The big picture

Some great columns this week looking at how the family separation policy is part-and-parcel of the greater evil that is Trumpism.  All are well worth a read.  Some highlights…


The speed of America’s moral descent under Donald Trump is breathtaking. In a matter of months we’ve gone from a nation that stood for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to a nation that tears children from their parents and puts them in cages.

What’s almost equally remarkable about this plunge into barbarism is that it’s not a response to any actual problem. The mass influx of murderers and rapists that Trump talks about, the wave of crime committed by immigrants here (and, in his mind, refugees in Germany), are things that simply aren’t happening. They’re just sick fantasies being used to justify real atrocities.

And you know what this reminds me of? The history of anti-Semitism, a tale of prejudice fueled by myths and hoaxes that ended in genocide…

So the Trump administration has been terrorizing families and children, abandoning all norms of human decency, in response to a crisis that doesn’t even exist.

Where does this fear and hatred of immigrants come from? A lot of it seems to be fear of the unknown: The most anti-immigrant states seem to be places, like West Virginia, where hardly any immigrants live.

Jamelle Bouie:

Critics accused the president of dehumanizing immigrants, while his conservative defenders accused major news outlets of taking Trump out of context, claiming he was referring specifically to MS-13 gang members. Both sides dug in, and the fight eventually ended in a draw, as new controversies overtook the news cycle.

But if Trump’s meaning was debatable then, it’s certainly clear now, as the president defends his commitment to separating immigrants’ families at the Southern border and refuses to budge in the face of broad criticism and condemnation. The “animal” comments help explain his core beliefs, which his recent remarks make crystal clear: President Trump sees all Hispanic immigrants—and not just MS-13—as “animals” threatening the cultural and racial integrity of the United States…

Those comments echoed a Monday-morning rant, in which Trump railed against Democrats for their alleged silence on crime and gangs, tying both to immigrants: “Why don’t the Democrats give us the votes to fix the world’s worst immigration laws? Where is the outcry for the killings and crime being caused by gangs and thugs, including MS-13, coming into our country illegally?” Later, he attacked German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy on refugees, falsely blaming migrants for a purported rise in crime, before going on a racist rant against asylum-seekers during a White House event to announce a new “space force.” “The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee-holding facility. It won’t be,” he said, adding “a country without borders is not a country at all” and blaming immigrants for “death and destruction.” “They could be murderers and thieves and so much else.” …

It was always clear Trump would lean on racism to try to win the midterms. What’s now apparent is the shape and scope of that appeal. In 2015, when he kicked off his campaign by calling immigrants “rapists” and drug dealers, Trump also tried to give himself a sheen of plausible deniability: “Some, I assume, are good people.” But in 2018, he intends an unvarnished message of brutality and dehumanization; a white-supremacy campaign for the 21st century.

Adam Serwer:

The policy’s cruelty is its purpose: By inflicting irreparable trauma on children and their families, the administration intends to persuade those looking to America for a better life to stay home. The barbarism of deliberately inflicting suffering on children as coercion, though, has forced the Trump administration and its allies in the conservative press to offer three contradictory defenses…

It is not an accident that these three defenses—the policy does not exist, the children are better off under the policy, and the policy is required by law—are contradictory. The heart of Trumpism is both cruelty and denial. The administration and its supporters valorize cruelty against outsiders even while denying that such cruelty is taking place.

The policy of shattering families and the cacophony of conservative voices defending it are the fruits of a campaign of dehumanization that began when Trump announced his candidacy for president, declaring that Mexico was sending rapists and drug dealers to migrate illegally to the United States. Trump’s advocates have said that his generalizations about religious and ethnic minorities apply only to some members of those communities—but as president, Trump has used fears of terrorism and criminality among the few to justify persecuting the many. Only some Muslims may be terrorists, but that “some” justifies barring as many as possible from the country. Only some immigrants are MS-13 “animals,” but that “some” justifies caging all unauthorized immigrants.

Dehumanizing “some” dehumanizes the whole. This has been Trump’s strategy from the beginning. It has been an essential element of the most shameful episodes in American history, a list to which the Trump administration’s policy of detaining children to frighten their parents must now be added.

Catherine Rampell also on the immigration reality and busting all the misbegotten myths:

 The hoax is the premise that President Trump’s administration has invented to rationalize such crimes against humanity: his narrative that America has been “ infest[ed]” with hordes of crime-committing, culture-diluting, job-stealing, tax-shirking, benefits-draining “aliens.”

