Donald Trump believes immigration—or, rather, the Americans who fear it—is why he won the 2016 presidential election. He is now offering an unmasked nationalist appeal despite a wave of far-right violence in the hopes that returning to immigration may let him “win” the midterm election and cling to Republican control of Congress.
Candidate Trump understood that a silent majority of white voters feared what the nation is becoming: a browner, more racially diverse country. They needed, he saw, somebody who could speak boldly about issues they felt forced to whisper. While others winked about white fear, he spoke directly to those aging voters fearful of losing power and the privilege that comes with it.
As he promised his supporters early in his run, at one of those rallies that the TV cameras could no more turn away from than they could his relentless and utterly dishonest birther crusade, “Don't worry, we'll take our country back. Back from the black man occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. From the growing tide of black and brown voters unwilling to sit in the back of the proverbial bus.”
Then, against all expectations including his own, he was elected president. And set to work booting not the criminals, but the dreamers, implementing a travel ban to keep out those people from the “shithole” countries, and caging children, separated from their families. The cruelty wasn’t a bug, it is his program.
Now he pronounces himself a “nationalist,” knowing full well that this is a toxic term for many, and with good reason, music to the ears of white supremacists and their ilk. They know that when the president calls their tune it’s no matter if the word “white,” like the g in “gnome,” is silent.
Trump has said as much himself. A few weeks ago, he said the polls were wrong because people secretly support him and his policies. This week, he said—in what may be more an appeal to voters than a policy—that he would end birthright citizenship by executive order, as if there were no 14th Amendment at all. Section 1: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”
Trump’s campaign promise to ignore the Constitution and just go ahead came less than two weeks before the election, and two days after an anti-Semite obsessed with an immigrant aid group murdered 11 worshippers in a synagogue; on the same day he visited Pittsburgh and no elected official there would join him. After a week of bombs sent to his enemies, as he calls political opponents, by one of this biggest fans.
“You obviously cannot do that,” House Speaker Paul Ryan rightly told The New York Times. I’m a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution, and I think in this case, the 14th Amendment is pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy constitutional process.”
But the aging white voters fearful of losing power know with Trump as president, if they didn’t already know, that it’s not about holding a majority white voting population forever, just for another election, and then another. Voter suppression is one tool. Gerrymandering. Threatening birthright citizen if that helps the Louie Gohmerts and Steve Kings of the world stay in the majority for another two years. They are afraid the children of the people they demean will grow up to be voters.
And, of course, any case would now go to a highly partisan Supreme Court that now includes Justice Brett Kavanaugh, along with Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and chief justice John Roberts.
However foggy the legal theory that partisans would gin up behind whatever this president just makes up, as we saw when his own Justice Department couldn’t figure out how to justify or implement his first travel ban, the politics are clear. Trump believes now, as he did when he was running for president, that immigration is the issue that can deliver the coalition necessary to protect Republican control of Congress. Which is why he, and his enablers at Fox, have been raving about a diseased invasion marching toward our border, with him sending thousands of American soldiers to the border well before the people in that caravan might but just in time for votes to be cast here.
Republicans don’t actually want to talk about healthcare and pre-existing conditions. They don’t really want to talk about the massive tax cuts they delivered to the wealthiest among us, leaving the middle class holding the bag. They want to talk about immigration, to the silent majority that may not remain a majority for long but just wants to get past November as one.
Which is why, after a wave of horrific far-right violence, Trump is once again selling fear.It’s all he has.