In a wide-ranging New York Times report on President Trump’s harsh immigration policy published Saturday, one anecdote stands out amid all the big-picture nativism. As the paper sets the scene, Trump had been particularly incensed on a June day after being handed a list of how many foreigners had obtained visas to enter the U.S. in 2017:
Haiti had sent 15,000 people. They “all have AIDS,” he grumbled, according to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by a different person who was there.
Forty thousand had come from Nigeria, Mr. Trump added. Once they had seen the United States, they would never “go back to their huts” in Africa, recalled the two officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive conversation in the Oval Office.
The Times reports that the two anonymous officials who relayed these accounts “found them so noteworthy that they related them to others at the time,” but that other officials present did not recall President Trump using the words “AIDS” or “huts.”
The White House did not dispute the thrust of the conversation in question, but said Trump had not used such language. In an official statement, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that “General Kelly, General McMaster, Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Nielsen and all other senior staff actually in the meeting deny these outrageous claims. It’s both sad and telling The New York Times would print the lies of their anonymous ‘sources’ anyway.”
But the Trump administration lacks credibility in this arena, and not just because of its constant lying. As the article notes, fear and disgust of outsiders has animated Trump for decades; unlike, say, his position on abortion, bigotry has been one of his consistent traits since he entered public life. Among many, many other examples, Trump has demanded the death penalty for the Central Park Five and failed to change his opinion even when they were proven innocent; called Mexicans rapists on the first day of his presidential campaign; defended neo-Nazis; and, of course, advanced a conspiracy theory about the first black president for years.
So even if the comments reported on Saturday go one step beyond what Trump might say in public (and it’s a small step), they certainly feel like a plausible representation of the man 63 million Americans voted for — the man whose xenophobia has made America more closed off to the world than it has been in generations.