Not that we couldn’t have guessed it, but two Trumpy moves about the border wall and the FEMA funding, aside from being indefensible policy, tell us what the president’s core re-election strategy is going to be: quadruple down on immigrant-bashing.
As you might have heard Wednesday, President Donald Trump wants his people to hurry up and build the damn wall, as The Washington Post first reported. If it’s not in place by Election Day, the paper reported, Trump fears his base will consider it some kind of betrayal. So finally we have our answer, or at least Trump’s answer, to the what-would-it-take question: He could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose a vote, but evidently he can’t disappointment them on this one.
As you also may have heard, the Department of Homeland Security is moving about $270 million, including $151 million in disaster relief funds, away from FEMA and toward more migrant detention. This came as Hurricane Dorian descended on Puerto Rico, but hey, that’s all right, because Trump is “the best thing that’s ever happened to Puerto Rico!” (Just ask him.) It also comes the week after the administration launched a plan to ditch that sissy 20-day limit on locking up migrant children in order to hold them at the border indefinitely.
We put these together, and it becomes clearer than Trump Water that he’s gearing up to run a campaign built chiefly around stopping what he portrays as the hordes. The announcement last week about indefinite detention was really the first tip-off. It was a huge break with policy that administrations of both parties have abided by for 20 years, and it gives the administration—if a federal judge approves it within 60 days—the leeway to be as mean as it wants.
Now of course your normal administration might think, “Well, you know, pictures of children sleeping on cement floors with Mylar blankets behind cyclone fencing, over captions saying they’ve been in that room for six months now, might be kind of bad for us politically come election time.” But the administration of Trump and Stephen Miller thinks just the opposite: as the election draws near, the meaner the better. They’re only interested in the votes of people who think those kids are criminals anyway.
The Washington Post story on the wall is long, but read the whole thing, please. The rewards are numerous. So many different aspects of the authoritarian personality are on display. Trump tells aides to do whatever they have to do to get the wall built, disobey whatever laws they need to disobey, and “don’t worry, I’ll pardon you,” he’s reportedly said. He obsesses about the design and color (you know who else obsessed about monumental design). He’s making the fabricators add sharp tips to the top of each section of wall, to make the effect scarier. He will order the federal government to seize whatever land it needs to get this done.
That in itself is just a staggering, smack-my-damn-head detail for anyone who remembers how right-wingers have carried on about federal eminent domain when it was Democrats seizing land. Nothing gets the Cliven Bundy pitchfork caucus going like the idea of the gummint trespassing on someone’s property. In fact, they had a bang-up fight about eminent domain down in Texas in this year’s legislative session, but the legislators couldn’t agree on what “reform” should look like. Don’t worry, there was nobody to cheer for: On one side were the large landowners and agricultural interests (Texans for Property Rights), and on the other, the oil and gas industries (the Coalition for Critical Infrastructure).
And Trump is going to insert the federal government into that thorny context and start seizing property? Who knows. The way things have been going in this country, the landowners will say it’s all right if Trump does it. He’s a star, and when you’re a star they… you know.
But all that, though it again reveals conservative hypocrisy when it comes to Trump, is a side point. The real point is the campaign.
Imagine the Republican convention next August in Charlotte if the wall is in fact built. By the way, it seems highly unlikely it will be. They’ve built 60 miles of “fence,” with 500-something to go, and Trump is very upset about the pace. But let’s say even half of it is built.
Just picture the Reifenstahlian tributes to Great Leader and his wall that will dance across that Charlotte Jumbotron (the same Jumbotron, interestingly enough, that just eight years prior radiated Barack Obama’s smiling visage as he stood addressing his conventioneers in that same hall, which come to think about it makes Charlotte kind of a psycho choice for the Rs). Imagine the martial music. Imagine the chants. It’s going to be insanely creepy. And Trump will probably find a way to replicate the tableau at all his fall rallies.
And the kids will still be not all right, cooped up in their border pens—again, assuming the plan gets assigned to a friendly judge who rubber stamps it. And that will be the campaign in a nutshell: “You wanted me to stop the invasion, and I stopped it.” It will be a lie, obviously, but it’s what he’ll say.
It didn’t work in 2018, which he tried to make about the caravans. And it didn’t really work so great in 2016, arguably, when he got 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. But he thinks it works, so it’s what he’ll do, and the more desperate he is, the more extreme and vicious it will get. And the move that stands as probably the ugliest thing he’s done, which is saying something but which I think is the case—the border detentions—will become the centerpiece of the campaign to keep the presidency.
But really. What else did we expect?