This piece will be running, over this coming week, in newspapers in my very red congressional district (VA-06)
What President Trump is doing with that Caravan of people moving northward out of Central America toward the United States tells us all that anyone should have to know about the spirit of Donald Trump’s politics.
Making this group of migrants one of the main themes of his campaigning for the upcoming mid-term elections, Trump is characterizing these people in terms of the “Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” that he claims are mixed in.
He presents this image without presenting a scrap of evidence to support it. This President raising an alarm about a threat is not at all like President Kennedy using the fruits of U.S. military reconnaissance and intelligence to show the world that the Soviets were placing nuclear missiles into Cuba. Trump is just making it up.
The picture Trump’s presenting to his people is not only a false picture. Worse, it’s also a hateful picture. It primes Trump’s supporters for a fight. By means of conjuring up this image, Trump presents the Caravan as an evil enemy that should be hated and defeated.
And what is the real picture of the people in this migration? The overwhelming reality here is that this Caravan consists of thousands of desperate people. They are people whose circumstances are so intolerable that — even though they know they will have to walk for a thousand miles toward what they know will be American barriers and hostility – for them, the effort and the risk seem worth taking.
That’s the reality—people living often in terror, under the sway of the gangster’s machete, or death squads, or perhaps just near starvation.
We are entitled to make our decisions about what to do in the face of that reality. There’s a lot of suffering in the world, enough that we have to pick and choose just what problems we’ll take on and where we’ll decline to help. And every nation has a right to protect its borders and to decide who gets in. Decent political leadership could propose differing policies for dealing with these desperate people.
But Trump doesn’t want his people to deal with this problem in terms of the human realities. The reality would not evoke the fear and hatred that he wants to foster in his followers. So he makes the choice to lie, to fabricate a false picture that conjures up demons (criminals from Central America, terrorists from the Middle East) in order to summon up the passions of hatred and conflict.
To see how central the spirit of hatred is to Trump’s way of doing politics, just look at his rallies, and what transpires there.
There with his faithful, Trump will speak contemptuously and derisively — and often threateningly — of a variety of people and groups that oppose him. And the crowd will applaud his most hostile remarks. Sometimes they will chant “Lock her up!” It’s all about enemies. It’s a hate fest.
To fuel his political efforts, Trump continuously provokes hostility in his followers
- against the media, whose unfavorable reports about him he derides as “fake news,” while calling the free press — whose protection our founders thought important enough to put into the Constitution – the “enemies of the people”;
- against the Muslims, whom he equates with terrorists;
- against the immigrants (whom he distorts by equating them with MI-13 criminals);
- against the black athletes who knelt at NFL games, whose message he distorts so that he can accuse these people (whose color is different from Trump’s followers’) of not being good patriotic Americans;
- and nowadays, with the elections coming up, especially against the Democrats (about whose beliefs and purposes and actions Trump lies continuously).
For years before he ran for President, Trump used the “birther” lie about Obama as a means to drive his rise to political prominence.
Then, Trump famously launched his presidential campaign with remarks about the “rapists” from Mexico to ride the passions of fear and hatred to the Republican nomination.
Now as President, Trump continues to inflame hatred for the Other – hatred for people who are not part of Us, who are different from “Us” in their religion or skin color or language or even just different political priorities — and continues to harness that hatred to fortify his own political power.
But never has Trump’s dependence on the spirit of hatred been more clearly revealed than with his grotesque lie to portray these desperate people – men, women, and children – as criminals and terrorists.
Just as love is at the heart of the Good (“love thy neighbor,” “God is love”) so also clearly a political force that goes out of its way to provoke hatred – even for thousands of desperate people—is one that’s aligned with evil.
Just as peace is at the heart of the Good (“Peace on Earth,” Sholom, Salam), so also the insistence on the opposite of peace – the fomenting of unnecessary strife – points toward the heart of Evil.
Why would anyone who sides with the Good want to follow a leader who is not only willing but eager– as this case of the Caravan of the Thousands of Desperate People so clearly shows – to lie in order to fuel people’s fear and hatred and readiness for battle?