The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s quixotic quest to bash immigration

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President Trump is unwittingly taking a page from Cervantes. Don Quixote, the titular character of the Spanish novelist's legendary book, famously sallies forth on his bedraggled nag to fight a set of "monstrous giants." He doesn't listen to the note of caution from his bemused sidekick, Sancho Panza: "What you see over there aren't giants — they're windmills; and what seems to be arms are the sails that rotate the millstone when they're turned by the wind."

Likewise, Trump seems more and more intent on tilting at the monstrous giants of his imagination. And, more and more, weary onlookers in Washington — including his own staff — can't be blamed for empathizing with the harried Sancho.

That was the portrait painted by my colleagues Philip Rucker and Robert Costa in a front-page story over the weekend. The piece examined how Trump has blasted through the "stabilizers" that once kept him in check. Last year, Trump's Twitter tirades were usually a weekly occurrence. Now they seem to come every day. Trump has been on a particular tear since Easter, attacking foreign governments, domestic opponents, immigrants, online retailers and, of course, the mainstream media.

"Fourteen months into the job, Trump is increasingly defiant and singularly directing his administration with the same rapid and brutal style he honed leading his real estate and branding empire," Rucker and Costa wrote, noting that "the president is replacing aides who have tended toward caution and consensus with figures far more likely to encourage his rash instincts and act upon them, and he is frequently soliciting advice from loyalists outside the government."

With some of those more extreme figures likely whispering encouragement, Trump has returned to pushing his hard-line anti-immigration agenda. This week, he called for new legislation to make it more difficult to obtain refuge in the United States; reiterated his demands for money to build his long-sought wall on the Mexican border; threatened to cut off aid to Honduras (whose right-wing government ranks among Washington's closest friends in Central America); suggested a program that shielded certain undocumented migrants from deportation was the reason more people were entering the United States illegally (it's not, and they're not); and raised the possibility of sending the U.S. military to patrol the border.

“We are going to be guarding our border with our military. That's a big step,” Trump said during a Tuesday meeting with the leaders of three Baltic nations, who were likely more interested in what the United States could do on their borders with Russia.

"The prospect of sending military personnel to the southern border, as well as cutting off foreign aid, added a new dimension to Trump’s immigration strategy that so far had centered on threats to walk away from the North American Free Trade Agreement and pressuring Congress to send him funding for a border wall," wrote my colleague Seung Min Kim.

This "new dimension" comes even while Trump still rages at the scarecrows — or windmills — that animate his political base and fuel coverage in conservative mediaTrump's recent tweets reflect much of the xenophobia and paranoia over both foreign threats and domestic treachery that underlay his campaign, and which still galvanize his hard-line support. But they don't stand up to much scrutiny.

The Post's Fact Checker compiled a comprehensive analysis of the fact-challenged assertions behind Trump's tweets. These include his debunked belief that spending billions of dollars on new border fortifications will stop drugs from "pouring" into his country, which my colleagues describe as "a fantasy based on no facts."

And while Trump has scare-mongered over America's inability to cope with a supposed influx of new arrivals, the numbers say that surge is a myth. "Trump has again fanned fears that U.S. immigration policies have weakened the country and led to public safety risks, even though illegal immigration is at some of the lowest levels in years," wrote my colleague David Nakamura.

On Tuesday, Trump again invoked the supposed threat of a "caravan" of mostly Central American migrants snaking its way toward the United States. As noted in this space yesterday, the caravan is a publicity stunt aimed at drawing further attention to the migrants' plight in a region wracked by gang violence and political instability. It has also now stalled in southern Mexico, where Mexican immigration officials caught up with the procession and are encouraging migrants — contrary to Trump's claims — to return home or apply for asylum where they are now.

That urging, of course, may not work. “There is a barbarous situation in our country,” said Santos Alberto Lino, who worked as an auto mechanic in Honduras before joining the caravan, to my colleagues. “People want to live in peace and harmony."

Trump's flailing on Twitter, meanwhile, is entirely a reflection of his problems at home, not abroad. The Post's Dan Drezner suggested that Trump needs to stick with his branding as an angry outsider given his paucity of legislative victories, the salacious and not-so-salacious scandals unfolding around him and his own inability to fund his long-desired wall.

"A politically weakened Trump has pivoted back to branding, because it is his only option before the midterm elections," wrote Drezner. "He needs to ensure that his loyal base supporters are sufficiently energized to come out and vote GOP in the midterms. An easy way for him to do that is through Twitter rants."

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