Most weeks, New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich speaks with contributor Alex Carp about the biggest stories in politics and culture. Today: Donald Trump’s DACA decision, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, and Harvey recovery.
Administration officials worry that President Trump, reportedly looking for “a way out” of making a tough decision on DACA by kicking it to Congress, “might not fully grasp” what the end of the program could bring. This Congress has so far failed at all attempts to pass major legislation — is there a chance they can fix the program on Trump’s six-month deadline?
Trump’s “way out” on DACA was to send it to the Dead Letter Office, otherwise known as the GOP-majority Congress, which couldn’t even deliver on its signature seven-year-plus crusade to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Trump’s additional “way out” was to delegate the public announcement of his egregious decision to Jeff Sessions, who then refused to take questions from the press. Our president knows one meaning of the word pussy. His own cowardice exemplifies another.
The Times reported that “aides have portrayed [DACA] as a difficult emotional decision for the president.” No doubt aides worked hard to portray it that way, but that hardly means Trump actually felt that way. He no more grasps DACA than any other issue that intrudes on his Fox News binge-watching in the White House. But apparently the political crisis his decision created — as measured by polls, demonstrations, corporate outrage, and (selective) opposition in his own party — dawned on him late yesterday when he tweeted that he might “revisit” the issue in six months. That he thinks a 140-character stab at damage control could contain this fiasco is yet another example of the bubble of ignorance and self-delusion he lives in.
Trump’s talk about having “great heart” and “love” for the Dreamers is equally bogus. His attitude toward immigrants, as measured by his actions, is uniformly bigoted: the pardoning of former sheriff Joe Arpaio, the brutal Bull Connor of xenophobia, was the policy prelude to this week. Sessions was the perfect mouthpiece for ending DACA because of his own past abetting Jim Crow as a U.S. Attorney in the same state where Connor reigned, Alabama, in the 1980s — a past he slipped away from during his confirmation hearings. Yesterday Sessions condemned DACA as an “unconstitutional exercise of authority.” It’s not. But Sessions’s language is a throwback to the invocations of unconstitutionality that Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan used to try to derail the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (A similar argument tripped up Rand Paul in his ill-fated presidential campaign.)
Jennifer Rubin, arguably the most rousing of the conservative Republican pundits turned anti-Trumpers, put it this way in the Washington Post this week: “The party of Lincoln has become the party of Charlottesville, Arpaio, DACA repeal and the Muslim ban. Embodying the very worst sentiments and driven by irrational anger, it deserves not defense but extinction.” My only quarrel would be with the words “has become” — the GOP has been this party for some time, the fruits of the “Southern strategy” hatched by Richard Nixon in the late 1960s. Let’s not forget that it was Reagan who launched his 1980 presidential campaign by speaking on behalf of “states’ rights” near Philadelphia, Mississippi, where civil-rights workers had been slaughtered in 1964 — and who nominated Sessions to the Federal bench in 1986.
The only way DACA can be saved now is if Republicans in Congress have the guts to do so — and do so on top of their mountain of unfinished business (passing a budget, extending the debt ceiling, Harvey relief, etc. etc.). The odds hardly look great, and Trump hasn’t even specified what DACA bill he would sign. Meanwhile, the White House’s larger war on undocumented immigrants, sanctuary cities, and the rest, besides being a moral and humanitarian scourge, is also going to create practical havoc in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. As one undocumented immigrant in Houston, a carpenter from El Salvador named Samuel Enríquez, told the Post this week: “If they deport all of us, who will rebuild? We do more for less.” According to the Pew Research Center, the Houston metropolitan area has the third-largest undocumented population in the U.S. (575,000) closely followed by the area now in the path of Hurricane Irma, Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Palm Beach County (450,000). More than a quarter of all government-paid recovery jobs after Hurricane Katrina went to illegal immigrants, according to the Post. Good luck rebuilding Houston and possibly southern Florida during a Trump administration.
After its test last weekend, North Korea has seemingly joined the world’s “thermonuclear club,” unchastened by Trump’s threats and the “red line” warnings he’s posted on Twitter. Where does this escalation end?
I don’t know and neither does anyone else. In Kim Jong-un, we are dealing with a madman even more frightening than our own. Ours has no plan whatsoever, as manifested by his choosing this moment to threaten a trade war with South Korea, the ally we need most in the region. As for Trump’s threats to North Korea, they are “fire and fury” signifying nothing and accomplishing nothing beyond spending down whatever credibility abroad he has left. This week’s tweeted threat that the U.S. might stop “all trade with any country doing business with North Korea” was embarrassingly stupid or ignorant (your pick) given that among those who do business with North Korea are Germany, Saudi Arabia, and America’s own biggest trading partner, China. The world economy would go into a tailspin.
That the Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, was the public spokesman for that limp threat is another indication of what a useless tool he is. He will be no better at squiring this year’s impending economic legislation — tax reform (a.k.a. tax cuts) and managing the debt ceiling are both in his charge — than he is at managing his wife Louise Linton’s Instagram account. What mainly seems to be standing between Trump and a Korean apocalypse are his secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, and his chief of staff, John Kelly. When and if they bolt, the fallout on America, literal or figurative, could be severe.
It took Trump two trips to Texas to meet any Hurricane Harvey survivors, his EPA responded to criticism of recovery efforts by attacking an AP reporter by name, and a notoriously anti-bureaucracy state is now in dire need of federal aid. What will be the lasting legacy of this storm?
The lasting irony will be that it occurred when an American president and the collaborators in his party were engaged in full-scale climate-change denial, turning that toxic ignorance into actual governmental policy, as exemplified by the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris accord. Harvey’s lasting legacy will be that it proved the hypocrisy of Texas Republicans, led by Ted Cruz, who refused to support disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy but now want the Treasury to open the spigots for their own state. This hypocrisy may soon have a second wave if Irma should devastate Puerto Rico and Florida.
If the storm does strike Palm Beach, no doubt Trump will follow Joel Osteen’s Christian example and open Mar-a-Lago to displaced storm victims only if shamed into it. And maybe not even then. There’s no reason to believe that he has written or ever will write that $1 million personal check he pledged to aid the displaced in Houston. Given that he judged the families he met at a Hurricane Harvey shelter as “happy,” Trump may regard his visit to Texas as reward enough.