FOR DONALD Trump, the choice is a simple one.
“This is a choice between right and wrong, justice and injustice,” he said using words that coincidentally described the mindset of those who now oppose him. In his first ever Oval Office address, Trump unashamedly sought to stoke fear. Illegal immigrants must be stopped at the southern – though not northern – US border. A wall is needed to stem the flow of “criminal gangs, drug smugglers, and human traffickers." He said a young police officer was “savagely murdered in cold blood,” an Air Force veteran “raped, murdered, and beaten to death with a hammer,” a 16-year-old girl viciously stabbed and beaten, and a citizen beheaded – all by “illegal aliens.”
His was a warped vision in which the complexities of migration were reduced to a propaganda cartoon; a vision in which it is acceptable to separate children from their families in an effort to thwart the nefarious foreigners.
“These children are used as human pawns by vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs,” cried Trump. “One in three women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico. Women and children are the biggest victims, by far, of our broken system.”
All the more reason for compassion, not bigotry. It was a performance that came in the backdrop of a costly US shutdown precipitated by his demands for a wall. A report commissioned by the Obama administration estimated the 16-day shutdown cost US$2.4 billion. The current shutdown is approaching two dozen days.
Not only did he seek to vilify immigrants, but he also had no qualms in presenting some dubious mathematics. The border wall would “very quickly pay for itself,” he said. “The cost of illegal drugs exceeds US$500 billion a year – vastly more than the US$5.7 billion we have requested from congress. The wall will also be paid for, indirectly, by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.”
And the strange logic was further contorted to make the eye-watering claim that among those “hardest hit” by illegal immigration are “African Americans and Hispanic Americans.”
But while it may be easy to regard Trump’s speech with derision, the unsettling fact is his views have currency within his base and in conservative societies all over the world. Britain’s Brexit trauma has been precipitated by years of xenophobic political baiting that has fanned the flames of a backward view of globalisation and multiculturalism. Politicians there who were elected on the strength of a promise to hold a plebiscite on Europe now find that having opened Pandora’s Box, they cannot close it.
Trump’s address provoked immediate condemnation from democrats. Yet, he yesterday dug in, musing whether he was authorised to declare a national emergency.
But it seems the real emergency is his presidency.