Forcibly separating children from their families—and those words don’t do justice to the harm those actions inflict and the cruelty from which they flow—is the logical result of Donald Trump’s approach to undocumented immigration. Frankly, it’s surprising it took his administration as long as it did to get there. In addition to the racist rhetoric on which his approach centers, it is also drenched in lies. From the moment he announced his White House run by talking about Mexican rapists and drug dealers, his candidacy and now his presidency have relied on spreading lies about undocumented immigrants.
Trump’s lies about crime and the undocumented—not to mention his lies about the prevalence of crime in general in our country—are designed to whip up fear and hatred toward a segment of our population, which he then turns into political gain. What kind of a person does that and is able to not only live with themselves, but revel in it the way Trump seems to? Regarding the lies, it is well-documented that living in an area with higher percentages of undocumented immigrants makes one more safe. Paul Krugman this week discussed parallels between Trump’s lies on this and the old anti-Semitic lie about the Blood Libel in a piece I highly recommend.
As Krugman noted, Trump also mixed in some lies about crime and migrants in Europe with more bigotry about those migrants supposedly changing the culture:
— Sam Vinograd (@sam_vinograd) June 18, 2018
The lie about crime is the foundation on which Trump built his family separation policy. It’s how he justified doing something his administration claimed “no one likes” doing. But beyond this lie-soaked justification was Trump’s equally false claim that he had no choice but to separate families because the law required him to do so. He was lying through his teeth.
REPORTER: Why did Sessions announce the family-separation policy?
TRUMP: He's following the law.
REPORTER: It's not a law!
TRUMP: The Democrats gave us the laws. I want the laws to be beautiful. pic.twitter.com/uJnMQ1IqAL
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 15, 2018
Stephen Miller, senior Trump policy adviser and white supremacist, made very clear what motivated the enactment of the family separation policy: “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”
The law never required Trump to separate families. He did it as a political tactic.
The objective, according to people close to Donald Trump, is twofold: “deterrence,” as Chief of Staff John Kelly explained last month, and political extortion. “The thinking in the building is to force people to the table,” a White House official told The Washington Post last week. A second official confirmed that the president is hoping to use the detained children as leverage to force Democrats to cut a deal on immigration: “If they aren’t going to cooperate, we are going to look to utilize the laws as hard as we can.”
Trump took the children as hostages, in other words, hoping to trade them for a political victory. You can decide what word to use to characterize such a person.
In addition to words we could use to describe this behavior in moral terms, the other word we must use is: liar. We have seen Trump lie, in a widely-reported statistic, 6.5 times per day since being inaugurated. Some may have even become numb to those lies.
This week’s lies and reversal on the family separation ‘law’ were so transparent, so obvious, that they will hopefully lead more in the media to embrace open and honest reporting about Trump’s dishonesty, and that such honest reporting will help educate voters as well. The man said he could not end family separations on his own, claiming early last week, “we’re stuck with these horrible laws.” Two days later we somehow got unstuck, and he ended them on his own. It doesn’t get more bald-faced than that when it comes to lying.
As for the question asked in the title of this essay, there have been signs of some gradual progress recently—outside, of course, from the state propaganda folks who constitute most of the personnel at Fox News (the independent-minded Shepard Smith notwithstanding). A number of stories in the mainstream media have talked about lies and lying in the title of their articles on Trump’s family separation policy. That’s something positive that may come out of this sickening morass of immorality.
More broadly, however, there are no silver linings to the Trump presidency. What we face is a an existential question of what we will be as a country and a people. This week Barack Obama and Joe Biden both defined America as standing for the opposite of what Donald Trump and his family-separating administration stand for. Furthermore, Obama rightly noted:
But we have to do more than say “this isn’t who we are.” We have to prove it – through our policies, our laws, our actions, and our votes.
That’s right. We have to speak out, we have to resist, we have to organize, and we have to vote. Finally, we have to win. If we do, if we repudiate Trumpism this November and again in 2020, we might just be able to right the course of our country’s destiny, and perhaps help do the same for the world. If not, then this long national nightmare of ours might become something we’ll never wake up from.