It was a strange, head-swiveling, what-the-hell-just-happened day on the Donald Trump campaign trail. In other words, it was a day just like every other day, except this time they actually brought in some translators, not that it helped.
Someday soon, there will be the campaign books. And we’ll get the blow-by-blow, the fights within the fights, the subtweets within the tweets, and maybe even the final word on Trump’s excellent rope-a-dope Mexican adventure and whether it’s actually possible to simultaneously be both the roper and the roped. Personally speaking, I can hardly wait.
But for now, we can just assume that, as someone wrote, it was a momentous battle of Trumpian id vs. Trumpian id, in a hardening and softening fight for the carnival barker’s soul.
Or maybe this, as others have suggested: It was all a genius plan by Trump to obscure the fact that he’s backing off his pledge to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants by forcing us to concentrate on how, all in one day, one person can display a use-the-right-spoon level of diplomacy, as he showed on a Mexico City afternoon, and then revert to orange-haired, red-faced demagoguery by Arizona nightfall, in which he promised to deport maybe only 6 million at a time, those millions roaming the street under Obama/Clinton encouragement threatening to kill every last one of us, and just the keep the rest in a state of frustration and fear.
There’s no amnesty, he said. No legalization, he said. Just nightmarish deportation plans for which the American people would never stand and a wall that will never be built, promised by a candidate who, Nate Silver reminds us, has a one in four chance of becoming president.
I don’t know if this was a plan gone wrong or simply a plan to confuse everyone. If it was the latter, it was a spectacular success and guarantees, if nothing else, that no one will dare again use the words “pivot” and “Trump” in the same sentence.
I mean, come on. Explain the logic. You go to Mexico City to make nice with Mexican president, promising hemispheric cooperation, sounding as if the border was just, you know, a guideline, and vowing that our great countries with their great people, even if some of them unfortunately are drug-dealing rapists, would work together to protect ourselves from, well, the Chinese menace. Oh, and also the Muslims.
And then you come home, making Rudy wear the ridiculous “Make Mexico Great Again too” baseball cap, in a winking suggestion that you might have actually learned something on your trip, only to return with your best scare-the-kids speech about the millions of immigrant criminals roaming our streets who are there because that’s where the Obama/Clinton administration wants them to be. And to remind everyone that he, Trump alone, will send out the deportation forces (yes, we’re back to special deportation forces) to get rid of them. And then after building the beautiful wall, he’ll decide what to do with everyone else, because that’s how he rolls, unless he’s standing next to a Mexican president, in which case, he doesn’t seem to roll at all.
The speech, if you could stand it, was not just about illegal immigration. Trump attacked legal immigration, too, and talked about bringing us back to American norms of immigration, because it’s not just the criminals, it’s all of them. Somewhere Tom Tancredo is smiling. It seems you can run for president as a nativist and a xenophobe, if you’re clever enough to promise some phony populism at the same time.
But can you win? Well, this was a speech aimed directly at the people already voting for Trump no matter what – you remember his Fifth Avenue Declaration — instead of the people he needs (we’re talking you, college-educated white women of Jefferson County) to have any chance to win the presidency.
The smart people say he can’t win this way. But Trump doesn’t worry about the smart people, even those on his payroll. So it was Trump back to doubling down with his double-d presentation of dystopia and demagoguery. And maybe the strangest thing, other than the hats, was that before the speech, there was a moment or two when it looked as the Mexican trip was actually going to work.
It was an audacious plan, one that called for Trump to go to Mexico and not to set off an international incident, thereby seeming, yes, presidential. The bar was set just that low. If you were shocked by this, imagine how surprised Trump was to discover that looking presidential demanded no more than using the right spoon for the soup course. OK, there was the little snafu about who was going to pay for the wall. Trump said it never came up in his meeting with Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto. It seems now that Trump may have lied. But isn’t that what diplomacy is all about?
But then Trump got back to the U.S., just in time. Trump would be Trump, after all. There were the crowds of screaming thousands – the lock-her-up people — to whom attention must be paid. And so we had Trump once again telling us of the “countless Americans” who are dead and telling us their horror stories, as if that was the story of American immigration and not the anecdotal stories that lead only to bigotry and prejudice.
“We will terminate the Obama administration’s deadly, and it is deadly, non-enforcement policies that allow thousands of criminal aliens to freely roam our streets, walk around, do whatever they want to do—crime all over the place. That’s over. That’s over, folks. That’s over.”
What’s over is the idea that there could ever be a new Trump. That was a fantasy, just like Trump’s distortion-filled 10-point immigration “plan” and Trump’s “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall” and anyone’s idea that our long, absurdist, national nightmare is anywhere near the end.
Photo credit: Nathan Gibbs, Creative Commons, Flickr