Sunday 23 September 2018

For the president, what really mattered most was that he came out looking strong

U.S. President Donald Trump. Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump. Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters

Michael Scherer Washington

US President Donald Trump abandoned his policy of removing migrant children from their parents' care without any mention of his supporters who had spent weeks defending his false claims that Democrats were responsible for a family separation crisis on the border that only Congress could solve.

Instead, he invited the news media to the cabinet room on Wednesday to talk at length about his own strength, an issue he has always placed at the centre of the immigration debate.

"We are very strong," he said twice to start, going on to say the word "strong" seven more times, as if worried that allowing undocumented immigrant families to remain together might call his resolve into question. "If you're really, really pathetically weak, the country is going to be overrun with millions of people, and if you're strong, then you don't have any heart. That's a tough dilemma. Perhaps, I'd rather be strong," he said.

That bluster - the shock and awe of a president who claims he might not care - has been a calling card throughout Mr Trump's political rise, a clear rebuke of George W Bush's self-styled "compassionate conservatism" and Bill Clinton's desire to feel the nation's pain.

The "heart" might have won this battle, Mr Trump told the nation, but no one should mistake the skirmish for the whole war.

The projection of strength, after all, has always been the central pillar of Mr Trump's politics, the reason behind his constant attraction to conflict and a main draw for voters desperate for change and a powerful ally.

Immigration has always been his favourite arena for flexing his rhetorical muscles.

"It seems 'strong on immigration' wins now," Mr Trump said last Friday in an interview on Fox News, after a conversation with Italy's new prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, who won election on a platform of restricting immigration.

The tough-guy posture of a citizen politician who had encouraged fisticuffs at campaign rallies, praised murderous foreign regimes and described immigrants as snakes who might "infest" the nation was, ultimately, more important than any single policy, even one his aides hoped would give him leverage in congressional negotiations and deter future border crossings.

It did not even matter that his team had spent days arguing that the president did not have the power to stop separating parents from their children, a trauma the American Academy of Paediatrics says can permanently disrupt the brain architecture of children.

"The Democrats have to change their law," he said last Friday, just days before proving his own words untrue. "It's their law."

For days, he had doubled down in the face of resistance, sharpening his own rhetoric with each turn.

Then he dropped his defences just as effortlessly, all but admitting the moral dilemma. In his White House, positions on immigration, gun control and foreign policy can spin like a weather vane. (© 2018, The Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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