John F. Kelly in July 2017. (Photo: BERNARDO MONTOYA/AFP/Getty Images)
Opinion writer

Within the last 24 hours: Fox Business guest Ret. Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney (a birther and notorious crackpot) declares, “The fact is, is John McCain, [torture] worked on John. That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John'”; White House aide Kelly Sadler says aloud at a White House meeting that McCain’s opposition to CIA nominee Gina Haspel doesn’t matter because he is “dying anyway”; and White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, who has not fired Sadler, unleashes a bigoted, ignorant rant against immigrants.

Kelly had this exchange on NPR:

On the administration’s recently announced “zero tolerance” policy that calls for separating families who cross the border illegally and prosecuting them:

Let me step back and tell you that the vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people. They’re not criminals. They’re not MS-13. … But they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English; obviously that’s a big thing. … They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills. They’re not bad people. They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws. … The big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States, and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.

Actually, current immigrants assimilate just as well as immigrant in past generations, according to a slew of data-rich studies. Most undocumented immigrants in the United States are not poor, uneducated people coming over the border. (Pew Research explains that as the number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico declined, illegal immigration from other places, including Asia, increased.)

Immigrants who are here illegally are more likely to work (hence, they must have some job skills) than other groups.

Back in the mid-’90s, the employment rate among native-born American men, legal and illegal immigrants was roughly equal. In the ensuing years, though, there’s been a falloff in the employment rate of native-born men, and an increase in employment by illegal immigrants. In a labor force snapshot from 2012-2013, [Harvard economist George] Borjas found that about 87% of male illegal immigrants worked, compared to 74% of American men. Even after controlling for the fact that this immigrant population was likely to be made up of younger men, he still found a 10-percentage-point difference between the two groups.

In short, Kelly is dead wrong. The chief of staff chooses either to lie or not to inform himself about basic facts relevant to hugely consequential policies he champions. He aptly reflect the prejudices of his boss and the thinking behind the cruel policies (such as ending protection for “dreamers” and separating families) that he and Trump doggedly pursue.

Kelly, like Sadler, was not speaking out of school. One could imagine President Trump saying very similar things in private or even in public. Kelly’s boss, who does not want black and brown people from “shithole” countries, would no doubt applaud Kelly’s comments. Trump has yet to apologize for ridiculing McCain’s status as a POW during the campaign. Fox News’s business model is built on promoting crackpot ideas and airing hateful rhetoric that feed the anger and resentment of its base. That means tearing down genuine heroes who challenge the Great Leader Trump. They are utterly comfortable voicing obnoxious slurs, revealing a stunning lack of human decency. They are superstars in the right-wing ecosystem, not in spite of their crass, bigoted views, but because of them.

The ensuing firestorm did force the Fox host interviewing McInerney to apologize and Fox to say it wouldn’t have McInerney back on. He might be excused for thinking his rhetoric, of a piece with so much of what airs on Fox, was entirely acceptable. Indeed, why invite on a birther if not to say outrageous things?

This is the political culture blessed and cheered on by evangelical leaders — for whom nothing Trump or his cronies do (be it paying hush money to a porn star or slandering a POW or endorsing an alleged child molester) is over the line. There is something dark and twisted at the core of the Trumpian political movement and philosophy (if you can call it that). You don’t get criticized, let alone fired, for perpetuating hurtful conspiracy theories (about Seth Rich’s death, President Obama’s birth certificate or McCain’s captivity) or for voicing hateful views.

In short, not all of Trump’s followers and enablers are bad people, but in the Trump universe, bad people sure do flourish.