By Peter F. Stevens
Courtesy of President Donald Trump and willing and blindly unwitting supporters, the Arsenal of Democracy crumbles daily into the Abyss of Autocracy. Those red-and-white “MAGA” caps stand less for “Make America Great Again” than for “Make America Go Away.” Sadly, the GOP, the erstwhile party of Lincoln, is a party in name only. They’re the Whigs of the 21st century, morphing into the Trumpians, Trumpites, or whatever moniker reflecting their obeisance to the president will proclaim to history.
Democrats who await a Blue Wave to rescue them from Trump in November or for Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe to be completed are likely setting themselves up for crushing disappointment. What Donald Trump knows is that he has cowed his party to a degree that might well place him above the law. To him, our Constitution is a musty piece of parchment to be torn up or rewritten at his whim. He is the autocrat-in-the-making whom the Founding Fathers believed would be checked by Congress and the courts. Donald Trump may well prove that Madison and Co. were wrong, that the cult of personality could erode and eventually crush Constitutional norms and the rule of law.
For Democrats, the few Republican stalwarts who lament his “theft” of the party, and the pundits who deride Trump’s intellect and stunning stream of lies, the reality is that Trump plays them with his uncanny ability to make them chase whatever shiny object he wants. As with all con artists, he knows how to sell. He knows that hatred, fear, and resentment are a winning formula among anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of the American public.
How else to explain that, depending on whose polls you believe, as much as half of the nation believes that separating kids from their parents and keeping them in cages, mysterious detention centers and camps, and moving them to unspecified spots in some 17 states is perfectly okay. Make no mistake that “zero tolerance” is Donald Trump’s decision and his alone – not the Democrats nor even the egregious Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is merely the willing architect of President Trump’s utter immorality.
The message is that child abuse of kids who are not white and are “the other” is fine – because President Trump decrees it. He knows that hatred, division, bigotry, and racism are the glue of his success. He understands the basest corners of human nature and exploits them with equal parts bluster and skill. In that respect, he may well be the genius he styles himself.
How else can one account for the fact that the president has sold so many Americans on the policy of separating kids from their parents? Trump is correct that the US in 2018 should have border security and comprehensive immigration reform. If anyone, however, truly believes his policy that separates and incarcerates kids on our southern border is moral – and, no, Obama and Bush never unleashed zero tolerance, Trump’s lies aside – he or she is either benighted by hate or willingly foolish. Even those who want any migrants turned around at the border and sent back immediately should not embrace President Trump’s government-sanctioned child abuse.
Back to “open borders.” In the 19th century, our own Irish and European ancestors “walked right in.” They arrived without documents. They faced no quota system and no immigration courts or law enforcement. Like it or not, our pre-World War I ancestors came to “the Golden Door of America” undocumented. In Boston during the mass immigration of the Great Famine era, about the only thing preventing the Irish from getting in was if they were quarantined at Deer Island due to disease. They did not have to deal with paperwork issues, quotas, or immigration courts.
Predictably, “That was then, this is now!” President Trump and his fellow Nativists bleat today as they profess that they want only the “right kind” of immigrants. You know, those with “merit.” That’s where historical reality shreds the modern Nativists’ arguments and exposes either their bigotry or delusion. The waves of Irish, Germans, Italians, and Eastern Europeans who came to America from the onset of the Great Famine into the early 20th century encountered the same prejudice and contempt that immigrants from Mexico, Central and Latin America, Haiti, Africa, and so many other places face today.
Our immigrant forebears knew all too well that “real Americans” loathed anything Irish, anything Catholic, any immigrant, anything they deemed “un-American.” They proclaimed the need to save the nation from going broke to pay for “Paddy and Bridget,” who were arriving in unprecedented waves. Sound familiar? All you need to do is substitute Hispanics and Muslims for Irish.
In Boston for much of the 19th century, anyone who was not native-born Anglo-Saxon was the outsider, the other. Our Irish ancestors would not be fooled by Trump’s Nativist cant and xenophobia – even if their descendants are fooled today.
As countless adages preach, we ignore the past at our peril. Chillingly, many Americans are doing just that in a haze of hatred wafting from a president who believes he and he alone is above the law, above the Constitution, and above history itself. After all, hatred and fear sell “big time.”