On Saturday evening, we gently suggested that Donald Trump is itching for an actual border battle with a caravan of Central American migrants en route to the United States from Honduras.
From a strategy perspective, using the caravan as a Republican rallying cry ahead of the midterms is a risky move.
Drawbacks to making the caravan a campaign issue include the distinct possibility that if thousands of Central Americans make it to the southern border, their presence on America’s doorstep would cast serious doubt on the notion that the President has succeeded in enlisting the help of the Mexican government to stem the flow of immigrants into the United States. In other words, it could be seen as evidence that Trump’s strategy is not only ineffective, but in fact counterproductive.
On the other hand, if Trump can convince his base that embedded within the thousands of Central Americans making the long, arduous trek North are some “very bad people”, then he might succeed in further polarizing the electorate on the way to whipping everyone into a xenophobic frenzy. That could increase turnout for the GOP next month. If he can convince gullible voters that there’s a conspiracy afoot (by, say, invoking the George Soros bogeyman), well then all the “better”.
If you think back to 2016, when Western Europe was inundated with migrants fleeing the war-torn Mideast, Right-wing political parties seized on the Paris attacks to insist that the flow of immigrants along the Balkan route was providing cover for jihadists.
Obviously, the ratio of Sunni extremists to people running for their lives was infinitesimal, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was the extent to which political opportunists could capitalize on fear and xenophobia, which they did in spades. That fearmongering was largely responsible for Marine Le Pen’s ultimately unsuccessful run at the French presidency, Geert Wilders’ surge in popularity, the emergence of AfD in Germany as a force to be reckoned with and, of course, the Brexit referendum.
Well wouldn’t you know it, Donald Trump is now claiming that the caravan on its way north through Mexico has been infiltrated by terrorists – or at least that’s the implication.
“Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States”, Trump lamented on Monday morning, creating proper nouns out of thin air, as is customary. He continued (and this is verbatim):
Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy. Must change laws!
Now for one thing, it’s not clear what an “Emergy” is, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that means “emergency”.
But more to the point, the President is now suggesting, presumably with no evidence to back up his claims, that “unknown Middle Easterners” are among those making their way to the U.S. border.
This is a blatant – and truly regrettable – attempt to crank the xenophobia knob up another notch. That is, in case GOP voters weren’t scared enough by the prospect of Central American migrants, Trump is now trying to play the Muslim card and, by extension, the terrorist card.
With each passing day, it looks more likely that America is about to witness an actual clash between immigrants and the U.S. military. Trump probably thinks that would prove some kind of point and it would – but not the point he wants to prove.
The only thing it would prove is that he learned absolutely nothing from the PR debacle that accompanied his family separation policy. If he thinks the fallout from that was bad, just imagine what will happen if, God forbid, a woman or a child ends up getting killed by U.S. troops at the border.