Everyone likes to say that the people who go on Fox News really only have an audience of one -- the president. But when President Trump speaks about immigration, he only has an audience of one as well. A couple of months ago I wrote a column about the growing rift between Trump and his most ardent admirer, Ann Coulter. She has been very upset that he hasn't yet built the border wall he promised during the campaign. To her, and Trump supporters like her, that is the most important issue beyond all others.
In that column I noted that Trump, his immigration adviser Stephen Miller also whispering in his ear, was starting to sweat. Two days later, he called for state governors to send National Guard troops to "protect the border."
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been absorbing insult after insult from the president for his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation back in 2017, all so that he could fulfill their shared goal of closing the borders and deporting as many people as possible. Two days after Trump called out the Guard, Sessions distributed a new border policy requiring that anyone crossing the border illegally must be prosecuted:
Essentially, he said that because Congress had failed to "fully fund" the wall, immigration had become a crisis. That was nonsense. The only crisis was that Ann Coulter was having a fit because Trump hadn't built it yet. And because she is not afraid of Trump, she was calling him out on a daily basis.
Homeland Security must have dragged its feet, because on April 26, ICE Director Thomas Homan, Citizenship and Immigration Services Director L. Francis Cissna and Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan sent a memo to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen telling her she needed to immediately detain and prosecute all parents with children, resulting in the separation of families, in order to send a message:
In a memorandum that outlines the proposal and was obtained by The Washington Post, officials say that threatening adults with criminal charges and prison time would be the “most effective” way to reverse the steadily rising number of attempted crossings.
Sessions himself gave a couple of speeches on May 7 saying essentially the same thing:
If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that. . . .
We’re not going to stand for this. We are not going to let this country be invaded. We will not be stampeded. We will not capitulate to lawlessness.
That's the kind of language that makes Ann Coulter swoon. But it's not enough. She still wants that wall.
Over the past few weeks, this "zero-tolerance" policy and all it implies has resulted in thousands of kids being separated from their parents. It's considered a humanitarian disaster everywhere on the planet -- except on Fox News, where they speak to that audience of one in the White House.
Tucker Carlson has been using blatant white nationalist rhetoric on his show for some time, making the claim this week that people who are critical of this policy are "elites" who want immigrants “to change your country forever and they are succeeding." Brian Kilmeade on "Fox & Friends," Trump's favorite program, went off on a furious rant on Monday morning, culminating in this odious comment:
These kids get fanned out to working-class neighborhoods, into our society, and then they have to be paid for English as a Second Language and then they have got to be schooled and a lot of them — sadly, in my neighborhood — turn into MS-13.
Laura Ingraham agrees with Kilmeade that the children being incarcerated at the border are "fresh recruits" for MS-13. As a measure of just how far gone they are, Ingraham's interview with Sessions on Monday night cleared up the difference between the Trump administration and the Nazi persecution of Jews when Sessions pointed out that the Nazis wouldn't let the Jews leave the country.
But the person who really takes it to the next level is the president himself. He's been using increasingly eliminationist language to talk about immigrants in public. Lately Trump's vocabulary has included such words and phrases as "infest," "thugs," "infiltrate," "killers," "criminals," "under siege," "massive crime," "crime-infested," "breeding," "pour into our country" and "animals." We know that in private he has said he doesn't want people coming in from "shithole countries" and worries that those who come in won't "go back to their huts."
Coulter loves that too, but she remains unsatisfied.
Trump was supposed to deliver a speech about the economy on Tuesday to the National Federation of Independent Businesses and instead turned it into a Trump rally where he demagogued American allies and immigrants alike. It was a typically ugly display but what was startling was the audience lustily cheering.
Chuck Todd of "Meet the Press" had the same reaction I did:
The NFIB, a small business association, I've never associated with that kind of nativism. I just -- it shocked me a little bit. Maybe it's just individual members, maybe it's a handful of people. I am shocked by that kind of reception.
It wasn't just a handful of people.
Trump's unctuous factotum Stephen Miller thinks being cruel to children is a winning electoral issue and Trump agrees. (He's comparing it to what he believes was a fantastically successful NFL-kneeling achievement.) It looks like we're going to find out if they're right.
But Coulter still wants her wall. And that's really what this is about, at least for Trump.
He is holding all those kids at the border for ransom. According to Politico, Trump is beside himself over the fact that Congress won't consider his request for $25 billion up front to build his wall and is instead planning to appropriate the mere $1.6 billion his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, requested. Trump is not only holding those kids hostage, he's also threatening to shut down the government in September if he doesn't get his $25 billion.
If Congress capitulates to his demands, there will be no end to it. Ann Coulter's wish list is as long as it is awful, and Trump will do anything to keep her happy. She and her fellow extremists have him wrapped around their little fingers.