Trump’s ‘Sh**hole’ Comments Double Down on Identity Politics

Once again expressing hostility toward entire groups of immigrants, he further damages American political culture.

.. The president of the United States should not, by word or deed, communicate that he is hostile to or disdainful of entire classes of the American population. It doesn’t matter if such divisive rhetoric helps him win elections, nor if the reaction of his opponents is often overblown. As president, his obligation remains the same: Make your case without demonizing whole groups of people.

This shouldn’t be difficult for conservatives to understand. It’s an argument they’ve been making against Democrats for the better part of a decade. It’s the argument against identity politics. 

Virtually every engaged conservative knows the term “bitter clinger.” When Barack Obama spoke at a San Francisco fundraiser in 2008 and offered his amateur sociological assessment that some Americans become “bitter” about social change and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them,” conservatives didn’t hear dispassionate analysis. They heard contempt.

.. Among the terrible effects of negative polarization is the widespread perception — often created by presidents and presidential candidates themselves — that a president governs for the benefit of his constituents alone.

.. Indeed, in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorable” comment and her declaration that Republicans were her “enemies,” millions of conservatives were motivated to go to the polls. (Remember “charge the cockpit or die”?)

.. First, if you’re spending your time defending the notion that some countries are truly bad places to live, you’re missing the point entirely. Of course some countries are worse places to live than others. But Trump wasn’t talking about which countries he’d most like to visit or retire to. He was talking about which countries’ immigrants should be most and least welcomed by the United States.

.. Second, these comments must be understood in the context of Trump’s relatively short history as the country’s most visible political figure. From the opening moments of his presidential campaign, Trump has made sweeping, negative remarks about immigrants from third-world nations.

.. Even when he qualifies those remarks (“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”) the qualification is weak.

.. As my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out this morning, the president’s businesses have been credibly accused of racial discrimination, he claimed that an American judge couldn’t do his job fairly because of the judge’s Mexican heritage, he delayed condemning David Duke as long as he possibly could, and after the dreadful alt-right rally and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, he went out of his way to declare that there were “very fine people” on both sides. One doesn’t even have to delve too deeply into Trump’s alleged comparison of Norway with the “sh**holes” of Africa to understand why a reasonable observer would believe that he has problems with entire classes of Americans, immigrants, and citizens of other nations.

.. But it’s just as ridiculous for conservatives to pretend that the outrage over Trump’s comments truly centers around his assessment of Haiti and Africa when it clearly centers around his assessment of Haitians and Africans.

At this point I simply can’t see how a conservative could look a concerned third-world immigrant (or descendent of a third-world immigrant) in the eye and assert that this president judges them fairly and without bias. The intellectual and rhetorical gymnastics necessary to justify not just Trump’s alleged comments yesterday but his entire history and record of transparent hostility to certain immigrants are getting embarrassing to watch. Some of his comments may “work” politically — divisive comments often do — but that doesn’t make them any less damaging to American political culture as a whole.

‘The Lowest White Man’

Trump is not committed to that wall on principle. He is committed only to looking good as a result of whatever comes of it. Mexico is nevergoing to pay for it, and he knows it. He has always known it. That was just another lie. Someone must have stuck the phrases “chain migration” and “diversity lottery” into his brain — easy buzzwords, you see — and he can now rail against those ideas for applause lines.

But he is completely malleable on actual immigration policy. He doesn’t have the stamina for that much reading. Learning about immigration would require reading more words than would fit on a television news chyron.

.. If Donald Trump follows through with what he said during that meeting, his base will once again be betrayed. He will have proved once again that he was saying anything to keep them angry, even telling lies.

.. And once again, they won’t care.

.. That is because Trump is man-as-message, man-as-messiah. Trump support isn’t philosophical but theological.

.. when Alabama called a constitutional convention in 1901, Emmet O’Neal, who later became governor, argued that the state should “lay deep and strong and permanent in the fundamental law of the state the foundation of white supremacy forever in Alabama,”
.. In his essay “Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880,” W.E.B. Du Bois discussed why poor whites didn’t make common cause with poor blacks and slaves but instead prized their roles as overseers and slave catchers, eagerly joining the Klan. This fed the white man’s “vanity because it associated him with the masters,” Du Bois wrote.

