As we’ve seen, there’s no end to the ugly, corrupt, destructive and bigoted things that President Trump will do in part to please his base — from separating migrant families, to pardoning racist sheriff Joe Arpaio, to supporting a lawsuit that could destroy our health-care system.
But there’s another move of this kind that deserves its own category: situations in which Trump tells his voters that he’s undertaking some sort of cruel action that he isn’t actually taking, simply because he believes they’ll thrill to his claim that he is.
Call it bread-and-circuses cruelty.
In recent days, Trump has asserted his administration is dumping migrant families into sanctuary cities — that is, into Democratic strongholds — particularly in settings where he’s speaking directly to supporters.
“Now we’re sending many of them to sanctuary cities,” Trump shouted at his Wisconsin rally. “They’re not too happy about it.” Trump added that sanctuary city officials respond by saying: “We don’t want them.”
In an interview on Fox News, Trump similarly claimed that “we’re releasing them into sanctuary cities almost exclusively,” but “they didn’t want them.” Trump insisted this proves that “the whole sanctuary city thing is a big scam.”
But it turns out this policy doesn’t appear to be operative at all. Post fact checker Sal Rizzo took a comprehensive look and found zero evidence that the Trump administration is doing this.
Amusingly, multiple administration officials — at the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — declined to respond to Rizzo’s efforts to determine whether they are carrying out Trump’s policy.
If a policy that Trump is proudly boasting of were really happening, you’d think officials would be eager to talk it up. Yet they aren’t. What’s more, they aren’t in any rush to confirm that it isn’t happening, either, because that would contradict the boss.
Meanwhile, Rizzo contacted officials at several sanctuary cities, and they all said they’ve seen no sign of migrants being dumped on them. But, importantly, they all confirmed that if Trump were to do this, the migrants would be welcome. Officials at multiple sanctuary cities told the Daily Beast the same thing.
Which gets at another layer of the absurdity of this whole scam, one that goes to the heart of the substantive debate at issue here.
The deeper scam
The original idea behind this threat, as Trump openly declared, was that it would supposedly pressure Democratic lawmakers into giving him legal changes that would make it easier to deport Central American children and detain asylum-seeking families.
Those changes would mean the administration would not have to release as many into the interior, pending their hearings. Trump claims this is a draw — they fraudulently apply for asylum, then disappear into the country. To pump this up as a dire crisis, Trump falsely inflates the rate at which they don’t appear, while regularly describing asylum seekers as criminal invaders.
Right now, Trump isn’t just claiming migrants are being dumped into sanctuary cities, when they aren’t. This lie also supports a second lie, which is that those cities are rejecting them, when they aren’t.
This second idea is supposed to confirm that Trump is right: Yes, asylum seekers getting released into the interior is so horrible that even those hypocritical liberal elitists don’t want them around. But it’s all based on nonsense. All of it.
Trump thinks his base will love this
What’s notable here is that Trump believes his base will love the idea of migrants’ fates being used as political pawns, and (even though that’s why liberals object to the policy) he believes his base will see this as a way to rub liberal elitists’ faces in excrement. The use of public resources in this fashion is also corrupt — something else Trump likely believes his base will thrill to.
Is he right?
Well, the new Post/ABC poll finds that backers of Trump are much more supportive of making it harder for migrants to apply for asylum here. It finds that only 30 percent of Americans support this, while a huge majority favors either the status quo or making it easier. But according to the Post polling team, 53 percent of those who approve of Trump favor making it harder. Among those who strongly approve of Trump, that’s 58 percent.
This polling question is not a perfect match for Trump’s advertised migrant-dumping policy. But it suggests Trump supporters tend to take a dimmer view of asylum seekers.
Regardless, what’s notable is Trump’s presumption that this disgusting policy will thrill his voters. Similarly, Trump has also falsely told Midwestern farmers that aid to Puerto Rico disaster victims would take money from them, thus presuming they’d be prone to believing this. Trump also reportedly claimed of his family separations that “my people love it,” another similar presumption.
It’s worth noting that this latest scam comes even as he’s pushing forward with very real punitive measures toward asylum seekers. In addition to efforts to make it harder to apply and qualify for asylum, Trump is now rolling out a new policy to charge some asylum seekers application fees and deny some work permits while awaiting hearings.
As immigration advocates point out, this is strikingly cruel, given that they are fleeing horrible conditions at home. It’s also worth noting that Trump cut off aid to their Central American home countries that might improve those conditions.
So the bread-and-circuses cruelty toward asylum seekers is being fed to Trump voters, even as his administration continues to inflict very real cruelties on them on multiple other fronts.