Tele­vised ad­dress to fur­ther agenda

The Daily Courier - - OPINION -

From Jan. 8, The New York Times on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s first Oval Of­fice ad­dress and his bor­der poli­cies:

How fit­ting is it Pres­i­dent Trump’s first Oval Of­fice ad­dress, which he re­quested be tele­vised live in prime time by ev­ery ma­jor net­work, was aimed at stir­ring up the Amer­i­can pub­lic about a cri­sis largely of his own mak­ing?

Not that the bor­der cri­sis is one of Mr. Trump’s self-serv­ing po­lit­i­cal fic­tions — like the deep state or wide­spread voter fraud. It may have started out that way, but the sit­u­a­tion has, with the pres­i­dent’s nur­tur­ing, be­come some­thing far more tragic.

Pur­su­ing poorly thought-out and even more poorly ex­e­cuted poli­cies on the pre­text of bat­tling a nonex­is­tent na­tional se­cu­rity cri­sis, Mr. Trump has helped cre­ate a press­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian one. Des­per­ate mi­grant fam­i­lies be­ing de­tained en masse at the bor­der are over­whelm­ing a sys­tem pushed be­yond its lim­its by an ad­min­is­tra­tion that chose to ig­nore the im­pli­ca­tions of its ac­tions — over­crowd­ing, chil­dren fall­ing gravely ill and, para­dox­i­cally, the hap­haz­ard re­lease of throngs of de­tainees into bor­der com­mu­ni­ties stretch­ing from Cal­i­for­nia to Texas.

Mr. Trump is now in­vok­ing the ur­gency of the sit­u­a­tion as a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for pur­su­ing more waste­ful, hard-line mea­sures that most Amer­i­cans do not sup­port, chiefly the lu­di­crous bor­der wall over which he has shut down crit­i­cal pieces of the gov­ern­ment. The pres­i­dent and his en­ablers have been busily knit­ting to­gether in­ac­cu­rate data, mislead­ing anecdotes, ex­ag­ger­a­tions and other “al­ter­na­tive facts” about the flow of crim­i­nals, drugs and ter­ror­ists across the south­ern bor­der. He seems to hope he can paint a dystopian land­scape of se­cu­rity threats and hu­man suf­fer­ing so dire that the Amer­i­can peo­ple will rally to his side and pres­sure con­gres­sional Democrats to suc­cumb to his de­mands for a tow­er­ing wall — prefer­ably con­crete, but at this point, it seems, steel will suf­fice.

Fail­ing that, Mr. Trump has also been float­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of stiff-arm­ing Con­gress al­to­gether. With his ad­vis­ers in­creas­ingly anx­ious that Repub­li­can law­mak­ers are poised to aban­don them on the shut­down, the pres­i­dent has raised the threat of declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency, which he thinks would al­low him to com­mand the Pen­tagon to build his wall.

Such a move would prompt a swift and fu­ri­ous le­gal chal­lenge, if not a full-blown con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis, that could drag on in­def­i­nitely. It would, how­ever, also give Mr. Trump a way to reach a wall-free fund­ing deal with Con­gress without los­ing face, thus weasel­ing out of the shut­down box into which he has nailed him­self.

The bor­der wall be­gan life as an ap­plause line at Mr. Trump’s ral­lies, and it has en­dured as the rare — per­haps even sole — pol­icy ob­jec­tive that ac­tu­ally mat­ters to him.

The sub­stance of true bor­der se­cu­rity may not in­ter­est him much, but this sym­bol sure does.

While Mr. Trump proved a wily cam­paigner and po­lit­i­cal street fighter, as pres­i­dent he has been painfully out of his el­e­ment.

Two years in, he re­mains ill suited to the com­pli­cated, thank­less, of­ten grind­ing work of lead­ing the na­tion. Gov­er­nance clearly bores him, as do pol­icy de­tails both for­eign and do­mes­tic.

He has proved a poor judge of tal­ent. He prefers grand­stand­ing to ne­go­ti­at­ing, and he con­tin­ues to have trou­ble with the whole con­cept of checks and bal­ances.

While the Repub­li­can base re­mains en­am­oured of him, most of the elec­torate has grown weary of his out­rages and an­tics.

Which is why, with his wall on the line, Mr. Trump so des­per­ately needs to con­vince the Amer­i­can peo­ple that they are fac­ing an acute cri­sis — maybe even a bona fide emer­gency.

In times of trou­ble, an anx­ious pub­lic looks to its lead­ers, and the abil­ity to tele­graph strength, de­ci­sive­ness and cer­ti­tude as­sumes greater value than in pe­ri­ods of calm and pros­per­ity.

Cir­cle-the-wag­ons pa­tri­o­tism, maybe even a lit­tle jin­go­ism, be­comes more ap­peal­ing.

Peo­ple long to feel pro­tected.

With his dem­a­gogy, Mr. Trump man­aged to fuel a sense of in­se­cu­rity and un­ease through­out his cam­paign, along with the idea that he alone could Make Amer­ica Great Again.

In of­fice, he has at­tempted to per­pet­u­ate that angst by pro­claim­ing ex­is­ten­tial threats to the Repub­lic, be they mi­grant car­a­vans storm­ing the bor­der, Mus­lim ter­ror­ists flood­ing air­ports or vi­o­lent im­mi­grants roam­ing the coun­try­side. Shut­ting down the gov­ern­ment is only the most re­cent ef­fort at get­ting what he wants by trau­ma­tiz­ing the na­tion he has sworn to serve.

Were Mr. Trump truly in­ter­ested in se­cur­ing the bor­der, and eas­ing the suf­fer­ing his poli­cies are mak­ing worse, there are im­me­di­ate steps he could take. For starters, he could end this wretched shut­down so that the peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing the bor­der can get paid, im­mi­gra­tion judges can re­turn to pro­cess­ing asy­lum claims and, yes, the phys­i­cal and vir­tual bar­ri­ers al­ready in place can be main­tained and per­haps even im­proved.

Be­yond that, he would need to ease up on the my-way-or-the-high­way swag­ger and sit down for a real dis­cus­sion with law­mak­ers about how to ad­dress the deep dys­func­tion of this na­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem.

None of which would be as sen­sa­tional as grab­bing some prime-time air­time.

It would, how­ever, be a sign that the pres­i­dent is at last get­ting se­ri­ous about im­mi­gra­tion con­cerns he has thus far done noth­ing but ex­ac­er­bate.

The As­so­ci­ated Press

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tours the U.S. bor­der with Mex­ico at the Rio Grande on the south­ern bor­der in McAllen, Texas, last Thurs­day.

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