U.S. President Donald Trump professes to be horrified by the caravan of migrants walking toward the United States from Honduras, images of which have come to dominate the late stages of the midterm Congressional election campaign he is desperate to win.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, it’s clear Mr. Trump is delighted by the situation.
He sees it as a winning issue – one that makes vivid his core message, espoused since the beginning of his political career, that the United States is besieged by sinister dark-skinned foreigners who will weaken the country by stealing jobs and committing violent crimes.
Mr. Trump has made the home stretch of the campaign overwhelmingly about whether voters share this fearful vision, or whether they see its articulation as the shameful demagoguery it is.
It will be terrible if the Mr.Trump’s view wins out in Tuesday’s election. In his dishonest, race-baiting efforts to hold Congress, he has debased his own country.
In just the last few days, Mr. Trump has escalated his rhetoric about the migrant caravan to a disturbing degree.
He has ordered the Pentagon to send thousands of soldiers to the southern border; the number could rise to as many as 15,000, according to him.
He has instructed the military to treat rock throwers like gunmen – that is, to shoot them. “Anybody throwing stones … we will consider that a firearm,” he told a news conference on Thursday.
Mr. Trump has alternately likened the caravan, a ragtag group of ailing men, women and children, to a “break-in” and an “invasion.”
“A lot of young men, strong men,” he said. “This isn’t an innocent group of people.”
He has suggested, absurdly and without evidence, that “Middle Eastern” terrorists have infiltrated the caravan.
He told reporters that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if someone was funding the caravan, echoing a months-old conspiracy theory that the financier George Soros is paying groups of migrants to enter the United States – this just days after Mr. Soros was targeted by a mail bomb from a Trump supporter, and after we learned that the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter was motivated to commit his massacre by the involvement of a Jewish group in settling refugees.
Meanwhile – this is becoming quite the litany, but that’s Mr. Trump for you – he tweeted out a video accusing Democrats of letting a deported Latino, who went on to kill a cop, back into the country. Even if it hadn’t quickly emerged that the centrepiece of the ad was a man who re-entered the United States during the second Bush administration, it would have still been a shocking bit of scaremongering.
To top it off, Mr. Trump has vowed to end birthright citizenship by executive order, a move aimed at unauthorized immigrants who enter the United States to secure legal status for their unborn children, and one that most legal scholars believe would be unconstitutional.
The President’s actions amount to putting his country on a war footing to combat a few thousand unarmed Central American migrants who are still more than 1,000 kilometres from the U.S. border, even as illegal migration across that border continues its long-standing decline.
This would look like the behaviour of a lunatic if the cynical reasoning behind it wasn’t so clear. From the moment he announced his run for the Republican nomination, Mr. Trump has built his core support around the fear of foreigners, especially Hispanic ones.
From calling Mexican immigrants “rapists,” to brutally separating children from their asylum-seeking parents, to his promised border wall, this is who the President is. So far, the American people have rewarded him for it. These slanders and fantasies took him to the White House.
With Democrats promising hearings into every aspect of his Presidency, and some threatening impeachment, Mr. Trump has gone back to his well of hatred and lies in an effort to keep Congress loyal.
So he is marshalling troops, murmuring about conspiracies, rubbishing the Constitution and above all stoking fear. The situation feels likely to end in bloodshed, if not the erosion of basic rights.
Here is the “crisis” that Mr. Trump talks about so fervidly. The crisis isn’t Honduran migrants. The crisis is him.