Opinion

The grand failure of Trump's depraved hostage strategy

Holding innocent children as political hostages made millions of Trump's opponents sick. But they refused to bow to his demands.

America is being run not by a president, but a mafia boss whose preferred negotiation strategy is hostage taking.

Nothing illustrates this better than President Trump's handling of the immigration crisis that has resulted in the revolting spectacle of border patrol agents ripping wailing toddlers from the arms of migrant parents and putting them in cages until Trump's immigration demands are met. More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents in just six weeks. If you have any lingering doubt about just how heartbreaking and monstrous this is, just listen to this audio of separated children obtained by ProPublica.

In some ways, we shouldn't be surprised. Trump ran the most blatantly nativist presidential campaign in modern American history. That, along with his combative style, virtually guaranteed that he would play hardball to push his ultra-restrictionist agenda through Congress.

Still, no one really imagined the lengths to which he would be prepared to go. But maybe we should have foreseen these tactics. We have long known that Trump loves to take hostages.

We saw it last fall when Trump first took the DREAMers (or people brought illegally to the U.S. as children) hostage. Trump unilaterally set a six-month ticking clock on the Obama-era DACA program, which handed a temporary reprieve from deportation to DREAMers, and threatened that he would deport them without congressional action by the time that clock expired.

In exchange for legalizing the DREAMers, the president demanded $25 billion for the Great Wall of Trump, mandatory E-verify for employers, and a 40 percent cut in legal family-based immigration. Oh, and he wanted to criminally prosecute those claiming asylum who filed "false" claims and lowered the bar for what counts as "false" so that the majority would land in a federal penitentiary rather than the safe haven they were seeking.

The courts spoiled Trump's ransom scheme by preventing him from ending DACA. So Trump moved on to taking little kids hostage to put pressure on Congress to capitulate to his hideous agenda. On Wednesday, he finally backed down and reluctantly promised to reverse his administration's family separation policy — but only after several days of relentless bipartisan — and even global — pressure.

Before he backed down, Trump tried to pin the blame for his border separation polices on "bad laws that Democrats gave us" that "require us to break up families." He repeated this claim many times. It was, and always has been, a lie. This was a practice of the Trump administration's own choosing. Without getting into all the legislative and procedural intricacies, the administration basically set up traps for asylum-seeking parents so that it could charge them like criminals and take away their kids.

Why do this? The administration's calculation in snatching kids is that it would make opponents so sick to their stomachs that they would do anything to procure their release. In some ways, it worked. Holding innocent children as political hostages did make millions of Trump's opponents sick. But where Trump miscalculated was in assuming that his detractors would then bow to his demands. Instead, they fought him publicly and ferociously. And he was the one who inevitably caved.

Supporters of Trump's policy argued that separating kids was necessary because their parents were using them as chips to gain entrance into the United States. But parents don't just pack up home and hearth and undertake a dangerous journey just for the heck of it. They were fleeing violence and trying to bring their kids to safety. In fact, it was the administration using these kids as bargaining chips to try and ramrod a draconian immigration agenda through Congress.

In holding children hostage, the Trump administration was counting on opponents' humanity while showing none itself. This is the logic of organized gangsters. It is a good thing that the country has returned from the moral brink. But it should never have gotten so close to the edge in the first place.

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