 No part of that description is remotely true. Yet the Trump administration seems to have successfully shifted the national dialogue away from “Do we have a border immigration problem?” to “What’s the right way to fix our border immigration problem?”

 Truly, it’s bizarre. Unauthorized border crossings have been falling over time. In fact, apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants along the Southwest border last fiscal year declined to about 300,000, the lowest level since 1971, according todata from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They’ve risen in recent months, though year-to-date they’re still below historical levels.

Why Melania Trump is unpopular

It’s the jacket.  Kidding.  Of course, the jacket was obviously absurd, offensive, and remarkably tone-deaf, but Melania has long been much less popular than other recent first ladies.  So, when not working on ground-breaking parenthood and politics research with me, Laurel Elder has a nice side gig (with Barbara Burrell and Brian Frederick) studying first ladies.  They had a nice Monkey Cage recently on Melania’s relative unpopularity.  Short version: it’s actually not because she’s Donald’s wife, but because she’s so private compared to former first ladies:

But Melania Trump’s approval ratings are still lower than the remarkable levels of popularity enjoyed by her predecessors, Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, who maintained favorable ratings in the high 60s.

Our recently published book “American Presidential Candidate Spouses: The Public’s Perspective” looks into the recent rise in Melania Trump’s approval – and why she is unlikely ever to be as popular as Michelle Obama…

Another hypothesis could be that American partisan polarization puts a ceiling on Melania Trump’s approval ratings. But it’s not the cause. Our research shows that views toward Melania are actually less polarized than views toward any presidential candidate spouse since 2000.

The reason: lack of visibility

Rather, the reason is Melania Trump’s near invisibility while campaigning – and her relatively low profile role as first lady. The polling data collected for our book reveal that close to 70 percent of Americans think it’s important that presidential candidate spouses are active, visible and campaign for their spouses. Melania Trump did not fulfill this expectation. While most presidential spouses headline hundreds of events, Melania Trump spoke at just a handful. She was completely absent from the campaign trail for months.

The public now expects first ladies to be active and visible, as well as traditional, a concept we call the “new traditionalism.” Here Melania Trump falls short. Since becoming first lady, she has given far fewer speeches than her predecessors. It took her until May of her second year in office to announce her Be Best Initiative. The evidence so far suggests she will not champion this initiative very actively or visibly.

So, Melania’s relative unpopularity is actually her fault, not her husband’s. My advice to Melania– Be Best!

Quick hits (part I)

1) Really enjoyed the commentary from my friend and awesome political scientist, Marc Hetherington, on Trump:

Marc Hetherington, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said the list of presidential missteps this week shows “Trump is not especially adept at being president, at least not insofar as people measure adeptness as the ability to solve problems rather than create them.”

“That he struggles to maintain 40 percent approval ratings, and has members of his own party deriding him or apologizing for him, says a lot about his political acumen,” Hetherington added.

2) How Turkey’s move towards Islamism threatens to undermine it’s public education.

3) Interesting analysis from Stanley Greenberg on the potential perils of Trump’s base-service strategy:

Mr. Trump’s strategy is to continue to build support with the Tea Party supporters and evangelicals who make up a plurality of those who identify as Republicans, but they are by no means the whole of the party. And Mr. Trump shows as much interest in winning over those less enthusiastic Republicans as he does in winning independents and Democrats — which is to say, not much…

Mr. Trump’s base strategy brands the Republican Party as sexist, racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant, which magnifies the anti-Trump reaction among Democrats. But it also leaves a tenth who are conservative Catholics and a fifth who are nonreligious conservatives more tentative in their support of the Republican Party — and it pushes away the quarter of Republicans who remain ideologically moderate. [emphasis mine] The harder the president bangs these drums, the more Democrats become enraged and a segment of Republicans gets demoralized. The more he trashes and defeats his Republican opponents in primaries, the more these voters may contemplate different political options…

And then President Trump surprised nearly all political analysts with his decision to govern as a militant Tea Party and evangelical conservative and to make this the heart of his strategy for the midterm elections. Each provocation and each dog whistle — if we can even call them that anymore — make Democrats even more determined to vote and to register their rejection of Mr. Trump’s remade Republican Party. In our polling of registered voters nationally and in the Senate battleground states, a remarkable 79 percent of Democrats strongly disapprove of Mr. Trump, a number that rose to 87 percent in a survey completed last week. Mr. Trump is making Democratic base voters even angrier than you might expect.

