The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion America is strong. Trump, meanwhile, is looking more and more pathetic.

Trump's policy of family separation was part of a broader pattern of attacks against immigrants and should never have existed, argues Elias Lopez. (Video: Kate Woodsome, Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

The great falsehood that was at the root of President Trump’s candidacy was that he was very strong and America was very weak. We were losing, having our jobs stolen, getting ripped off by allies, etc. We were supposedly awash in crime and illegal immigration, and the latter, we were told, contributed to the former. It was all untrue. We got a welcome reminder this week that both halves of that equation are false — Trump is weak and getting weaker by the day, while the United States has never been a basket case — and is regaining its strength in opposing Trump and Trumpism.

Trump cuts such a pathetic figure, so very desperate for approval from those who have always snubbed him. He still rants at the “elites” who never accepted him in polite society. “You ever notice they always call the other side ‘the elite’?” Trump asked at a rally in Duluth, Minn. “The elite! Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I’m smarter than they are. I’m richer than they are. I became president, and they didn’t.” Actually, many of them are richer, have more tasteful homes and are smarter — and have no desire to bow and scrape before the crass Queens operator, even if he is in the White House.

Trump talks tough, but when criticism rains down, he blames others (the Democrats!) or lies that his hands are tied or that his predecessor did the same. And when he retreats, he pretends he never wanted what he implemented anyway. Because he does not know what he wants or what is in various legislative options, he cannot provide clear direction in Congress. The result was a lost vote on a hard-line immigration bill and two postponements (first until Friday, and then until next week) on a compromise that has no chance of passing the Senate.

Trump’s grasp of policy is so shaky that it’s far from clear whether he understands the current legal and logistical situation, the policy he tried to implement or the consequences of pulling the plug on what he tried to implement.

And this time, the damage done to him and the anti-immigrant cause that is foundational to his presidency and the new Republican Party of right-wing populists may be considerable.

Meanwhile, the press did its job impressively — allowing Americans to see and even hear what was going on, definitively calling out Trump’s lies and doggedly pursuing Republicans to either defend or oppose the policy. Humanitarian groups, religious organizations, mayors and governors all stepped forward to denounce the president. Democrats were entirely unified and precise: Trump’s policy was inhumane and bringing disgrace on the United States. Certainly, any argument in which the suffering of toddlers and babies is tolerated (let alone sought as a deterrent) is going to lose and lose badly.

The crisis is not over, and Trump does have a knack for exhausting his critics. The following remain major concerns:

  • The speedy and complete reunification of all families. Unless Trump wants to be the president who created a fleet of orphans, the government better work fast to identify and reconstitute families it tore apart.
  • The health, both physical and mental, of the children in custody. As we previously suggested, state and local child welfare agencies and members of Congress must demand access to the children and a full accounting of their condition. (If children are receiving medical care, have the authorities obtained consent from their parents who are also in our custody? If not, under what authority do they deny parents the right to make health-care decisions for their sons and daughters?)
  • Once the families are reunited, will they be subject to indefinite incarceration? Will the government seek to overturn Flores so families can remain locked up for months or years?
  • Since the entire fiasco has not deterred the influx of refugees, what is our plan going forward?

The press, child advocates, religious organizations, and local and state governments must persist. They have seen how strong they are and how weak the president is. Now is no time to let up.