Trump’s ‘whites only’ party
A year and a half into Donald J. Trump’s mean-spirited, vulgar and callous presidency, no one should feign surprise that he referred to some illegal immigrants as “animals.” It is an echo of his campaign rhetoric, in which he branded undocumented border-crossers from Mexico drug dealers and “rapists.”
As his troubles with Special Counsel Robert Mueller multiply, as his approval rating remains stuck at around 40 percent, as Democrats increase their chances of taking back the House of Representatives in November, Trump turns to a time-honored tactic: rallying his base of aging white voters who resent the nation’s growing diversity. The president hurls racially-charged invective whenever he needs to feel the love of his fevered, nativist constituency.
Some Republicans, though, recognize the looming political problem on the other side of that divide. As many GOP strategists have pointed out, the Republican Party needs to attract a more diverse base if it is to survive over coming decades. In a thoughtful analysis of Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat, the Republican National Committee urged the party to, among other things, immediately adopt immigration reform and reach out to Latino voters.
That’s why a few GOP Congressmen are in open revolt against Speaker Paul Ryan, who is trying to block a vote on protecting the group of young immigrants known as “Dreamers.” President Barack Obama extended them temporary documents, allowing them to work and travel legally, and protected them from deportation, but Trump has rescinded those protections.
The 800,000 or so Dreamers are a sympathetic group. They were brought to the United States illegally as children, and they have grown up thinking of themselves as American citizens. To be eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, they had to either be in school or have high school diplomas or an honorable discharge from the U.S. Armed Forces.
They speak English. They don’t have criminal records. Many have completed college and gone to work as lawyers, engineers or school teachers. It’s no surprise, then, that 87 percent of Americans — according to a January CBS News poll — want them to stay.
But Ryan knows that the most loyal Trumpists are not in that group. He doesn’t want protections for Dreamers to pass before the November elections, according to Politico; House leaders fear such a move would demoralize xenophobic whites and depress their voting numbers.
Trump’s hard-core supporters don’t care how accomplished undocumented immigrants may be. They may represent the antithesis of the stereotypes that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly trotted out recently, when he derided them as people who “don’t speak English … They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills.”
Indeed, it doesn’t even matter whether they have documents. The truth is this: Trump’s base makes little distinction between those here legally and those who crossed the border without papers. (For all there fury over illegal border-crossers, first-time illegal entry is a misdemeanor, much like trespassing in most states.) Attorney General Jeff Sessions has kept his job, despite provoking the president’s fury by recusing himself from the Russia investigation, because he is a hardcore immigration skeptic. He has long sought to limit legal immigration, and, as a U.S. Senator, he helped defeat sensible immigration reform during the administration of President George W. Bush.
The attorney general has enthusiastically pushed Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport not only lawbreakers but also shopkeepers, construction workers and house cleaners who have committed no crime. Recently, he announced that ICE would separate families who enter the country without papers, taking children away from their parents — a heartbreaking development. The Trump administration is reportedly making plans to house the children on military bases, which, under those circumstances, would begin to resemble concentration camps.
This is ugly business — a mean and hateful policy that does not strengthen national security or serve the national interests. Most Americans, I would venture, don’t want children taken from their mothers and fathers and placed in military barracks. But the Republican Party has been taken over by the Trump crowd —resentful white voters who are angered not by economic setbacks but by their loss of cultural dominance.
Their political clout will eventually ebb, probably sooner rather than later. They don’t represent the country’s future. But they will create untold misery in the meantime.