Trump can’t ‘soften’ big­otry

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Eugene Robin­son

— Don­ald Trump’s di­a­tribe on im­mi­gra­tion Wed­nes­day night dis­pelled any con­ceiv­able doubt: He is a dan­ger­ous dem­a­gogue who re­jects the val­ues of open­ness and in­clu­sion that made this coun­try great. Rarely has an Amer­i­can politi­cian given such an un-Amer­i­can speech.

For­eign­ers who come here seek­ing a bet­ter life are the scape­goats he blames for prob­lems real and imag­ined. Never mind that Trump’s mother was an im­mi­grant, or that two of his three wives came from over­seas. Ron­ald Rea­gan saw this coun­try as a shining city on a hill; Trump wants us to cower in fear be­hind a Ber­lin-style wall.

WASH­ING­TON

Rea­gan in­vited mil­lions of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants to stay and con­trib­ute to their adopted land; Trump wants to round them up, all 11 mil­lion, and ship them home.

That’s what he wants his loyal fol­low­ers to be­lieve, at least. Like any ef­fec­tive dem­a­gogue, Trump is flu­ent in dou­ble­s­peak.

At one point, to thun­der­ous ap­plause, he said this: “For those here il­le­gally to­day, who are seek­ing le­gal sta­tus, they will have one route and one route only: To re­turn home and ap­ply for re-en­try like ev­ery­body else, un­der the rules of the new le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that I have out­lined.”

A few sen­tences later, though, he ap­peared to take it back. Only af­ter he has built the Great Wall of Trump on the South­ern bor­der, which isn’t go­ing to hap­pen, and con­vinced Congress to ap­prove a whole new im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem, which also isn’t go­ing to hap­pen — only then, he said, “will we be in a po­si­tion to con­sider the ap­pro­pri­ate dis­po­si­tion of those in­di­vid­u­als who re­main.”

See what he’s try­ing to do? He al­lows lis­ten­ers to be­lieve what­ever they want about his true in­ten­tions. Xeno­phobes can dream of mobs wield­ing pitch­forks and torches; while apol­o­gists can as­sure mod­er­ate vot­ers that Trump doesn’t re­ally pro­pose a vast pogrom of eth­nic cleans­ing.

I choose to be­lieve the first ver­sion — that Trump is say­ing all 11 mil­lion have to go — be­cause the whole point of the speech was to con­vince his most fer­vent sup­port­ers that he is “hard­en­ing,” not “soft­en­ing,” his po­si­tion on im­mi­gra­tion. Fear and loathing of the “other” is his core ap­peal.

Trump also told us who would go first: up to two mil­lion un­doc­u­mented “crim­i­nals” and an­other 4.5 mil­lion in­di­vid­u­als who are here be­cause they over­stayed their visas. Also, any un­doc­u­mented per­son stopped by law en­force­ment for any rea­son would be de­tained pend­ing de­por­ta­tion. It is not alarmist to note that ac­tu­ally try­ing to do all of this would re­quire the cre­ation of a po­lice state.

Of course, that’s not what he in­tends — un­less you hap­pen to like the idea of a po­lice state, in which case it’s ex­actly what he in­tends. Pol­icy po­si­tions are just words to Trump, and words are just paving stones on the road to power.

Trump’s sup­port base is mostly white and work­ing­class, and he skill­fully ex­ploits these vot­ers’ fears of de­mo­graphic change. We must “be hon­est about the fact that not ev­ery­one who seeks to join our coun­try will be able to suc­cess­fully as­sim­i­late,” he said. “Some- times it’s just not go­ing to work out. It’s our right, as a sov­er­eign na­tion, to choose im­mi­grants that we think are the like­li­est to thrive and flour­ish and love us.” He warned omi­nously that “im­mi­gra­tion as a share of na­tional pop­u­la­tion is set to break all his­tor­i­cal records.”

Trans­la­tion: Doesn’t it tick you off to hear so many so-called Amer­i­cans speak­ing Span­ish?

Trump’s an­tipa­thy to­ward His­panic im­mi­grants, how­ever, is noth­ing com­pared to what he thinks about Mus­lims. He has changed his pro­posed Mus­lim ban into a coun­try-spe­cific ban — that hap­pens to cover only Mus­lim coun­tries. And he wants screen­ing to in­clude “an ide­o­log­i­cal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to make sure that those we are ad­mit­ting to our coun­try share our val­ues and love our peo­ple.”

Ide­o­log­i­cal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion? Ap­proved by whom, the thought po­lice?

Ear­lier in the day, Trump tried his best to sound sober and states­man­like in his meet­ing with Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto. By evening, though, he was back to in­sist­ing that Mexico would pay for the bor­der wall, al­though “they don’t know it yet.” And on Thurs­day morn­ing, Trump was again tout­ing a “soft­en­ing” in his im­mi­gra­tion views.

But you can’t soften big­otry. You can’t soften jin­go­ism. You can’t soften Trump’s naked ap­peal to anger and re­sent­ment. You can’t soften the fact that he re­jects Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism, which is based on creed, in fa­vor of trib­al­ism based on eth­nic pu­rity.

He can’t be Ge­orge Wal­lace one day and Thomas Jef­fer­son the next.

Eugene Robin­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at eu­gen­er­obin­son@ wash­post.com.

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