Why is Trump call­ing Pelosi an MS-13 lover?

The Mercury News Weekend - - OTHER VIEWS - By E. J. Dionne Jr. E. J. Dionne is a Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist.

WASH­ING­TON » By now, we know that Pres­i­dent Trump is a ly­ing dem­a­gogue. Since this is not said of­ten enough, he has been al­lowed to rou­tinize ly­ing and en­shrine the vilest forms of di­vi­sive­ness as a nor­mal part of our pol­i­tics.

The me­dia learned dur­ing Joe McCarthy’s hey­day that “We re­port the lies, you de­cide” is not a re­spon­si­ble ap­proach to jour­nal­ism. Trump’s egre­gious­ness re­quires ev­ery­one to take a re­fresher course in the les­son of McCarthy­ism.

But just call­ing out de­ceit is in­suf­fi­cient. It is es­sen­tial as well to un­der­stand why Trump tells par­tic­u­lar lies at par­tic­u­lar mo­ments. This is a pre­con­di­tion to turn­ing back the smears and the false­hoods.

Trump’s ad­dress Tues­day at a Nashville rally was a lol­la­palooza of de­cep­tion. Poli­ti­Fact raised doubts about 15 of his state­ments and flatly rated 10 of them as “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.”

“They don’t want the wall, they want open bor­ders,” Trump said of Democrats. “They’re more in­ter­ested in tak­ing care of crim­i­nals than they are in tak­ing care of you.”

He re­ferred to the House Demo­cratic leader as “the MS13 lover Nancy Pelosi,” link­ing her to the bru­tal gang. He even pumped up the crowd to shout out the term.

In fact, “open bor­ders” are sup­ported by no one but a hand­ful of lib­er­tar­i­ans. The “tak­ing care of crim­i­nals” line and the slan­der­ing of Pelosi have be­come so com­mon they are barely no­ticed. Repub­li­cans on the bal­lot this fall should be asked if they see Pelosi as an “MS-13 lover,” and if not, whether they will de­nounce Trump for say­ing such a thing. I am not hold­ing my breath.

Trump sig­naled clearly that the whole point of his screed was about the midterm elec­tions. Im­mi­gra­tion, he said, is “a good is­sue for us, not for them.”

Why im­mi­gra­tion? It’s not the cen­tral con­cern of most vot­ers. A Gallup sur­vey in May found that 10 per­cent of Amer­i­cans listed it as the most im­por­tant prob­lem fac­ing the coun­try. And in a re­cent CBS News poll, 59 per­cent of Amer­i­cans were against building Trump’s wall.

But, Trump and the Repub­li­cans aren’t fo­cused on the ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans. They are pet­ri­fied that their loy­al­ists aren’t very mo­ti­vated about vot­ing in Novem­ber.

Another May Gallup study found that just 26 per­cent of Amer­i­cans strongly ap­proved of Trump’s job per­for­mance, com­pared with 41 per­cent who strongly dis­ap­proved. Only Ge­orge W. Bush in 2006 (think: the Iraq War and Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina) and Richard Nixon in 1974 (think Water­gate scan­dal) ex­ceeded Trump’s level of strong dis­ap­proval. The midterm elec­tions in those years were dis­as­trous for the GOP.

Trump and his party want to screech loudly to get their side back into the game, and at­tack­ing im­mi­gra­tion is the sig­na­ture Trump talk­ing point. Vot­ers who listed im­mi­gra­tion as a mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor in 2016 backed him over Hil­lary Clin­ton by nearly 2-1.

Repub­li­can House can­di­dates are, ac­cord­ing to a USA Today study pub­lished Tues­day, “blan­ket­ing the air­waves with TV ads em­brac­ing a hard line on im­mi­gra­tion.” Health care was the topic most in­voked in Demo­cratic spots. Repub­li­cans seem to know that wedge is­sues are more use­ful to them than their record.

Po­lar­iza­tion de­fines Trump’s sur­vival strat­egy and it means that dem­a­goguery — to­ward im­mi­grants, to­ward crime, to­ward Robert Mueller’s probe, to­ward dis­sent­ing NFL play­ers — is what his pres­i­dency is all about.

What thus needs ex­pos­ing is that he de­pends upon the kinds of lies that will tear our coun­try to pieces.

ALEX WONG — GETTY IM­AGES

Repub­li­cans on the bal­lot this fall should be asked whether they see Nancy Pelosi as an “MS-13lover,” and if not, whether they’ll de­nounce Trump for say­ing it.

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