Donald Trump's last-minute midterms gambit: Will he finally pay the price for bigotry and division?

After ignoring hurricane victims, Trump is wasting billions sending troops to the border. Will voters punish him?

By Heather Digby Parton


Published October 31, 2018 9:20AM (EDT)

A man rides his bicycle through a damaged road in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, on September 24, 2017 following the passage of Hurricane Maria. (Getty/Salon)
A man rides his bicycle through a damaged road in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, on September 24, 2017 following the passage of Hurricane Maria. (Getty/Salon)

President Trump refused to postpone his visit to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Local officials and leaders of the community begged him not to come until after their funerals and time of mourning were over, but Trump has a busy rally schedule and said it was the only time he could fit in the PR stunt that nobody wanted him to do. So he went anyway, diverting security from the gatherings of mourners who were concerned that there could be another violent incident. The president, the first lady, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were on their own, lighting candles at the Tree of Life synagogue accompanied only by the rabbi and the Israeli ambassador as a sad, slow protest took place just blocks away:

The New York Times reported that Trump's Jewish daughter and son-in-law had talked him into going, and that he didn't really want to do it. He was angry that his superfan, alleged MAGAbomber Cesar Sayoc Jr., along with the Pittsburgh killer inspired by his rhetoric about the caravan, Robert Bowers, had disrupted his "strategy." He was anxious to get right back to it.

That strategy is to gin up hatred and paranoia about a ragged band of Central American refugees, most of them women and children, who are walking through Mexico to seek asylum in America. They are several hundred miles from the U.S. border, but Trump is sending more than 5,000 troops down there to protect us from these dangerous invaders to the border. According to the Pentagon they will be armed, although Homeland Security head Kirstjen Neilsen says there are no plans to shoot anyone. So that's a relief.

What the soldiers will be doing on the border is still unclear, but we know that Trump is very impressed by the pictures of the DMZ between North and South Korea. He said, “Look at Korea. We have a border in Korea. We have a wall of soldiers. ... You look at that, nobody comes through. But our own border, we don’t take care of it." He longingly described the DMZ: "Thirty-two thousand soldiers, their finest equipment, barbed wire all over the place. We protect that whole thing. Nobody comes through." Indeed not. People don't come through because Trump's pen pal, Kim Jong-un, orders them to be shot if they try.

Trump told Fox News, "We're going to build tent cities. We're going to put tents up all over the place. We're not going to build structures and spend all of this, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars — we're going to have tents."  Apparently, he's unaware that this costs money as well, much more than it would cost to simply process people the normal way. According to CBS News, the Department of Health and Human Services expects to "spend $367 million on the government's tent city at the Tornillo Port of Entry in Texas in just the final three months of the year." That facility holds 1,500 unaccompanied minors.

As for the cost of the troop deployment, let's just say it's going to be high. Jennifer Griffin of Fox News reported that this will come out of the Pentagon budget and the numbers have not been finalized. But she notes that when President George W. Bush sent 6,000 National Guard troops to the border, that cost $1.2 billion.

In other words, this stunt is going to waste billions of taxpayer dollars for no reason. There is no crisis. Those refugees heading toward the border are a long way off, and not dangerous. There is no threat to national security. Border crossings are way down from a decade ago. The unemployment rate is very low. Migrants have been flowing back and forth over that border for centuries. There is no "invasion."

Donald Trump is wagging the dog. Instead of waging a phony war on foreign soil, he's putting on a pricy pageant along America's southern border in a blatant attempt to get his base out to vote next week. It would have been much cheaper to let him have his big military parade.

It's not that the country hasn't faced a number of real crises requiring the mustering of federal resources and manpower since he's been in office. There have been five major hurricanes and several massive wildfires in the past two years, resulting in horrible loss of life and property. And he has not shown even a tiny fraction of the same level of concern for those as he is showing for this phony border crisis.

In fact, he frequently complains about how much money those natural disasters are costing, and seems to suggest that the ones that take place in areas that didn't vote for him had it coming. We all remember his ghastly performance after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, when he even complained, even in the first few days, that it was busting his budget. The federal recovery effort was incompetent from the beginning and the island is still in dire straits, which have been made even worse by the GOP tax cuts. Here's what the president had to say about that just last week:

To this day, Trump does not appear to understand that Puerto Rico is not a foreign country. But then, he treats California like a foreign country too:

What's happening should never happen. I go all over the country and I meet with governors. The first thing they say is there's no reason for forest fires like that in California. So I say to the governor, or whoever is going to be the governor of California, you'd better get your act together because, California, we're just not going to continue to pay the kind of money that we're paying because of fires that should never be, to the extent that they were telling me in a couple of states -- I wouldn't even mention their name ... it's costing the country hundreds of billions of dollars because of incompetence in California. ... It's hurting our budget, our country. And they just better get their act together.

Evidently, he's under the impression that the people of California don't pay federal taxes. Or perhaps he sees all such payments as a donation to the United States of Trump and anything the people get back is a gift from him.

There are real crises happening all the time right here in the United States. But unless it can be blamed on a person of color, a foreigner, Democrats or the media, Trump's interest is very limited. Just as he does with foreign countries, he likes to threaten to withhold money if people fail to kowtow properly before his throne. But he's happy to spend billions on ridiculous stunts like sending troops to repel a nonexistent "caravan invasion," in a ploy so obviously designed to rile up his followers to vote in the midterms that a five-year-old could see through it. What Trump hasn't yet absorbed is that this kind of stuff also riles up his opponents. Perhaps that lesson will sink in next Tuesday night.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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