Trump hell-bent on ‘own­ing the libs’

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - COMMENTARY - By Jonah Gold­berg

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is look­ing into giv­ing a free trip to San Fran­cisco, New Or­leans or other great Amer­i­can cities to tens of thou­sands of refugees from Cen­tral Amer­ica. All so he can own the libs.

“Own­ing the libs” is one of those phrases to have emerged over the last few years that vac­il­lates be­tween earnest­ness and irony. For peo­ple who use it earnestly, it means to do some­thing, usu­ally sym­bolic and petty, that in­fu­ri­ates lib­er­als out of pro­por­tion to the deed to make fools of them. For in­stance, wear­ing a MAGA hat to a fem­i­nist po­etry read­ing at a co-op book­store in Berke­ley. It’s a form of tak­ing the cul­ture war to the en­emy.

The ironic form of the phrase is to en­gage in un­wit­ting self-sab­o­tage while mak­ing a po­lit­i­cal point. When proTrump in­ter­net troll and con­spir­acy the­o­rist Jack Poso­biec (now a “cor­re­spon­dent” at One Amer­ica News) had his wed­ding re­hearsal din­ner catered by Papa John’s Pizza — then un­pop­u­lar with the libs — that was some right­eous lib-ow­nage. Hence one Twit­ter user’s re­sponse to Mr. Poso­biec’s cater­ing choices: “Eat­ing horrible pizza at my wed­ding to own the libs.”

There’s even a Twit­ter ac­count called “Own The Libs Bot” (@OwnTheLib­sBot) that churns out made-up but of­ten all-too-plau­si­ble ex­am­ples of ironic li­bown­ing: “De­fend­ing ped­erasty to own the libs.” “Get­ting a Con­fed­er­ate flag face tat­too to own the libs.”

Much of Mr. Trump’s pop­ulist ap­peal stems from his will­ing­ness to go out of his way to own the libs.

Give the pres­i­dent credit: He is a kind of sa­vant at the genre, par­tic­u­larly in his pre­ferred métier of Twit­ter. Tweet­ing footage of the 9/11 at­tacks while crit­i­ciz­ing Rep. Il­han Omar, the Min­nesota Demo­crat, last week is a good ex­am­ple, but his Colin Kaeper­nick tweets and calls to re­voke me­dia broad­cast li­censes are part of the canon. His de­fend­ers think this stuff is bril­liant be­cause it keeps the base riled up and, al­legedly, pro­duces gal­lons of de­li­cious lib­eral tears. When you point out that such tweets of­fend more vot­ers than they at­tract, “Shut up,” they ex­plain.

But no lib-own­ing tweet can hold a can­dle to Mr. Trump’s an­nounce­ment over the week­end that he is con­sid­er­ing bus­ing thou­sands of refugees to “sanc­tu­ary cities.”

Many con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tors have cel­e­brated this tri­umph of li­bown­ing, even as they con­cede in mum­bled par­en­thet­i­cals that it won’t ac­tu­ally hap­pen — not least be­cause it’s al­most cer­tainly il­le­gal without con­gres­sional au­tho­riza­tion, which will never ma­te­ri­al­ize. But some con­ser­va­tives con­tinue to de­fend Mr. Trump’s the­atrics on the grounds that peo­ple should take him se­ri­ously but not lit­er­ally. But taken ei­ther way, the idea is nut­tier than a squir­rel’s pre­ferred last meal.

Stem­ming il­le­gal (and some­times legal) im­mi­gra­tion is the pres­i­dent’s signature is­sue. Mov­ing the thou­sands of refugees cur­rently in de­ten­tion to sanc­tu­ary cities is lit­er­ally achiev­ing the op­po­site of his goal.

More­over, the rea­son there’s a refugee cri­sis at the bor­der is that des­per­ate Cen­tral Amer­i­cans be­lieve this is their now-or-never mo­ment to get asy­lum in the United States. What will hap­pen when video of buses de­posit­ing refugees in Colorado, Ver­mont or Ore­gon is broad­cast across South Amer­ica?

Mr. Trump keeps as­sert­ing that these refugees are an army of in­vad­ing mur­der­ers, rapists and drug deal­ers — and ap­par­ently he thinks most Amer­i­cans be­lieve him. So of course, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other San Fran­cisco lib­er­als must be ter­ri­fied that the pres­i­dent has called their bluff.

The thing is, most im­mi­grants who are in the United States il­le­gally end up go­ing to these very lo­cal­i­ties. Sixty per­cent of them re­side in just 20 metro ar­eas, most of which have adopted sanc­tu­ary poli­cies and lim­ited their co­op­er­a­tion with im­mi­gra­tion enforcemen­t. In other words, Mr. Trump is propos­ing ful­fill­ing the fi­nal leg of the travel plans of ev­ery car­a­van work­ing its way through Mex­ico.

Dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, Mr. Trump made Kate Steinle, the San Fran­cisco woman who was trag­i­cally shot and killed by a man who’d been pre­vi­ously de­ported five times, into a mar­tyr for his cause. Mr. Trump’s logic sug­gests we need more Kate Stein­les to own the libs.

Mr. Trump’s trolling could pay off if some Democrats — say, Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez of New York — call on Ms. Pelosi and Congress to take the pres­i­dent up on his of­fer. Then, Mr. Trump could say, “See! The Democrats re­ally do want open bor­ders!”

That such a sce­nario is not unimag­in­able is fur­ther proof that our politics can al­ways get dum­ber.

Jonah Gold­berg is a fel­low at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute and a senior ed­i­tor of Na­tional Re­view. His lat­est book is “The Sui­cide of the West.” Email: gold­bergcol­[email protected]; Twit­ter: @Jon­ahNRO.

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