PARIS - Wasting $100 million to send more U.S. troops to the Mexican border than are now in Afghanistan is plainly a cynical campaign stunt. Less obvious is what it shows about where Donald Trump's hollow heart is leading America and the world beyond.
That piteous march, hardly an “invasion”, will stop at a secure fence. But writ large, it reflects 68 million people on the move. If global leaders ignore the reasons why, their numbers will soar. And as more desperate fathers see children sicken and starve, expect the worst.
This last week sharply defined the real Donald Trump: a deceitful manipulator who exploits the gullible. Unless a new Congress can curb him, he has two more years, maybe six, to unmake America and encourage despots who follow his worst instincts.
Like all nations, the United States must control who crosses its borders with case-by-case screening. But a rich democracy built by immigrants fleeing famine or fear needs to set an example by doing that with human empathy.
Trump just told troops that if someone throws a rock they should “consider it a rifle” and shoot. Nigerian authorities echoed that message to police in the capital, Abuja, who Amnesty International reports then shot dead 45 protesters.
U.S. law says firing needlessly on unarmed people is murder. Yet it appeals to a frightening new mood in America.
Earlier this year, a Tucson, Arizona, jury acquitted Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz, who pumped 10 bullets into 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriquez back in 2012. Jurors decided it was in self-defense. I went down to the Nogales border to look at the scene.
The fence is 36 feet high with vertical bars so close together that a gun barrel can barely fit through. A group of young men lobbed rocks over it from 70 to 90 feet away.
Prosecutors argued “malice aforethought” because Swartz fired 16 shots in 34 seconds from three different locations and reloaded after Elena Rodríguez had fallen to the ground. The defense countered that the teen was alive for most of the shots.
Those “bad hombres” Trump evokes don't storm fences or knock at the gates to ask for asylum. Criminals and terrorists find other ways to circumvent walls if they don't find a way in through the front door.
When Trump says he hears that Islamist terrorists have infiltrated that Central American column, he channels Sean Hannity not the U.S. intelligence agencies, which know otherwise. And that resonates. One woman at a rally told a TV camera, “There are people from the Middle East!” Like Jesus?
Americans who prefer reality can judge for themselves. Video and photos show suffering mothers with kids who seem nothing like murderers and rapists. Reporters with them spend hard days and nights gathering hard facts.
Will Grant on BBC lets migrants tell their stories. One man said disease wiped out the coffee crop; his family would starve if they stayed. Others said they were fleeing brutality that has hardened since Ronald Reagan supported military dictators and “freedom fighters,” whose death squads suppressed leftist opposition.
Targeted economic aid could help families stay where most would prefer to be - at home. But World Bank figures show U.S. assistance to Honduras was cut by 63.3 percent in 2018 to $52.9 million, about three days' cost of the army deployment.
Trump boasts that he has brought unemployment to 3.7 percent, the lowest it has been in half a century. That, too, is a reason why it is crucial not to slam shut borders, cutting off labor for agriculture and the menial jobs that underpin prosperity.
“Migration,” part of a new world disorder, is growing fast. If rich governments do not address its causes - climate chaos and senseless conflict -- policing borders will be no more effective than rent-a-cops on hemorrhoid cushions guarding gated communities against committed intruders. Appeals to xenophobia and racism heat this crisis toward boiling point.
There are solutions. The discontinued Bracero Program, for instance, allowed migrants to come in when needed, taxed and traced, and then return to where most would rather be - with their families in their own societies. But Trump is rousing rabble, not addressing problems,
Trump denies bigotry and calls himself “the least racist person you will ever meet.” Yet again, those pesky facts.
At one rally, he said Democrats “want to turn America into a giant sanctuary of violent predators and MS13 killers,” adding, “A blue wave is a crime wave.” To bang away at Islam, he mentioned Barack Obama, pausing between first and last name to draw a large “H” for Hussein with his finger.
Michael Cohen, in Vanity Fair, described a conversation with his former client in 2013 after Nelson Mandela died. Trump challenged Cohen to “name one country run by a black person that's not a shithole.” The United States comes to mind.
Anyone who still blocks out reality and takes Trump at his word is beyond hope. The question now is how Republicans who see him for what he is yet still cheer him on will step back to see where he is taking America.