As someone who has been to Guatemala and documented the poverty pushing desperate immigrants northward, I have felt the need to rebuke my President for promoting lies about the U.S-bound migrant caravan fleeing an undeclared humanitarian crisis in Central America.
But then I thought, why bother? Calling out Donald Trump out for lying is like calling out a swine for rooting in its own excrement. It’s what he does. Besides, the frequency of Trump’s proclivity for lies is not even the point in our national descent into toxic nationalism .
The point is that there is a willing audience for Trump’s lies. Trump’s lies create enthusiasm expressed at the ballot box. Trump is just a symptom of a disease with many names: intolerance, tribalism, ethnic hostility, authoritarianism.
Trump knows these sicknesses work for him so he plays on them.
The point isn’t that Trump plays them. The point is that they play so well.
If anything, the heavily publicized caravan of 7,000 migrants making its way from Guatemala – and Honduras – through Mexico to the U.S. is a boon for Trump less than two weeks from an election with – if polls are to be believed – the GOP majority in the House of Representatives is in play.
The caravan allows Trump and his followers to spread the lie that Democrats are for “open borders.” This lie has been told again and again since the 2016 Presidential campaign and it’s worked so well that even some national commentators have bought it. You would think they would know better.
“Meanwhile, in the Democrats’ liberal base, the mood toward the caravan is positively sympathetic.,” wrote David Frum in the Atlantic. “The caravan’s slogan, ‘People without borders,’ chimes with the rising sentiment among liberals that border-enforcement is inherently illegitimate, and usually racist, too.”
What rising sentiment among liberals is he talking about? Where does “inherently illegitimate, and usually racist, too” come from? A renowned intellectual who served President George W. Bush and is no Trump fan, Frum never quoted a single “liberal” espousing open borders in his piece. Not one. Do you know why? Because you’re not going to find one. This is a myth. Or, more to the point, it’s a lie. And it’s proof that Trump knows exactly what he is doing when he tells lies that appeal to nationalism, tribalism, ethnic hostility and racism.
He finds a willing and happy base of potential voters whose blood is stirred by such lies. Or he finds a national media that often talks about immigration on nationally televised panels that Frum frequents without a single Latino expert to, oh, I don’t know, provide some context. And Trump knows, just as former California Governor Pete Wilson once knew, that Democrats are easily flummoxed by this issue. They don’t know what to say because they share a trait with their GOP counterparts. That is, their ranks, too, often lack ethnic and racial diversity.
During the 1994 gubernatorial campaign, Wilson completely slimed Kathleen Brown – Gov. Jerry Brown’s younger sister – with anti-immigrant lies and half-truths. He just sat back and watched Brown mumble and fumble away a sizable lead in the polls until she had lost to Wilson in a rout. Democrats still can’t fight back on immigration. During the last debate of the gubernatorial primary in May, Gavin Newsom – California’s next governor – mumbled and fumbled as Republican John Cox endorsed Trump’s phony idea of another border wall.
“This is the kind of rhetoric that has no place” in the debate, Newsom said limply. All that was missing was for Newsom to pull out the “we are a nation of immigrants” trope to seal the sorry capitulation of all Democrats when faced with ethnic hostility behind Trump’s immigration BS.
Democrats like Newsom could say truthfully: The U.S.-Mexico border has never been more fortified than it is now. Who says so? Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security last year. “Available data indicate that the southwest land border is more difficult to illegally cross today than ever before,” wrote DHS .
Democrats like Newsom could truthfully say: The vast majority of immigrants in the U.S. are law abiding.
Democrats like Newsom could say that states such as California depend on immigrant labor.
Why do Democrats blow it so consistently on immigration? Because they are afraid. They know Trump is playing to tribal feelings held by enough Americans to make seeking the high ground on immigration politically risky. They know that a large slice of the national media is sadly ignorant on the deplorable conditions driving people out of Central America, no matter dangerous the journey.
Meanwhile, let’s go back to what Frum wrote this week: “In the Democrats’ liberal base, the mood toward the caravan is positively sympathetic.”
If that single line doesn’t signal the death of the American ethos of immigration as a source of strength, I don’t know what does. The statement is mind blowing. Yes, why would anyone feel sympathy for women and children fleeing their country on foot for a journey that could consume more than a month of walking a dangerous path – and with no guarantees of anything when they arrive?
Why would any American feel even a shred of sympathy for people less afraid of Trump than they are of the poverty and violence they leave behind in their own countries?
The words etched into the Statute of Liberty – “Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – seem hollow now. The words are a relic, describing the country we used to be.
Did Trump create this rejection of American ideals? No. He recognized it and exploits it with zero regard for abusing the truth.
Who lets him do that? We do.