Trump Blinks

President Donald Trump may not boast about being on the cover of the July 2, 2018 edition of Time (displayed here) showing him towering over the iconic image of a little girl crying as (not seen on the Time cover) an immigration official frisks her mother at the border. Our most narcissistic president has been known to brag about the number of times he has made the front of the magazine, even going so far as to fake a Time cover — dated March 1, 2009 — with his image and the headline “Donald Trump: The ‘Apprentice’ is a television smash!” The phony magazine cover was hung in at least five of Trump’s clubs, from South Florida to Scotland. In 2012, Trump tweeted his disgust at not making Time’s list of influential people: “I knew last year that @TIME Magazine lost all credibility when they didn’t include me in their Top 100….” But, four years later, there was this tweet: “Remember, get TIME magazine! I am on the cover.” Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas (vanity of vanities, all is vanity)! 

Perhaps, Trump subscribes to the saying, “All publicity is good, as long as they spell your name right.” He called being named Time’s “Person of the Year” in 2016 “a great honor,” even though the headline read, “Donald Trump: President of the Divided States of America.” So, Trump actually may hang a facsimile in the Oval Office of the latest Time cover. After all, it plays into the narrative of Trump the tough guy.

But, the tough guy blinked. He did not say he was sorry for the inhumane policy of separating families at the border, nor did he admit making a mistake. He simply said, “We are going to have strong — very strong — borders, but we are going to keep families together. I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.” Yet, it took the president almost a week of intense scrutiny and criticism by the press and some public figures to reverse course, acting only — according to sources — after daughter Ivanka told him the images of family separations were terrible. (Memo to Ivanka and her father: The images were not the problem; the policy was.) 

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen briefing the press at the White House, June 18, 2018.

So, the president changed a policy that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen insisted was not a policy. “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period,” Nielsen tweeted. The secretary, however, appeared to be rather ill-informed during this whole, horrible episode. At a press briefing at the White House Monday, Nielsen called “offensive” a suggestion that taking children from their parents was intended as a deterrent to stop unauthorized border crossings. Apparently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was not offended, saying only hours later that the policy of separating families purposely sent “a message.”

This administration frequently cannot get its story straight. For days, Trump, Nielsen, Sessions, and everyone else authorized to speak about the policy that was not a policy lied and insisted that the administration’s hands were tied because existing law — enacted by Democrats, the administration claimed falsely — mandated family separation. The president could not use an executive action to change the policy announced a few months ago by the attorney general; only Congress could change the law. As Nielsen said at her White House briefing, “It is the beginning of the unraveling of democracy when the body who makes the laws, instead of changing them, tells the enforcement body not to enforce the law.” Democracy may unravel or, at the very least, fray during this administration, but not because the president signed an executive order overturning the administration’s non-policy separating families.

Immigrant children in cages

The images — and the stories — from the border were heart-rending, and enough Americans said “enough,” forcing the tough guy to take notice. Also, forcing Trump’s hand was the collapse of the administration’s rationalizations for the policy, beginning with blaming Democrats for a law requiring family separation to justifying the policy because it was God’s law. “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Sessions said. The attorney general surely knows that the Bible can be cited on many sides of many issues (there are many biblical injunctions to treat strangers kindly), and he should have been careful about referencing a passage used by pro-slavery apologists before the Civil War to deter abolitionists agitating against slavery.

There may be a glimmer of good news in all this. Even some Republicans — most of whom have been blindly and mutely following Trump — found the egregiousness of tearing kids from their families a bridge too far. Even so, two polls released this week revealed that a majority of Republicans (58 percent in a CNN poll and 55 percent in one by Quinnipiac) supported family separation. While that is down from the 80 to 90 percent support Trump normally pulls among Republicans, it is enough to scare GOP candidates for reelection into unquestioningly supporting the cult of Trump.

But — and here is the good news — the Republican Party is shrinking. According to an analysis of recent poll numbers, the number of Americans who identify as Republican has gone down from 32.7 percent in 2016 to 28.6 percent today. In the short run that helps the president since a smaller GOP means a party of only Trumpistas who will back the cult against any primary challenges from moderates. In the long run, however, a smaller Republican Party means the nomination of ever-more radical ultra-rightists who cannot win general elections.

It also remains to be seen whether the president’s about-face on immigration policy — his blinking — tarnishes his image as a tough guy. The evening of the day he signed the executive order on immigration policy, Trump promised a rally of enthusiastic supporters the continuation of a “tough” immigration policy, saying, “We’re going to keep winning.” A significant portion of his appeal to Trumpistas is that purported toughness — never apologizing, never backing down, and always hitting back, harder. This time, however, he did back down, and it took the image of a little girl crying — and all the other images and sounds of the horrors at the border — to force him to blink.

Posted June 22, 2018

Comments are closed.