This captures something about our current moment: Trump, more than any of his predecessors, is using the presidency to put on a TV-and-Twitter show. Like Roseanne’s, it combines an idealized version of Trump’s working class America with an uglier underlying reality of virulent racism and hate that spills over and stains that salt-of-the-earth veneer with now-predictable regularity.
But what truly captures this moment is that, even as Trump got his crowd roaring by depicting immigrant gang members as “animals,” the number of migrant children in custody has climbed above 10,000, thanks to the administration’s new border crackdown.
At Tuesday night’s rally in Tennessee, Trump absurdly hyped the job creation on his watch and suggested media that don’t give him a fair shake have been humiliated. He drew boos with his riffs on “fake news.” He raged that numerous people infiltrated his campaign, a reference to his ongoing conspiracy theory about FBI spying.
But Trump’s biggest lies were reserved for immigration. He drew a false link between a recent terrorist attack and “chain migration,” and blasted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as an “MS-13 lover.” He then said: “She loves MS-13. Remember, I said, ‘They’re animals.’ And she said, ‘How dare you say that.’ ” He added: “We’re taking them out of the country by the thousands.”
As it happens, government data show that not enough MS-13 members have been arrested for this to even be possible. Those “thousands” of deported people must include non-MS-13 members. And Pelosi did not defend MS-13 members; she actually said that “calling people animals is not a good thing.” But Trump’s complementary distortion show that here again he was playing his usual dehumanization game: Just as with his original “animals” comment, he was applying the dehumanizing slur to the most hated sub-group, then conflating that sub-group with the larger category (immigrants targeted for deportation) that was his real target, then feigning innocence about the real intention behind that conflation.
The feigning of innocence is the key here. Spooked by outrage from Trump and his allies, news organizations chastised themselves for failing to note that Trump’s “animals” comment came amid a discussion of MS-13 members. But the truly operative context is the larger one — the one in which Trump has called immigrants rapists, has privately attached random Hispanic names to various crimes for sport and has essentially declared his desire to roll back the country’s racial and ethnic mix by advertising his disdain for migrants from “shithole countries.”
Trump campaigned on that general goal, with varying degrees of explicitness. Last night, Trump embarked on an extended diatribe about MS-13 members — “they’re not human beings” — and then cued the crowd into roaring the word “animals.” Trump can insist that this was only about gang members, but the bottom line is that this was a hate rally, and it shows again that Trump views the carrying out of that broader agenda as key to his visceral connection to these crowds, or to large swaths of his base.
What does this look like in reality? It has led to a suspension of relatively sane enforcement priorities, unshackling Immigration and Customs Enforcement to carry out a much crueler deportation regime. It has led to a new policy of prosecuting all people who cross the border illegally, including asylum seekers, which means more broken-up families. This is explicitly justified as a deterrent to such border crossings. Its inhumane cruelty is the whole point — it is intended to dissuade people from seeking refuge here.
Media delusions about Trump’s America
Writing at Crooked Media, Brian Beutler argues that the firing of Roseanne Barr unmasks a delusion about Trump’s America that has been kept alive (ironically enough) by an elite media in the grip of a journalistically misconceived obligation to Trump country. We read story after story portraying Trump voters in ailing Midwestern manufacturing and Appalachian coal communities as suffering from an economic anxiety that is meant to ennoble Trump’s America and cleanse the media of its 2016 sin of overlooking its extent and reach. As Beutler notes, Barr was supposed to represent that America, but now she has let slip darker impulses animating untold swaths of it, ones that Trump continues to speak to directly, as he did last night.
These regional economic divides are real and important, and I don’t believe that all Trump voters would thrill to Barr’s racism. Indeed, elevating Barr as a symbol of Trump’s America — as Trump himself has done — actually shows contempt for Trump voters as a class. But in a sense, this is what some in the media have done by creating a hollow, idealized portrayal of Trump’s America, and Barr’s downfall punctures that illusion. As Beutler puts it: “Roseanne is the Trump supporter who shows up at Trump rallies.”
