Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant speech predictably garnered boffo reviews. Ex-Klan leader David Duke said the 75-minute harangue was “excellent.” Authoritarian party doll Ann Coulter called it “the most magnificent speech ever given.” Various white nationalists called it “a hell of a speech,” and exulted that “Trump has made Trump Trump again.”
That says it all.
Yes, the right-wing extremists are thrilled that the tinpot despot of their dreams has apparently junked his flirtation with rhetorical moderation. That was so last week. That was when Trump briefly hinted at a “softening” of his hardline anti-immigrant stance, when he said he didn’t want to “hurt people” by breaking up families. But the softening of the hardening lasted maybe two days. Now it’s the hardening of the softening. If I may be permitted a porn metaphor, this guy is the John C. Holmes of demagoguery.
Trump can’t bring himself to disappoint his acoloytes on the rabid right. Their abiding love is crucial to his fragile sense of self — even if it means distancing himself ever further from the American mainstream, which, by a landslide margin, supports a path to citizenship for immigrants living here illegally. One of his big lines last night — “Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation … There will be no amnesty” — surely played brilliantly with those who already love him, but it’s hard to imagine that his nativist fantasies, most notably the building of a wall, will ever play well with the swing voters who already detest him.
Here’s what he said last night about that wall: “Are you ready? Are you ready? We will build a great wall along the southern border. And Mexico will pay for the wall. 100 percent. They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for the wall.” By the way, Trump has no idea what a wall would cost. He used to say $4 billion; more recently, he has said “maybe $12 billion, depending.” Outside estimates suggest at least $20 billion.
It was classic Trump to declare that Mexico will pay for a wall whether it knows it or not — just three hours after Mexican President Nieto tweeted that at the beginning of his chat with Trump earlier in the day, “I made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall.” (Trump’s version, to the press: “We did discuss the wall. We didn’t discuss payment of the wall.”)
In other words, the usual Trumpian confusion. Maybe Nieto told Trump he wouldn’t finance the wall, maybe he didn’t. Doesn’t matter. If Trump weren’t such a rank amateur, he would’ve realized that any Mexican leader would inevitably echo Mexican popular opinion and denounce the wall. Nieto and Trump were always destined to contradict each other. This episode demonstrates anew that a presidential nominee with zero qualifications doesn’t have a clue about the basics of statecraft.
The rest of the speech was replete with the usual Trumpian tropes. He paraded on stage a few people who’ve lost family members to violence committed by undocumented immigrants. As I wrote during the Republican convention, their grief is real and warrants our respect. But in truth, as multiple studies have shown, “there’s essentially no correlation between immigrants and violent crime,” and that, in truth, undocumented people commit crime at a lower rate than those who are born in America.
His previous talk about a “deportation force” has been supplanted by last night’s talk of a “deportation task force” that would kick out the criminal immigrants — two million people, he thinks — in the first hour of his presidency. That’s what the man said: “As soon as I take office, Day One, my first hour in office, those people are gone.” The Trumpkins emitted their usual Pavlovian screams, reveling in his magic powers. But I question whether the federal government can do anything in an hour, much less find two million people to march them to the exit before the clock’s little hand ticks one notch.
Trump vowed that once we kick everybody out, “welfare use will decrease.” Demaogogues are big on myths, and one of Trump’s myths is that undocumented immigrants get welfare and generally drain the system. Truth is, they don’t. They don’t qualify for welfare, Medicaid, food stamps or most other public benefits. What they do, on the other hand, is pay taxes — $10 billion in state and local taxes in 2010 alone, and $100 billion in Social Security payroll taxes over the past decade.
Trump also vowed to spend lots of money (price tag unknown) to beef up the border — “we’re also going to hire 5,000 more Border Patrol agents” — without once mentioning that fears of an invasive immigrant horde are unfounded. According to the fact-based statistics, illegal immigration from Mexico has dropped steadily since 2007, and the number of adults and children apprehended at the border last year was at least 41 percent lower than in 2014.
(By the way, I loved his insistence that he’s sliming these immigrants in order to protect “the well being of the American people” – this, from one of Vladimir Putin’s useful idiots.)
But what is Trump without the anti-immigrant myths on which his entire candidacy is based? The white nativists and the Trumpkins are naturally happy with his re-hardening, but, once again, he has given Hillary Clinton ample opportunity to lock down the center. To quote Republican strategist Rick Wilson, suburban swing voters, particularly white women who normally lean Republican, will never abide Trump’s “hideous word vomit.”