The border detention camps confining abandoned children are inciting disgust over U.S. President Donald Trump to a degree that is extreme even by his standards.
Many are saying that this is the issue – the caging of children – that will finally sink this President. Voices from all sides of the political spectrum – even that of Laura Bush – are denouncing him. His sequestering of kids is appallingly un-American. It’s inhumane. It’s racist. It’s vile.
But does this crisis represent a crashing point or even a tipping point for Mr. Trump? Don’t count on it. He could well invert the laws of logic again. The worse his presidency gets, the better he does. His approval rating has gone up in the last year from the mid-30s to about 43 per cent. He’s just been pilloried for putting up trade walls against Canada and other allies. Hasn’t hurt him a bit. His immigration policy, even with the detention camps, is still supported by a majority in his party.
A while back, it was seen as a surefire bet that he would get trounced in the midterm elections this fall. Now, there’s a good chance he’ll retain majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It appears that almost half the American population is not put off by his attacks on immigrants, on allies, on his Department of Justice, on media and on elites (those who read a lot). Nor by his egomania, his sex scandals, his torrent of lies and distortions.
That’s one half. The reaction from the other half, as seen by the outrage over the child camps, is more heartening. Canadians have received a sense of it with the support they’re getting from Americans on the tariff imbroglio. The Canadian embassy here reports “a flood” of supportive letters and emails.
“As an American,” writes a gentleman from California in one, “I’m so embarrassed that our crass ass of a President is being so insulting to our beloved Canadian neighbours.”
In the American media, which usually treats the northern neighbour as an afterthought, I cannot recall a time when Canada has received so much prominence and so much support.
Canadians, as well as others, are seeing a bifurcated United States. To oversimplify, you may say there are two Americas: one forward, one backward. Few ever imagined the backward portion to be so imposing.
The contrast is starkly evident in the last two presidencies. The decency and honour of Barack Obama, the indecency and dishonour of his successor. The morality of one, the immorality of the other. What was it the Bard said, “From Hyperion to a Satyr?” At least by measure of dignity and the upholding of ideals such as equality, it rings true.
“Any world order that elevates one group of people over another,” Mr. Obama once said, “will fail.” American greatness is rooted not just in strength, he offered, but in goodness.
And Mr. Trump might wish to read this from his predecessor. “The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jews cannot stand. Those now are the walls we must tear down.”
Mr. Obama didn’t make much progress lowering them. He was no saint when it came to the treatment of illegal immigrants. For all his efforts, racism has shown few signs of abating in the United States. And he was not above putting politics before policy. Once during an election season, former adviser Ben Rhodes told the president he could do some good work for Burma. Mr. Obama responded, “No one cares about Burma in Ohio, Ben.”
Mr. Rhodes, who served as his deputy national-security adviser and speechwriter, has just written a book, The World As It Is, on his President. Anyone wanting to get the measure of this man and the good that American leadership can represent should get it. It is the best political memoir I have read in a long time.
The driving imperatives of Mr. Trump are vanity and America-first avarice. Mr. Obama had a different way of seeing things. “When you spend time growing up in Jakarta like I did and see the masses of humanity in a place like that,” he tells Mr. Rhodes, “it makes it harder for you to think purely of yourself.”