4) Soccer remains in the dark ages when it comes to head injuries.

5) Richard Hasen on the Supreme Court gerrymandering punt:

  Although people will focus on the court’s ducking of the issue, what’s really going on is that two of the court’s savviest justices on the right and left, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan, are continuing a battle for the soul of Justice Kennedy on the question of politics in redistricting, and Kennedy, who apparently is not leaving the court anytime soon, watches, broods, and stays silent…

Second, and more to the point of enticing Justice Hamlet, Justice Kagan glommed onto Justice Kennedy’s favorite theory for what’s wrong with partisan gerrymandering: It is a First Amendment associational injury. In Justice Kennedy’s thinking, partisan gerrymandering might be unconstitutional if people are suffering in their political representation solely because they are members of one party or another. Justice Kagan not only fleshed out and endorsed that theory (the beauty pageant again). She also tried to prebut any standing objections, suggesting that state political parties would be in an excellent legal position to assert a First Amendment injury across an entire state when the state has engaged in egregious redistricting.

It’s a nice theory, but it only works with Justice Kennedy coming along. And Kennedy did not come along for the ride Monday with Justice Kagan. He didn’t reject it either, leaving him where he’s been since 2004, in the middle, watching the action around him.

6) Leah, Littman, “How Trump Corrupts the Rule of Law.”

We take it for granted that President Trump says demonstrably false things on any number of topics. That is itself alarming.

But gross factual mischaracterizations have started to trickle down to the lawyers who serve at the president’s pleasure: At oral argument in the Supreme Court, for example, the solicitor general declared that the president had made it crystal clear that he would never follow through on his campaign promise to ban Muslims. In fact, the president never said any such thing.

What if Mr. Trump, and increasingly his Department of Justice, made it routine to take the same black-is-white, up-is-down approach toward the law as they take with the facts?

Mr. Trump is making a mockery of law in the appalling policy of forcibly separating families at the border. In the case, Ms. L v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the president has made the up-is-down claim that a Democratic law — the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, in conjunction with the Homeland Security Act and statutes criminalizing illegal entry — requires him to separate families to protect the children. The administration’s legal mumbo-jumbo attempts to use laws that are meant to protect vulnerable children as a screen to terrorize them and to deter immigrants from coming to the United States border…

And in order to hold government officials accountable for their choices, we need to be able to acknowledge what the law does not say.

That is what makes the Trump administration’s legal claims so dangerous: The administration is simultaneously insisting that it must enforce a law that does not exist, but is refusing to defend a law that actually does exist, and jeopardizing the law in the process.

7) Celebrities are becoming uncomfortable with 20th Century Fox since it’s corporate cousin, Fox News, is increasingly little more than Trump propaganda.

8) I’ve actually tried to largely ignore just how horrible the treatment is for the separated kids because it is too sad.  My wife is (appropriately) beyond outraged.  Ashley Fetters in the Atlantic, “The Exceptional Cruelty of a No-Hugging Policy: When kids separated from their families on the U.S.-Mexico border can’t get hugs or physical comfort from the caretakers at their shelters—or even from one another—their experience becomes even more traumatic..”

9) China won’t take our recycled plastic anymore because it’s just too dirty.  But if we can keep it clean enough, like San Francisco, they’ll still take it.  But, ultimately, it may be an important wake-up call:

Brooks says that she hopes the terrible options for the present plastic glut will help leaders plan better for future waste, or even eliminate it altogether. Her study found that about 90 percent of the traded plastics are single-use polymers, and she hopes that this data will encourage governments to put regulations in place to cut down on disposable plastics. “My dream would be that this is a big enough wake up call to drive international agreements,” she says. The ban has already caused the EU to consider a tax on throwaway plastics. Maybe more cities will step up to decontaminate their waste, like San Francisco. Or—imagine this—cut back on plastics altogether.

10) Sometimes I can’t resist an emotional, liberal, political rant:

Like many Americans, I’m having politics fatigue. Or, to be more specific, arguing-about-politics fatigue.

I haven’t run out of salient points or evidence for my political perspective, but there is a particular stumbling block I keep running into when trying to reach across the proverbial aisle and have those “difficult conversations” so smugly suggested by think piece after think piece:

I don’t know how to explain to someone why they should care about other people.

