The lights darkened in the Germain Arena, and the people in the audience raised their iPhones like they were at a rock concert, rather than a campaign event for the Republican nominee taking place the same day a suspected terrorist was arrested for attempting, but failing, to kill Americans in New Jersey and New York.
The theater tricks and apparently jovial mood in the crowd belied Trump’s message for the day: that the arrest of Ahmad Khan Rahami—the-28-year-old suspect, who according to federal authorities, is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Afghanistan—is further proof of the wisdom of his broadly discriminatory immigration policies.
Trump walked out to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” the 1992 ballad that enjoyed renewed popularity after the 9/11 attacks. The song is standard by now at Trump events, and evoking the 2001 terror attack for the purpose of maximizing fear seems the obvious objective.
Terror attacks on U.S. soil—“from 9/11 to San Bernardino”—are the result of insufficient screening during the immigration process, Trump said, although the 9/11 hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates, not America.
“There have been Islamic terrorist attacks in Minnesota and New York City and New Jersey,” Trump said. “These attacks and many others were made possible because of our extremely open immigration system which fails to properly vet and screen the individuals who are coming into our country.”
Trump seemed to take umbrage with the fact that Rahami, now in police custody, is being given due process. The “bad part,” he said, is that the suspected terrorist will get good medical care, “an outstanding lawyer” and “he’ll probably even have room service, knowing the way our country is.”
The Trump campaign was founded on and is propelled by fear.
Many of his fans and supporters were converted beginning in 2011, when he first began alleging that President Obama was not born in the United States and was, perhaps, somehow alien.
From there Trump soldiered on until June of 2015, when he announced his candidacy by arguing that undocumented Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and “criminals.”
In the ensuing 15 months, terror attacks in the Western world have been seized on as opportunities for Trump to declare victory for his campaign message that everything is going to shit and he’s the only one who can save America, lest we become France, which he claims is no longer France.
“Immigration security is national security,” Trump said Monday. “You can’t have vetting if you don’t look at ideology.”
Trump’s speech was inconsistent and unfocused, at times a throwback to the rally monologues of the Republican primary and then, suddenly, a sober and approaching-articulate meditation on the allegedly failing state of the country that sounded like the work of strategists or speechwriters. The campaign did not send reporters prepared remarks, making it impossible to know when Trump was veering off script.
It is, Trump said, “just a plain fact that our current immigration system makes no real effort to determine the views of the people entering.”
Trump painted Clinton as reckless—someone with both a radical plan for immigration and for the admittance of refugees from the Middle East. “She very much caused the problem when you think about it,” Trump said. “And now she wants to be president—I don’t think so.”
Still, it’s currently unclear what, exactly, Trump’s immigration plan is. He’s said that he would like to stop the flow of immigrants “from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism,” which might include France and Germany—but whether that’s in addition to his broad Muslim ban, announced in 2015, or in place of it, is uncertain.
And it’s also unclear what, exactly, Trump’s plan is for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already within our borders, but deportation was surely on his mind Monday. At one point, he said “deportables” instead of “deplorables” while discussing Clinton’s criticism of many of his supporters.
“Hillary Clinton talks tougher about my supporters than she does about Islamic terrorists,” Trump said.
Clinton took a different, though no less critical, tone in the wake of the arrest. During a press conference at an airport in White Plains, New York, Clinton said, “Let us be vigilant but not afraid… We have faced threats before. If you see something or you hear something, report it immediately to local law-enforcement authorities. I know we will meet this new danger with the same courage and vigilance.”
She took a dig at Trump for “irresponsible, reckless rhetoric… You don’t hear a plan from him. He keeps saying he has a secret plan,” she said. “The secret is he has no plan.”