We’ve now heard Trump’s big immigration policy speech.
Let me start with a general comment on tone. This was as wild and as unbridled a speech as I’ve seen from Trump. Even if you couldn’t understand English, it would be stunning to watch the slashing hand gestures, the red face, the yelling. It’s hard to imagine any presidential candidate in living memory giving such a speech. And again, this is if you didn’t know what the words even meant.
As the speech was unfolding, I said something on Twitter that I’m sure many will find extreme or beyond the pale. But watching this speech, compared to the press conference today in Mexico City, what kept coming to my mind was the contrast between Hitler’s uniformed rally speeches from the hustings and the suited, statesman Hitler we see in the old news reels in Munich and at other iconic moments in the late 1930s. Hitler is sui generis, of course. His crimes are incomparable. But the demagogic style, the frenzied invocation familial blood sacrificed to barbaric outsiders – these are not unique to him. When we see this lurid, stab-in-the-back incitement, the wild hyperbole, the febrile railing against outsiders who will make us no longer a country – the similarities are real. More than anything, perhaps the most chilling part of this day is the contrast between the two men – a measured, calm statesman figure we saw this afternoon and this railing, angry demagogue figure who captured the emotional tenor of Klan rally. As I said, the ability to shift from one persona to the other is a sign of danger in itself.
With that, let me go to the specifics. On balance, Trump doubled-down on just about everything.
He’ll build the Wall and Mexico will pay for the Wall. Check and check. Its almost a catechism.
On mass deportation, there was more obfuscation than change. Trump said everyone without proper documentation is subject to deportation – the violent and the patriotic, the productive and the dependent are all together. He said there are some two million alien criminals in the country who will be deported immediately. On top of that, he said there is a large but unspecified number of additional aliens who are also criminals and they’ll be deported immediately too.
I believe the federal government actually puts that number between 600k and 700k. So Trump’s number is roughly three times the actual number and then many more on top of that. One million more? Five million more? You can take your pick depending on your mood and what you want to hear. Wild fabulation about numbers and facts was a signature of the speech.
Notably, Trump also said that the federal government has no idea how many undocumented immigrants are in the country. It could be 3 million or 30 million, he said. These remarks have only two purposes – to deepen the sense of chaos and to kick dust into any specific discussion or examination of just what Trump proposes to do.
He has apparently dropped the “deportation force” in favor of a “deportation task force” created within ICE to speed mass deportation. Again, obfuscation not difference.
Finally he made clear there is no path to citizenship or legal residency for any undocumented immigrants. The only path is to leave the country and return through normal channels. And this can only happen after tighter strictures are placed on legal immigration. Even under current law this amounts to decades out of the country.
This is all certainly a more complicated explanation of his policy than what Trump said in the primaries – that all 11 million will have to be deported and fast. But substantively, it sounds like the same policy, with more obfuscation, more bows to prioritization and some cognizance of the scale of the task. But substantively it’s the same.
We’ve been at this for two or three weeks – dropping his hardline positions, picking them back up, briefly going a la carte. If this is the final statement, we’re basically where we started, just with a few garnishes about our love for the Mexican people and the wonders of immigration that happened in the past. The flurry of bogus specifics is meant to obscure the big picture: everyone has to go.
The debate about immigration has become so polarized that it can be difficult to remember that there are reasonable policy questions to be debated and wrestled with over the terms, scope and numbers of immigrants the country should absorb at any one time. But what we saw tonight isn’t a tense version of that debate. It really has nothing to do with that debate at all. This is a blood soaked white nationalist politics that has caught fire with a significant minority of the electorate. There’s no reason to imagine that changes before November. And I think we’ll be with it for some time after as well.