Personally, I’m happy to pay an extra 4.3 percent for my fast food burger if it means the person making it for me can afford to feed their own family. If you aren’t willing to fork over an extra 17 cents for a Big Mac, you’re a fundamentally different person than I am.

I’m perfectly content to pay taxes that go toward public schools, even though I’m childless and intend to stay that way, because all children deserve a quality, free education. If this seems unfair or unreasonable to you, we are never going to see eye to eye.

If I have to pay a little more with each paycheck to ensure my fellow Americans can access health care? SIGN ME UP. Poverty should not be a death sentence in the richest country in the world. If you’re okay with thousands of people dying of treatable diseases just so the wealthiest among us can hoard still more wealth, there is a divide between our worldviews that can never be bridged.

I don’t know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy. I cannot have one more conversation with someone who is content to see millions of people suffer needlessly in exchange for a tax cut that statistically they’ll never see (do you make anywhere close to the median American salary? Less? Congrats, this tax break is not for you).

I cannot have political debates with these people. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters. [emphasis mine]

11) Of course the Republican Party wants to pay for it’s tax cuts off the back of hungry kids:

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if House Republicans get their way, more than two million people, many of them young children, will lose access to the food stamp program known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The farm bill that passed by a two-vote margin on Thursday includes tougher work requirements and new eligibility restrictions that would make it much more difficult for families who need food assistance to get it.

The Agriculture Department administers SNAP. If the president gets hisway, SNAP would be moved to the Department of Health and Human Services. And the name of that department, which already oversees other social programs like Medicare and Medicaid, would be changed to include the word “welfare,” which holds about the same amount of appeal for Republicans as “Communists” once did.

The goal of these maneuvers is twofold: to stigmatize such programs — racially stigmatize them for white voters — and to make them easier to cut or eliminate.

12) Of course many of the Republican party’s most odious anti-immigration types have immigrants in their own ancestry who did not follow the law in their immigration.

13) American-style “trickle-down” economics comes to Colombia.

14) Given so much system racism, it may be time to reconsider traffic stops:

A forthcoming book, “Suspect Citizen: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tells Us About Policing And Race” adds to that conversation, taking an unprecedented, granular look at the traffic stops in one state…

In the book, he and his colleagues lay out stark disparity in policing at North Carolina’s traffic stops, and unpack the reasons behind the trends they observe. CityLab caught up with Baumgartner to discuss these findings:…

We also lookedat a city-by-city comparison of the proportion of whites, blacks, and Hispanics who live in that town to the proportion that they represent in the traffic stop data. Again, we do this with caution, but still it shows that, on average, black drivers are much more disproportionately represented—about 60 or 70 percent more likely to be in that traffic stops data than in the population of that city…

What about searches?

Our main focus in the book is who gets searched after a traffic stop because being searched is sign that the officer views you with suspicion. Hence the title of the book “Suspect Citizens.” I’m a white, middle-aged college professor, so the last time I was actually stopped for a traffic violation was 40 years ago, in 1974 … and I’ve never had my car searched after a traffic stop in my life. These things are quite rare for people of, for example, my demographic but they’re quite common generally.

We controlled for why you get pulled over, what time of day it was, what day of the week was that, what police agency was it, what month of the year—all of those things. We still saw these very, very significant, robust findings that young people, males, and people of color are much more likely to be searched after a traffic stop.

15) Jennifer Rubin on the Democrat’s message:

Now, Democrats have been accused of having no message, or just not a clear message. It seems pretty clear to me — put an end to pandemic corruption in this administration and stop him from doing extreme and horrible things that violate our democratic and moral standards while also hurting even his own voters (e.g. tariffs, increasing Obamacare premiums).

16) Trump’s Zero Tolerance as a 1940’s propaganda film.

17) A 19th century scientist was onto the human microbiome, but nobody was listening.

18) It really is appalling what Border agents can away with 100 miles from the border, i.e., an area that encompasses most of the American population, but this nice ACLU explainer explains that they still need “reasonable suspicion” of an immigration violation.  The problematic reality is that such suspicion is all-too-often based on being not white.

19) It took me a while, but I finally got around to reading John Dickerson’s tour-de-force on the American presidency.  This one is going right into the Intro to American Government syllabus.




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