migrant caravan

Trump’s November Non-Surprise: Nativist Panic

In Trump’s preelection video, Democrats are deliberately destroying the country, utilizing criminal “aliens.” Photo: Screenshot via Twitter

The president’s steadily increasing campaign to make a “caravan” of Central American refugees slowly making their way through Mexico a big pre-midterm deal suddenly metastasized today, as Trump delivered a speech (if that’s the right term for frequently incoherent remarks that were often just slogans strung loosely together) from the White House treating the development as a “crisis” deliberately generated by Democrats and requiring a military response. It was apparently part of a one-two punch launched earlier today when Trump issued a tweet accompanied by a new, scurrilous campaign video identifying asylum-seekers and Democrats with cop-killers. But it had its own startling moments, from the suggestion that the president had the power unilaterally to change the laws governing asylum procedures to the promise of violence:

The whole “caravan” meme has been embarrassingly obvious as part of Trump’s transparent midterm strategy of getting his nativist base riled up into a hate-rage. But the lengths to which the president has gone in promoting this twisted fantasy are amazing. As Lucian Truscott IV pointed out, this is a “fake invasion” of a few thousand unarmed people — mostly women and children — who may never get to the U.S. border, and who have broken no laws, but will nonetheless be used to justify a larger troop deployment than the U.S. made in response to 9/11. All Trump’s warlike rhetoric seems wildly off base:

In fact, this is no surprise at all. It’s simply an intensification of the rhetoric of “alien” invasion that Trump has been using since he first decided to run for president, and another example of the flirting-with-authoritarianism “remedies” he reaches for whenever he chooses to make a gesture against racial and cultural threats to Fortress America. Once again, he’s the no-nonsense “Faithful Patriot” (the official monniker for his troop deployment) who won’t let constitutional or legal or moral niceties stand in the way of what’s necessary to protect Americans from the swarthy murderers and rapists and terrorists pouring over our borders, as deliberately planned by Democrats who want to “give them free health care, free welfare, free education, and the right to vote.”

If Trump’s regular nativist thematics are like the low rumbling of an engine that endlessly idles, this latest nativist explosion is like that engine being revved up into a high-pitched chattering whine, encouraging near panic as a stimulant to participation in the midterms. Had the “caravan” not existed, or had it been too small to blow up into a old white man’s nightmare, one suspects some other symbol of impending national disaster (one not attributable, of course, to current management) would have been contrived. And perhaps the most cynical part of the whole exercise was Trump’s accurate expectation that the mainstream news media, his favorite punching bag, would faithfully carry and cover his pithy remarks on the “immigration crisis,” even though it was clearly a preelection shuck loaded with disinformation. He may have even pushed them too far for his own good:

If it works and Republicans do better than expected on November 6, you know Trump will take credit and the cycle of cynical demagoguery about The Border will get even worse. As Paul Waldman has pointed out, there’s no telling what the president would be willing to do in the pursuit of his own reelection, with the full resources of the federal government at his disposal:

What will he do? It’s hard to tell this far in advance, but we’ve seen over and over again that Trump believes playing to his base — and making it as angry and fearful as possible — is the only way for him to win. That means heightening divisions, playing up xenophobia and appealing to white racial resentments.

It will have to be big and dramatic, in a way that’s impossible for voters to ignore. It will probably be profoundly anti-democratic, in a way guaranteed to generate outrage not just from Democrats but also from the news media and anyone else Trump can characterize as the “elite.” That way Trump will be able to pose as the rebel taking on powerful forces in the service of his regular-guy supporters.

If the latest travesty is, in fact, just a dress rehearsal for what Trump and his party might do when their entire grip on power is at stake, Lord help us all.

Trump’s November Non-Surprise: Nativist Panic