Trump’s Immigration Policy and Why Americans Distrust Government

ROBERT MCLAUGHLIN

“I was the only Republican who had run a presidential campaign and not gone to jail.” Surprisingly enough, for the time being, those words were not uttered by Corey Lewandowski or Paul Manafort, but rather by James Baker as he joined the Reagan presidential campaign in 1980.

As H.W. Brands pointed out in Reagan: The Life (2015), Baker was simply referring “to the Watergate woes of the Nixon team.” That said, when I teach the later half of U.S. History survey, I suggest to students that the most harmful, lasting legacy of Vietnam and Watergate has been that people no longer trust their government because our elected leaders repeatedly lied to us. Donald Trump consistently upholds that lying tradition, particularly when describing his own immigration policy.

Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s beleaguered Attorney General, first announced the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy on May 7, 2018 in San Diego. Sessions stated, “We don’t want to separate families, but we don’t want families to come to the border illegally and attempt to enter this country improperly.” A heckler interrupted Sessions, shouting, “Why are you doing this? Do you have a heart?” Sessions insisted, “If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple.”

However, by mid-June, when numerous news reports broke showing children being separated from their families and held in cages, the American public unleashed bitter outrage against Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. Donald Trump responded, as he always does, by blaming others in order to deflect attention from his own failures. On June 5, 2018, at 7:58am, Trump tweeted; “Separating families at the Border is the fault of bad legislation passed by the Democrats. Border Security law should be changed but Dems can’t get their act together!”

Simply put, that tweet is nothing but lies. There was no legislation passed by Democrats, or anyone else, mandating child separation at the border. His own attorney general publicly announced the policy only a month earlier! (How dumb does he think we are?) And, while Trump may be right in general that Democrats can’t get their act together, if he wanted to change the border security laws, the Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House.

They can pass any type of immigration legislation they choose, but they have repeatedly failed to do so. And, for two more weeks Trump continued to blame Democrats for his policy choice. Moreover, on June 15, 2018, when Trump answered questions from reporters outside the White House he was pressed on the point that Republicans control both branches and could pass immigration legislation if they so chose. Trump insisted that they needed Democratic support to pass legislation. A reporter then asked, “What about executive action?” Trump responded, “Now, wait. Wait. You can’t do it through an executive order.” Really?

Trump’s Nixonian Presidency

Stephanie Stramm’s opening line in her June 21st article in the Wall Street Journal read; “On June 20, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to stop the practice of separating children from their parents at the border, amid mounting public outcry.” So, it turned out a president can change immigration policy through an executive order. Who knew?

Well before this self-inflicted immigration crisis, The Charlotte Observer plainly stated something everyone already knew; “Donald Trump lies. A lot. This is not fake news, but it is old news.” (August 3, 2017). The Observer correctly argued that his incessant lying matters, and because of it our nation is dramatically weakened. Quite literally, Donald Trump’s presidency began with a lie. Everyone undoubtedly remembers how Trump stated that the crowd at his inauguration was the largest in history. The U.S. Park Service diligently produced photographic 3 evidence that flatly disproved Trump’s assertions. Yet, Trump being Trump, he could never admit to being wrong, so he sent the hapless Sean Spicer out to extol; “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” Kellyanne Conway famously cleared things up the next day stating the White House was simply using “alternative facts.” Is there any wonder why Americans so thoroughly distrust their government?

Robert McLaughlin, Ph.D. teaches Western Civilization at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.