Fully puncturing that illusion requires an acknowledgment that, however representative those people are, they are who Trump is talking to, not just at his rallies but also with his policies.
* A SURGE IN MIGRANT CHILDREN IN CUSTODY: The Post reports that in the wake of the new border crackdown from Trump and Sessions, more than 10,000 migrant children are now in custody:
Although the government has not disclosed how many children have been separated from their parents as a result of the new measures, the Department of Health and Human Services said … that it had 10,773 migrant children in its custody, up from 8,886 on April 29. … [HHS] shelters are at 95 percent capacity, an HHS official said Tuesday, and the agency is preparing to add potentially thousands of new bed spaces in the coming weeks.
There will be immense pressure brought on the administration to disclose how many children have been separated.
* GOWDY BLOWS UP LIES ABOUT FBI INFORMANT: GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy (S.C.) tells Fox News that the Trump/Nunes conspiracy theory about the FBI informant spying on Trump’s campaign is nonsense:
“I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got, and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.”
Keep in mind that Gowdy was at that recent briefing demanded by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) about this FBI informant. Clearly all it did was convince Gowdy that the FBI acted properly.
* TRUMP PRESSURED SESSIONS: The New York Times scoops that Trump pressured Jeff Sessions to undo his recusal because:
His grievance was with Mr. Sessions: The president objected to his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. Trump, who had told aides that he needed a loyalist overseeing the inquiry, berated Mr. Sessions and told him he should reverse his decision, an unusual and potentially inappropriate request.
This helps explain why special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s obstruction inquiry is so focused on Trump’s anger over Sessions.
* MUELLER ALWAYS RESPONDS WITH SILENCE: Last night at a rally in Tennessee, Trump again attacked the Mueller probe. CNN’s Stephen Collinson observes:
The response from Mueller? As always — silence. … As he has done throughout his long career as a prosecutor, Mueller has put his head down, avoided the spotlight, and let his richly detailed indictments — of 19 people and three companies — do the talking. And he’s nowhere near finished yet.
Remember, no matter how much Trump talks and lies right now, Mueller will eventually have his say.
* TRUMP’S MIDTERM STRATEGY: Politico reports that Trump and Republicans are worried that Democratic voters are far more engaged in the midterms than Republican ones are, and Trump is responding by ramping up the attacks on the news media and immigrants:
Republican strategists, including officials behind Trump’s reelection effort, are operating under the premise that Democrats will be plenty energized for the midterms and 2020 elections … GOP campaign strategists say they need to close the intensity gap with Democrats, who are anticipating an anti-Trump wave.
This also explains why Trump has been lying more and more hysterically about the Mueller probe lately, and talking about GOP tax cuts a lot less.
* DEBUNKING MILLER’S IMMIGRATION SPIN: Stephen Miller justifies Trump’s escalated family separations by arguing that if Democrats would change current laws, these problems would go away. Salvadore Rizzo has a detailed explanation of Miller’s claims. Bottom line:
None of these … requires the Trump administration to separate children from their families. Instead, separations are rising in large part because of a “zero tolerance” policy implemented by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In April, Sessions directed prosecutors to charge as many illegal entry offenses as possible.
The bottom line: The administration is explicitly adopting these policies as a deterrent to people trying to cross the border, refugees included. So they are supposed to be draconian.
* AND WHITE HOUSE FALLS SILENT ABOUT MELANIA: Politico points out:
The White House has released almost no information about [Melania] Trump’s condition since May 14, when her spokeswoman said the first lady was undergoing a routine embolization procedure … Her team chose to leave unexplained her extended five-day hospital stay … or her subsequent disappearance from events at which the public has come to expect to see her next to her husband.
Apparently the directive to say nothing about her whereabouts comes directly from the first lady herself.