.. If he had any ambition at all it was to become a planter and to own ‘niggers.’ To these Negroes he transferred all the dislike and hatred which he had for the whole slave system. The result was that the system was held stable and intact by the poor white.

Trump’s accidental moment of truth

Progress in many areas where the parties could work together is being blocked because of the need for Trump and the Republican Party to kowtow to conservative ultras.

.. It was ironic that hours after Trump’s triple axel on the question, Judge William Alsup halted the president’s original effort to end DACA by citing Trump’s own words to make the case against him.

“Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?” Trump had said in September. Well, the other Trump seemed to want to do just that.

.. Trump is also stuck with his promise to build the border wall despite the fact that a USA Today survey of Congress last fallfound that fewer than 25 percent of Republicans were willing to endorse the plan. But the wall is all about his brand.

.. The cost of extremism is obvious on other matters as well. The Children’s Health Insurance Program is a genuinely bipartisan achievement that, at low cost, gets health care to 9 million young Americans. But the renewal is hung up because House Republicans are demanding that it be paid for by cutting Obamacare spending on various preventive-care measures. Really? Since when is prevention a partisan issue?

 

Trump proves he is a parrot

he has shown himself to be swayed with remarkable ease: He said he was rethinking his position on Obamacare after a post-election talk with President Obama, revised his views on NATO after speaking with Europeans, softened his views on China after a chin-wag with the Chinese, shifted on NAFTA after talking with the Mexicans and switched his budget views after hearing from Chuck and Nancy.

.. This raises the tantalizing prospect that Trump could be a better president if he were not surrounded by the likes of Stephen Miller, as well as the alarming possibility that he could be even worse if the last voice he heard before making a decision were that of, say, Vladimir Putin, or Alex Jones

.. But this all depends on what is going on in Trump’s head when he repeats the last words he hears: Is he actually internalizing the views, or is he merely echoing? Is he a chameleon or a parrot?

.. Clearly, Trump is merely echoing, not embracing, the words he hears. No mind could possibly assimilate as many diametrically opposed ideas as Trump’s appeared to in those 55 minutes.

.. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told Trump that DACA legislation to protect immigrant “dreamers” had to be done “in a matter of days — literally of days,” referring to a Jan. 19 budget deadline.

Replied Trump: “I agree with that, Dick. I very much agree with that.”

A few minutes later, Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) took exactly the opposite view, suggesting that DACA action could wait until March and that instead there had to be an immediate Pentagon budget increase: “Those who need us right now before the January 19 deadline is our military.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), paddled Trump back the other way, saying more military spending would have to be accompanied by similar hikes for domestic programs such as infrastructure.

Replied Trump: “I think we can do a great infrastructure bill.”

This was fun!

Minutes after Hoyer invoked the phrase “comprehensive immigration reform” — a phrase hard-liners see as code for “amnesty” — Trump was using the phrase, too.

When you talk about comprehensive immigration reform,” Trump said (after Sen. Lindsey Graham, a GOP maverick, had also floated the idea), “which is where I would like to get to eventually — if we do the right bill here, we are not very far way.

.. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) both said border security and a solution to “chain migration” — a conservative priority — must be included in the DACA bill. Trump readily agreed.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) proposed the opposite, a “clean DACA bill” — that is, without border security and chain migration — before taking up a comprehensive overhaul, and Trump said, “I would like to do that.”

McCarthy, alarmed, swatted Trump back in the other direction. He reiterated that the DACA bill should include border security and chain migration.

Trump agreed with this, too. “And the lottery,” he added, tossing in another conservative priority about making immigration merit-based.

Back and forth Trump bounced.

One moment he appeared to agree with Perdue that the DACA bill would include the conservatives’ chain-migration plan. The next moment he appeared to confirm to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that the DACA legislation would not be paired with that provision.