In this strange celebrity obsessed land we’re living in, it’s only fitting that the VMA’s reminded us of the harsh reality of President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda. Of course, it’s only fitting that Trump use the White House (again) to shoot a campaign infomercial. And yes, it’s only fitting that Trump pivot back to his favorite campaign theme of “law and order” just as two central figures in his 2016 campaign find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
So what’s behind Trump’s latest attempt at provoking an immigration conflagration? Hint: It’s not really about “economic anxiety”.
Act I: Trump “speaks perfect English”, doesn’t he?
Fresh off another underwhelming special election performance (where provisional ballots are still being counted), Donald Trump is trying to brush off his Republican Party’s political woes. And as per usual, Trump is doing so by pivoting to his favorite political punching bag to portray the appearance of “winning, winning, winning”.
So what went down during Trump’s “Salute to the Heroes of ICE and CBP”? Trump boasted about how a Border Patrol agent “speaks perfect English” as he called the agent onto the stage. He celebrated the “liberation” of Long Island. He seemed to mix up CBP (as in, Customs and Border Patrol) with CBC (as in, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). And yes, he spoke of a coming “red wave” while claiming Democrats “don’t mind crime”.
Once again, Trump is resorting to xenophobia and fear to distract from the real-world implications of his immigration policies. As clumsy and ham-handed as yesterday’s campaign infomercial was rolled out, it hit all “the greatest hits” of Trump’s campaign slogans. Regardless of whether his 2016 “Make America Great Again” platform still resonates with voters in 2018, that’s Trump’s plan and Republicans are largely sticking with him.
Act II: Finally, some Logic
A few hours after Trump’s presentation, MTV presented its Video Music Awards (or VMA’s). While Madonna provided the huge WTF moment of the night with her self-absorbed “tribute” to the late, great Aretha Franklin, rapper Logic and Ryan Tedder used their time on the stage to advocate for those less fortunate, chiefly the children affected by Trump’s family separation scandal. Logic and Tedder not only performed their new song, “One Day”, but they also shared the stage with DREAMer activist Jefferson Arpi and gave him the opportunity to let the country know about what’s happened to his family since his father was arrested and placed in a federal detention camp.
Ever since Trump took office, he and his administration have preferred to frame families like Arpi’s as “aliens”, “animals”, and “criminals”. That way, it’s easier to demand these people be treated as sub-human. Never mind that these are humans with real families and real reasons to seek refuge here in America. In this powerful moment at the VMAs, Logic may have helped reframe the immigration debate away from Trump’s campaign rhetoric and back to the reality at the border.
Act III: Trump demands “law and order”, except from his own campaign
There’s probably another reason why Trump has returned to beating his anti-immigrant drum. As I’m writing this, Trump’s former personal lawyer and “fixer”, Michael Cohen, is preparing to plead guilty to charges of bank fraud, tax fraud, and violations of campaign finance law. Though his plea deal doesn’t seem to indicate any further cooperation with law enforcement, it will essentially confirm that Trump’s presidential campaign arranged for illegal payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal in exchange for keeping secret their sexual encounters with Trump. At the same time, a jury just reached a decision in the trail of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on his bank fraud and tax evasion charges. He’s been found guilty on eight counts, while a mistrial’s been declared on the other ten.
For someone who expresses such desire for “law and order”, Trump didn’t seem to have a problem with his campaign engaging in such questionable activities. Why is that? Could it be that Trump’s calls for “law and order” are less about some passion for the rule of law, and more about his overpowering drive for self-preservation at any cost? If Trump continually shows his support for ICE and CBP “securing the border” from the danger of refugees escaping the very criminal activity Trump rails against, how could he possibly be involved in the Russian government’s larger goal of wielding greater influence on American politics?
Act IV: What’s really causing that “economic anxiety”?
Whether it’s a White House produced PR stunt, or it’s the twisting of an official Congressional visit to check on immigrant families separated at the border into a misleading attack ad, Trump and his Republican Party continue to double down on “economic anxiety” in a desperate move to hang onto their majorities in Congress. Don’t pay attention to the guilty pleas, or the “taxi business”, or the crying children, or stagnant wages for workers, or the fires around us, or whatever the hell went down in Helsinki. No, let’s focus on the “economic anxiety” that’s been induced by the mere presence of immigrant families (instead of, you know, stagnant wages).
We’ve got to give Donald Trump credit where it’s due: The “reality TV” celebrity extraordinaire certainly knows how to grab our attention. It’s on us to remember why he’s doing so, and what he doesn’t want us to pay attention to.