And Other Cynical Myths of Trump the Hostage-Taker
After President Trump famously used the boastful refrain, “Only I can fit it!” with reference to all major problems, it was interesting this week to hear Homeland Security Secretary Kristen Nielsen affirm that “Only Congress can fix it,” to explain why separating children from migrants was legally necessary. Now, presented with national and international condemnation for the manifest cruelty of the practice, the President has reversed himself and promised to sign an executive order that would stop the separations.
The fact is the policy was advocated by immigration hardliners in the White House, especially Stephen Miller, and was apparently intended to put pressure on Democrats to agree to a hard line immigration bill that would enhance enforcement, fund the Wall, and do nothing for the Dreamers (people brought to the country illegally as children). Trump, in short, intended to hold these children hostage in order to extract concessions. That he imagined that most people would be okay with this is testament to his egregious deficiency in empathy for anyone who doesn’t agree with him. That he yielded so quickly to widespread protest and pressure shows that, no matter how truculent he is, he will back off if confronted. So it is with bullies.
That he yielded so quickly to widespread protest and pressure shows that, no matter how truculent he is, he will back off if confronted. So it is with bullies.
Other myths about immigration show a similar—and familiar—disregard for truth. There is the frequently repeated affirmation that illegal immigrants are criminals, when it is demonstrable that immigrants (legal or illegal) are less likely to commit crime than citizens.
Trump of course moved immigration up the priority list by suspending Obama’s “Dreamer” program that provided assurance that people who had come to the US as children would not be deported. The allegation from Trump: Obama’s policy was unconstitutional so Trump had no choice but to end it. He then said it was up to Congress to devise a way to protect the Dreamers. But the Supreme Court has not ruled on the program, so the assertion of its unconstitutionality was without legal foundation.
There is the cynical ploy that in separating children from their parents he is only enforcing a Democratic law. The truth is that the law was signed by President Bush in 2008, and neither Bush nor Obama thought the law obliged them to separate children from parents. Trump does not want to focus on the fact that it was his decision to prosecute illegal immigrants that led to the decision to separate children, because children may not be housed in adult jails. But there was no need to prosecute: prior practice has been simply to deport, a straightforward administrative procedure. The administration (Jeff Sessions in particular) just wanted to posture for the base.
One proposal coming from Senate Republicans would mandate appointment of many new immigration judges in order to expeditiously process these prosecutions, while also mandating keeping families together in non-jail facilities. Trump’s reaction is puzzling in view of his strategy of prosecution: he didn’t want more judges, he just wanted to send them all back. To hell with due process!
The philosopher Harry Frankfurt (On Bullshit) famously defined a bullshitter as one who does not care whether a statement is true or false but only whether it serves his interests. Trump’s pronouncements on immigration exemplify bullshit and its uses.