Trump: The impact of his immigration rhetoric
“A really exceptional work of obscenity, like a really exceptional work of beauty, exceeds the ability of its viewers to fathom what they just saw,” said Graeme Wood in TheAtlantic.com. And the photo of a grinning President Trump flashing a thumbs-up while standing next to a baby orphaned in the El Paso mass shooting is truly, exceptionally obscene. Two-month-old Paul Anchondo, whose parents both died shielding him from a white nativist hunting Mexicans with a military-style rifle, was actually brought back to the hospital Trump was visiting because five wounded adult survivors refused to meet with our anti-immigrant president. So, the White House conscripted a powerless infant as a prop in a photo op. Words fail. “Ghoulish and surreal might serve,” said Dahlia Lithwick in Slate.com. The child’s parents are dead because a white nationalist “spouting Trumpist talking points about ‘foreign invaders’” took that racist rhetoric seriously. If Trump were a normal man, let alone a normal president, he would have been somber when meeting that orphaned child, and moved to compassion and critical self-reflection. But not our reality-TV president. All he cares about is getting attention and credit, so he turned that fraught encounter into another opportunity to preen and mug for the camera. “It took a tiny baby to reveal how small Donald Trump really is.”
Enough with the “phony outrage,” said David Catron in Spectator.org. The baby’s uncle Tito—who is in the photo with his arm around the president—is a self-described Trump supporter who brought the baby to the hospital voluntarily. Liberals went “berserk” because the photo undercuts their narrative that Trump is “a Mexican-hating racist” who caused the El Paso massacre with his tough talk against illegal immigration. “If Trump is responsible for El Paso, then Democrats are responsible for Dayton,” said Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post. The Dayton shooter labeled himself a “leftist,” voiced support for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and echoed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s rhetoric about how immigrant detention centers are “concentration camps.” Of course, it would be ridiculous to blame these Democrats “for the actions of a madman.” The same is true of Trump.
That comparison is “idiotic,” said Bret Stephens in The New York Times. The Dayton shooter had been obsessed with mass shootings for years, and his victims included six black people and his own sister. They “did not fit any political or ethnic profile.” The El Paso shooter’s mostly Hispanic victims, however, “were the objects of his expressly stated political rage.” The Right’s attempt to equate the Dayton and El Paso murderers “is a transparently self-serving effort to absolve the president of moral responsibility.” Like the shooter, Trump uses the word “invasion” to describe immigration, invoking the word in more than 2,000 campaign ads. When Trump asked, “How do you stop these people?” at a rally in Florida earlier this year, someone in the crowd shouted “Shoot them!” The mob cheered and Trump grinned. We’re told to take Trump seriously, but not literally. The El Paso shooter, it seems, “didn’t get that memo.”
Some of Trump’s immigration rhetoric is “crude and inflammatory,” said Rich Lowry in the New York Post, and he shouldn’t use the word “invasion.” But he’s never said anything to “justify indiscriminately shooting people.” The president’s actual immigration position is that we should protect the southern border with a wall while reforming asylum rules. That’s in “a different moral universe” from the shooter’s belief in murdering immigrants. But the Left wants to use the overlap between the shooter’s words and Trump’s to invalidate his entire immigration agenda.
“We will likely never know how much the El Paso shooter was influenced by rhetoric like Trump’s,” said Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux in FiveThirtyEight.com. But we do know that Latinos “have become more insecure and fearful about their place in the country.” A recent Pew survey found that more than half of Hispanics say their lives have become more difficult since Trump was elected. As an immigrant from Brazil, said Fernanda Santos in The New York Times, “I felt safe in America”—until recently. That has changed under Trump, even though I am a naturalized citizen. Shortly after the election, a man screamed at me to “Speak English!” while I was on the phone outside a coffee shop. I started carrying my passport card in my wallet just in case. But I know that a piece of paper can’t truly protect me, or my mixed-race daughter, because we have brown skin, which now makes us “invaders.” For the first time since I arrived here 21 years ago, I don’t feel like a proud American immigrant. I feel “like a target.” ■