With his job-approval ratings unable to break 40 percent these days, President Donald J. Trump needs his base more than ever. And that base, so carefully cultivated by Trump and the likes of Roger Stone and Steve Bannon, has an obsession with race.
Trump’s decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, more commonly known by its initials—DACA—is but the latest in a series of moves designed to signal to the racists and nativists who spread the Trumpian gospel during the presidential campaign that he’s still their guy. And is he ever.
DACA, of course, is the program created by former President Barack Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to avoid deportation by registering with the government. Now the government has their information, and is yanking the program in March.
The president, knowing of the program’s popularity even among a segment of the Republican Party, allowed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to do the honors on Tuesday, a fitting pick for an honor so dubious. As a U.S. senator, Sessions consistently voted against any kind of immigration reform that would allow a path to citizenship for people who have long resided on this side of the border. In a statement, the president ducked responsibility for the decision, effectively daring Congress to pass an immigration reform package before the DACA permits held by young immigrants begin expiring six months from now. I am not going to just cut DACA off,” Trump wrote, “but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act.”
That the DACA bomb came on the heels of Trump’s pardoning of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is no coincidence. It’s all part of the base-pleasing agenda, especially necessary given the president’s legislative failures. Arpaio was famous for racially profiling Latinos and other non-white people, with an eye toward apprehending undocumented immigrants. His jails were instruments of torture, where inmates were kept in tent cities in the blazing desert. His rhetoric against immigrants was appalling. In August, a federal court found him in contempt for his refusal to stop profiling by race the traffic stops his officers made. Without going through the usual Justice Department procedure for pardons, Trump declared “Sheriff Joe” free and clear before he was even sentenced.
That same week, CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Paul LeBlanc dug up long-lost comments that appear to have been posted to articles by William C. Bradford, the Trump appointee to the Department of Energy who oversees the Office of Indian Energy, disparaging Obama’s mother in sexual terms and advancing the racist “birther” myth that is built on a false claim that the former president was born in Kenya, not in the United States. (Bradford claims he was either hacked, or that an imposter posted to the articles, using his Disqus handle.) In June, The Washington Post’s Dino Grandoni discovered tweets by Bradford in which he described as “necessary” the U.S. internment of citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. (When the Post reached Bradford for comment on his tweets from a since-deleted account, Bradford apologized.) Note that Bradford is a climate-change denier who is in charge of helping Native Americans access electricity and other energy supplies.
Oh, and let’s not forget that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s plan to shrink the size of the Bears Ear National Monument is effectively an attack on Native Americans, to whom the land is sacred.
Since the melee in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists, neo-Nazis, anti-government militias, and the Ku Klux Klan gathered on the weekend of August 11, Trump has sent strong signals of his sympathies with the white supremacists. In a tortured series of press conferences, Trump reluctantly and belatedly condemned neo-Nazis and Klansmen, while supporting the cause for which they ostensibly gathered in the southern college town: the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park. Trump alleged that such action amounted to “changing history,” and would lead to the removal of statues of the nation’s founders, since they were slaveholders.
Days later, during a rally in Phoenix at which he hinted at the coming Arpaio pardon, Trump again appeared to refer to the controversy of statue removal, laying blame on the media, who, he said, were “trying to take away our history and heritage.”
If it seems as if racism and cultural prejudice are organizing principles of the Trump administration, that’s because they are. There’s a reason he implemented his travel ban of people from seven Muslim-majority countries within days of taking office, and it has nothing to do with keeping America safe.
While the nation, soon to be “majority-minority” in demographic composition, is busy fighting along racial, ethnic and religious lines, Trump can loot the national commons for the enrichment of oligarchs here and abroad. That’s the point of his deregulatory regime, his proposed shrinking of the national monuments, his denial of climate change as a human-created catastrophe.
It’s a classic move from the authoritarian playbook: scapegoat minorities, and throw the bones to resentful supporters of the strongman’s rule. As I say in every column these days, Congress must act now to remove Trump from office. Thanks to Trump’s deliberate sowing of division, the nation is coming unglued, according to plan. Perhaps that’s why the president sees a hero in Robert E. Lee.