WASHINGTON -- You can tell what President Donald Trump is afraid of by what he chooses to lie about. That means he must be petrified of losing support over his failure to build a single mile of the “big, beautiful” border wall he promised.
Trump is scared of a lot of things -- Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, honest reporting by the news media, adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and, reportedly, sharks. But nothing seems to make him quake and tremble more than the fear that his core base will realize all his tough-guy huffing and puffing about Latino immigration was a bunch of hot air.
On Easter morning, while many of the president’s most loyal supporters were celebrating the Resurrection, Trump was dishonestly tweeting in a frantic attempt to look strong and uncompromising. His first tweet ended with this bleat: “’Caravans’ coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!”
That requires some translation. Trump was apparently referring to a Fox News story -- I know, you’re shocked -- about a “caravan” of 1,200 would-be immigrants who say they are coming north through Mexico to enter the United States; they were last seen traveling on foot 900 miles south of the border, meaning the “threat” is less than imminent. The reference to the nuclear option is yet another call for the Senate to eliminate its filibuster rule, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has no intention of doing. And finally, Trump appeared to rule out any agreement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program -- which he canceled -- allowing undocumented immigrants brought here as children to stay.
The president followed up with two more tweets, one blasting Mexico and threatening to “stop” the North American Free Trade Agreement, the other assailing imaginary “big flows of people” who are “trying to take advantage of DACA.”
First thing Monday morning, Trump was at it again. A 7:02 a.m. tweet blamed Mexico for allowing “these large ‘Caravans’ of people” to enter Mexico, which made no sense. A second attacked Congress and claimed that “our country is being stolen!” And the third must be quoted in its entirety:
“DACA is dead because the Democrats didn’t care or act, and now everyone wants to get onto the DACA bandwagon ... No longer works. Must build Wall and secure our borders with proper Border legislation. Democrats want No Borders, hence drugs and crime!”
Leaving aside Trump’s rather Germanic approach to capitalization, that tweet is an occasion to paraphrase Mary McCarthy’s famous quip about Lillian Hellman: Virtually every word is a lie, including “and” and “the.” Democrats repeatedly offered to deal on DACA, as did Trump. No newcomers could possibly “get onto the DACA bandwagon,” since only immigrants who were brought here before 2007 are eligible. And immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens.
Why such a frenzy of untruth? Because Trump apparently sees anger building among his most fervent supporters over his utter failure to deliver on what they understood as his central campaign promise: to halt or reverse the flow of Latino immigration and the “browning” of America.
That’s what this is really about. On the emotional level, Trump appealed to white Anglo chauvinism. He skillfully stoked the anger and resentment of those who are annoyed when they phone the electric company to straighten out a bill and are told to press one for English, press two for Spanish. When he writes things like “our country is being stolen,” it’s crystal-clear who’s supposed to be stealing it.
What I didn’t realize during the campaign was that Trump’s base realized he could never fulfill his absurd pledge to deport all of the estimated 11 million people who are here without papers. But his supporters did expect him to do something to stem what they see as an invasion -- something concrete and unambiguous. Like the promised wall.
But a man with his name emblazoned on skyscrapers and golf courses around the globe, a man who fancies himself a master builder, has been unable to even begin construction of a new border wall. And some of the most vocal anti-immigration commentators -- with influence among Trump’s base -- have been getting restless.
I don’t know how to break this to you, folks, but Trump’s wall promise was no more serious than anything else that comes out of his mouth. His antipathy toward Latinos and other non-whites is genuine, I trust, but his ability to follow through is pure counterfeit. With all of his heart, he hopes you’re too stupid to notice.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is email@example.com.