At least at one point in his unsurprisingly unhinged news conference Thursday, Donald Trump told the truth. This is headline stuff, because generally, as we know, Trump prefers to traffic in either alternative truths, gross exaggerations or outright lies.
But he was up there for 77 minutes, so it was bound to happen. Not, of course, when he said his administration was a “fine-tuned machine” or when he asserted that the rollout of his immigration executive orders was “very smooth.” No, it came when he explained that he wasn’t ranting or raving — as he was sure his erratic performance would be described — but insisted, instead, that he was enjoying himself and that he loved mixing it up with the dishonest media.
And it was clearly true because, let’s face it, this was a rare opportunity for Trump to be Trump, who has the press at the top of his enemies list. For most of the hellishly long four weeks he has been on the job, Trump has been a disaster — true news that he tries to explain away with his morning tweets or with his afternoon Spicer. Neither is working. The tweets are starting to be ignored and Spicer has been Melissa McCarthyed into a late-night punch line.
The news conference was his way toward a Trump reset, in which he’d be the Trump everyone remembered before the job started — you know, back when he was an authoritarian in training. We guessed he’d be a disaster but couldn’t know just how chaotic and dangerous that would be.
It doesn’t have to be said that there has been no president like Trump. No president who claims, as if he’s a college freshman bragging about college board scores, that he had the biggest electoral win since Reagan. (Fact: It was the sixth biggest since 1984; that’s sixth out of eight.) And when asked to explain, he said he’d “seen that information around.”
Real presidents don’t call the Michael Flynn/Russia scandal a “ruse” and “fake news” promulgated by the media to divert our attemption from, yes, Hillary Clinton’s November defeat, as if anyone other than Trump is thinking about Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, he blames leaks and fake news for Michael Flynn being fired when, of course, it was Trump who fired him. And as to why the news was fake: “The leaks,” he explained, “are real. You know what they said, you saw it, and the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.”
And in maybe the highlight moment, out of dozens, he asks a black reporter if she knows the people at the Black Congressional Caucus — because, well, they’re all black — and could set up a meeting with them for him. Or maybe it was when he said he was “insulted” by a softball question from a reporter wearing a yarmulke about rising anti-Semitism.
I could go on, but I won’t because that makes it seem as if Trump is just a joke. He’s not just a joke. The unfunny moment that stuck with me — and I’m guessing the moment that stuck wth Jeanette Vizguerra, the undocumented immigrant and mother of three American-citizen children who has taken sanctuary from ICE agents in Denver’s First Unitarian Society church — was Trump’s answer to a question about immigrants: “We have begun a nationwide effort to remove criminal aliens, gang members, drug dealers and others who pose a threat to public safety. We are saving American lives every single day.”
It’s not clear whose lives he saved when ICE agents were set to deport Vizguerra. Her crime is that she came to the United States illegally 20 years ago and was arrested in 2009 for using a fake ID to get a job. That’s it. Not a gang member. Not a drug dealer. Not a rapist. It was time for her annual check-in appointment with ICE, but she knew about the Dreamer who had been arrested in Seattle and the woman taken from the battered shelter in El Paso, and she thought better of it. And so she called in the dishonest press to tell them the truth, that the church was her sanctuary, basically daring Trump to come get her. He won’t. It’s a church, and Trump might take on a pope, but not a church.
It was under Obama that Vizguerra got her deportation papers, but it was also under Obama that the orders were annually delayed because, well, she’s not a danger. She’s an undocumented immigrant who chose not to return to the shadows, where millions are consigned. This refusal to deal with our large and often desperate undocumented population is an ugly chapter in America history and part of the ugly reason that Donald Trump is president.
But there’s more to it than that. Vizguerra, a community activist, has the direct support of Rep. Jared Polis and Mayor Michael Hancock, and her retreat to the church also gives lie to the whole sanctuary city ruse. In Denver, we’re arguing about whether to defiantly proclaim in writing that we’re a sanctuary city, with the rules put down on paper.
The sad truth is that whatever local laws are passed, Denver can’t protect Vizguerra. Police can refuse to cooperate on detainers. Sheriffs can refuse to provide more information than the law requires. ICE can be forced to get actual warrants. And the threat to cut off funds from cities like Denver can rightly be seen as a hollow threat, just as the reported memo of the National Guard’s use as a deportation force is almost certainly a hollow threat.
Trump may be president, but this is still America.
But in Trump’s America, he can take the podium to thrill his base and simultaneously leave the rest of the nation slack-jawed. It is funny in that funny/sad way. Unless you’re one of the millions like Vizguerra. Living in a church basement. Facing the most uncertain of uncertain futures, for her and her children. With nowhere else to turn. And for whom it’s not a joke at all.
Photo of Jeanette Vizguerra courtesy of Vizguerra