no longer the point of the exercise. He has come to enjoy the trappings of power and the protective legal firewalls that insulate him from consequences. To date, no member of Congress in his party appears even remotely interested in attempting to slow him down, even as he seeks to strip the power of the legislative branch bare.
Trump’s 2020 campaign has amassed a staggering $30 million war chest in the first fundraising quarter alone, but he appears to be unwilling to wait for the validation of re-election and rightly fears all the agencies awaiting his last day in office with subpoenas in hand. His behavior — using human beings as game pieces, ordering officials to break the law, nominating or appointing anti-democracy activists to powerful positions — gives shouted lie to his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Donald Trump wants to make America his, now and forever. Greatness, or even goodness, has nothing to do with it.