|Trump January 9 in an "Apprentice" like sitdown
while Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyers listens.
In response to widespread speculation after “Fire and Fury,” he opened to the press a usually closed session with leading Democrats and Republicans July 9 where, knowing cameras were rolling, he sounded calmer and more conversationally stable than usual. He directed a freewheeling if simplistic discussion of DACA (whatever Congress agrees to he will sign), earmarks (he wants back the collegiality associated with such pork) and admitted there are security fixes aside from a big wall on the border,
Trump also said the bill must include something no one in the room agreed about. He insisted that the public, thanks to his diatribes, was now against “chain migration,” without defining what that term actually means or why aside from rally cliché it must be in any bill.
The media and TV audience who watched this unusually open Tuesday meeting might think they heard more than a glimmer of agreement, but then you also have to remember the shoot-downs stuck in by common sense realists about the legislative process and that the House hardliners on immigration were carefully not invited to the room.
Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein’s suggestion of a clean DACA bill before the March 5 deadline, which seemed to have support from Trump, was quickly jumped on by GOP House leaders to say there had to be some element of border security, too, and ending chain migration, though passing DACA would go a long way toward border security.
|Sen Diane Feinstein after releasing transcript.
Much of what emerged from the White House meeting was in the realm of public relations. The introduction of mental illness into the discussion of Trump has been something of an insult to the mentally ill, who in majority are ordinary people struggling to cope with internal malfunctions. But Trump was clearly stung and used this meeting to answer the question. In fact, he is easier to understand as a sane end product of a particular kind of Yankee buccaneer -- self-focused, high-strung, so ego-centric about his own worth that he can rightly be accused of massive lack of empathy.
It could be good for America that he is so easily distracted by personal attacks. His lack of attention to details and his mania for how he is treated by the media mean he has been less effective in doing his job – one of the least accomplished presidents in history. But that also means he has given more power to his cabinet to put their own peculiar interpretations on his campaign promises.
The extremists among them have been working on ardent slapdowns of public schools, foreigners, citizens who protect immigrants and residents without the proper papers (illegal to him, undocumented to others sensitive to the nuances of laws and language). The courts keep stabbing back but these extremists seem undeterred.
That White House meeting may diminish his band of followers even more without picking up enough moderates to compensate. He seems to be reneging on that promise of massive spending on a 2,000 mile Great Wall along the border. It bore a scary price tag of some $40 billion but he now promises to build it cheaper for Mexico to pay.
But Mexico won’t pay for such idiocy and neither will the US Congress. On that there is agreement across the aisle. On Tuesday, Trump further backed off his campaign rhetoric, suggesting there were natural barriers to protect the border and some work that was simply fixing what is there, in effect diminishing the amount of work he seemed to be asking for.
It turns out that effective security measures would still be abandoned for the sake of the wall. Despite Trump’s claims that the US Border Patrol was universally in support of his policy, their immediate problem is staffing since they are losing agents faster than they can hire. They sorely want other kinds of help than money thrown against the wall.
Back of the envelope math suggests why Trump is wrong-headed on this – and why he has been elevating every criminal case involving immigrants to a national crisis, trying to hide how basic facts are against him.
To begin with, the number of illegal border crossings has reduced sharply and now mostly involves not people from Mexico but from Central and South America using Mexico’s porous southern borders and coastal lines through a sophisticated but ruthless network of “coyotes.”
Estimates from US Border Patrol say its agents apprehended without Trump's wall 303,916 in fiscal 2017 -- including people caught multiple times. They estimated that at an 81% success rate of those who tried.
On that math, Trump wants to build a wall costing $18 billion in the first wave to catch some 60,000 people a year. That works out to $300,000 per person, who each would settle for a paycheck 10 times smaller.
These simpler realities – border crossings have shrunk, border patrols are hard to staff, costs outweigh any perceived need – have focused congressional discussions away from the wall. Many suggest that rather than Mexico paying, we should be paying Mexico for better security on its southern border and coastlines or, even better, provide those countries economic incentives against poverty and crime. Under Trump there is far less incentive but migration persists because of perilous living situations.
Such facts demonstrate the further short-term cruel thinking of Trump’s policies for temporary refugees taken in from Haiti (some 40,000) and El Salvador (200,000)up to 18 years ago. His argument is that, since the natural disasters they fled are over and the roads rebuilt, they should be forced to return regardless of the jobs and families they have created here, regardless of the remaining crime and poverty figures at home, regardless of the billions of dollars they have sent back to their families in home countries – an economic aid those countries would now be deprived of.
It also means their children born here and hence American citizens will have to choose staying illegally if DACA is not solved or going back with their parents, ignoring their advances in school, military service or professional careers. This is an edict created without thinking to satisfy the powerful anti-immigration lobby and disturb the rest of us. Those home countries can’t absorb such numbers and lose such shipped income in one swoop. It forces the immigration community further underground, another example of Trump's penchant for substituting quantity for quality.
Which brings us to Trump’s definition of chain migration. Historically it refers to the inevitable practice that people who come to this country look to bring family and friends from their home countries along – not all they approach want to go, of course. In past times many came to learn and left to go back to their homeland, some 40% 100 years ago. And not all invited involved multiple children and in-laws, as the false graphics from the immigration haters suggest.
For centuries this process has been going on unregulated and successfully – both once Republican aims. What has changed are quotas, the sense of a crowded America (though don’t ask the people of Montana, North Dakota and other states that still advertise for settlers) and mainly a basic change in the skin color of the seekers.
In Trump’s mouth, chain migration is an evil, suggesting that every bad actor who gets to this country has strung behind him a train of bad actors, though there is no evidence of that. History is actually full of hombres, both good and bad. That includes our president’s grandfather Friedrich Trump who fled Bavaria to Trump’s big mouthpiece-in-chief Steven Miller, stemming from 19th century Jewish German heritage.
Even Republicans are confused in defining chain migration.
To our president, ending chain migration has become the catchall cure to any criminal act by someone in this country illegally or via green card. This one-time casino operator thinks lotteries are bad, though all participants are screened. Yet for many of us this country was founded on one form or another of chain migration – settlers helping bring over the family, friends and fellow churchgoers. That some turned to crime and others like Friedrich to fleecing fellow settlers – that just seemed the price of getting the good 99% majority.
Despite all his talk about gangs and street violence, actual research shows that immigration communities report far less crime, though some of that may be fear of interacting with law enforcement authorities. That, of course, is why several community police forces swear by the effectiveness of sanctuary cities.
Trump is no ideologue. Many don’t think he has the intellect to admit doubt and ask questions. If this is going to be a Democratic wave he might go along in a weirdly pliable way – if you can figure out which side of his mouth to listen to.
Yet he has staffed some of his agencies with the most extremely conservative or least qualified inhabitants – Justice, Education, Housing, Energy, Environment – and counted on their refusal to more flexibly interpret his edicts or even examine the facts behind the policies. They are slowly doing enormous damage to our country.
After the meeting, the serious negotiations took place behind closed doors. But this public back and forth was most welcome to a national audience despite moments of contradictions from Trump and a realization that just about everyone else in the room had a deeper vocabulary.
Democrats don’t want the country to fail – not to a foreign power, not once again to sluggish economy, not to an inability to compromise. They are in a dealing mood despite their doubts. But that means they have to take Donald along with any package – even when he seems to be treating a tableful of our nation’s leaders with the similar manner he used on “Celebrity Apprentice.” None had the 2011 guts of Obama to take him down.