Central American migrants making their way to the U.S. rest in a park after arriving to Huixtla, Mexico, on Oct. 22. (Moises Castillo/AP)
Columnist

President Trump has made clear who he views as his core constituency: nativists with memory loss.

Once again, there is a caravan of Central American refugees heading toward the United States, and once again the president is acting as if the barbarian hordes were at the gates. He has even made up, out of thin air, accusations that suspicious Middle Easterners (read: terrorists) are mixed in with the desperate men, women and children fleeing crime and poverty. This is an absurd insinuation that is refuted by all the reporters who are covering the caravan and also by U.S. intelligence.

There is even less cause to imagine, as Trump suggests, that the Democrats (read: Jewish financier George Soros) must be paying these pitiful souls to flee their homes and walk thousands of miles on foot. Perhaps the refugees are coming here because they want to collect the free automobiles that Trump — also falsely — claims that the Democrats are eager to give to illegal immigrants? But Trump doesn’t need any facts to fuel his fear-mongering. With his typical understatement, the president tweets: “Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy. Must change laws!”

Conveniently enough, Trump and his amen chorus at Fox “News” never bother to recall their meltdown over a similar caravan of refugees in April. Did that caravan unleash marauding hordes to rape and pillage? Nope. Most of the migrants stopped well short of the U.S. border. Some stayed in Mexico; others returned home. The Border Patrol reported catching all of 11 people linked to the caravan trying to enter the U.S. illegally. Another 244 or so migrants presented themselves to U.S Border Patrol offices to ask for asylum – as is their legal right.

It’s a safe bet that this caravan will peter out just like the last one did, when it eventually reaches the United States — which won’t happen for many weeks. They just crossed the Mexico-Guatemala border, about 1,100 miles from Brownsville, Tex. So the president’s white, elderly supporters, cowering in fear in Minnesota, afraid that the brown hordes will occupy their summer homes, can breathe easy. Televised pictures of a mass of people, shot from afar, can contribute to this false sense of alarm. Interviews with individual migrants should dispel the concern: These are poor people who, just like generations of immigrants to America, simply want to find a better life for themselves and their children.

There is no immigration emergency. Apprehensions of migrants along the southwestern border peaked at 1.64 million people in 2000. In 2017, there were only 303,916 apprehensions – a 81.5 percent decline. More Mexican immigrants are leaving America than arriving. The reason Trump is having a cow is because, after declining for his first few months in office, apprehensions increased in 2018, although they still generally remain below 2016 levels. Trump hasn’t built his vaunted border wall, and he hasn’t gotten Mexico to pay for it. But simply because Trump hasn’t succeeded in carrying out his fanciful campaign promises doesn’t mean we face an “existential” threat – as Newt Gingrich puts it – from dark-skinned newcomers.

This is simply Trump’s cynical ploy to use racism and xenophobia as voter-turnout tools. And Republicans are happy to go along with the self-proclaimed “nationalist.” The GOP, my former party, used to dog-whistle to racists. Now it’s a wolf whistle.

Sabrina Siddiqui of the Guardian noted: “A review of nearly five dozen Republican-backed TV ads revealed a messaging strategy rooted in painting a dark portrait of immigrants, with a fixation on violence and crime. The threat of MS-13 and so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ are frequent themes, juxtaposed with Republican candidates vowing to support Trump’s promised wall along the US-Mexico border.”

It’s not only Latinos who are targets of Republican hate-mongering. In Upstate New York, Republicans are portraying Democratic congressional candidate Antonio Delgado, an African American Rhodes scholar and Harvard Law graduate, as a foul-mouthed “big-city rapper.” (He briefly tried to make it as a rapper more than a decade ago.) In another New York district, Republicans are airing commercials showing Democratic candidate Nate McMurray, a white man married to a Korean immigrant, speaking Korean. They actually insinuate that he is a pawn of Kim Jong Un — the very same dictator that Trump is in love with. In Virginia, Republicans are accusing Democratic candidate Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operations officer, of being a terrorist sympathizer because she briefly taught as a substitute teacher at a high school that produced a graduate who was sent to prison for plotting to kill President George W. Bush.

This is the (Pat) Buchananization of the GOP. Gone are themes of economic opportunity, limited government or American global leadership. It’s all culture war, all the time. Republicans are appealing for white votes by demonizing minorities. They should be ashamed of themselves – if, unlike their leader, they are capable of experiencing that emotion.