President Trump’s obsession with stopping migrants from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has led to some ludicrous propositions and policies, and they’re not just limited to his campaign promise to build “a big, fat, beautiful wall” that he would somehow, some way, force Mexico to pay for. He has weighed shutting down the border entry points, which would have stopped most trade between the two nations, not to mention stranding on either side of the border uncounted masses of people traveling lawfully. He has suggested that U.S. troops at the border could shoot protesters flinging rocks at them from Mexico.
But there may be a winner for the “full-on bizarre” award. According to an article based on details from a forthcoming book by two New York Times reporters, the president’s paroxysms over illegal immigration led him to suggest a deep water-filled ditch along the border (more than half of which is the Rio Grande) and stock it with snakes or alligators (what, no piranhas?) to, presumably, poison or eat migrants.
Was he serious? Apparently his aides thought so, because they scrambled to put together a cost estimate. And the report also elicited a predictable response from the easily riled president. “Now the press is trying to sell the fact that I wanted a Moat stuffed with alligators and snakes, with an electrified fence and sharp spikes on top, at our Southern Border,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “I may be tough on Border Security, but not that tough. The press has gone Crazy. Fake News!” A general rule of thumb for reading the president: The more Trump protests, the more likely the allegation is true.
The temptation is to giggle, but the stakes here are too high, and the underlying issues too serious, to dispel with laughs and social media memes. We argued early in Trump’s 2016 campaign that he was temperamentally unfit to serve as president, and he has continued to prove us right. He’s thin-skinned, intellectually incurious, unmoored from fact and science, and incapable of seeing anything beyond the fight before him (which he usually started). The details of his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky displayed, yet again, a readiness to abuse the power of his office, in this case inviting a foreign leader to interfere in a U.S. presidential election by helping Trump undermine a leading challenger to his own campaign. And the list goes on.
But immigration, which spotlights Trump’s animus toward people from most other countries, is the through-line for this presidency. It is, as he fumed to aides, “my issue,” and the wind that propelled him to the White House. Yet his administration has flailed and failed in trying to resolve the issue, in part because of Trump’s instinctive turn to inhumane and unjust resolutions. His antipathy toward Muslims led to chaos at airports when, a week after taking office, he announced a sudden ban on arrivals from seven Muslim-majority countries. He saw nothing wrong with separating children from their parents as a deterrent to those who might follow — at least he saw nothing wrong with it until even parts of his hard-line political base balked. His administration has held migrant women and children in frigid cells, detained children without such basic human necessities as soap and showers, and forced asylum seekers to wait weeks or months in dangerous, squalid conditions in Mexican border towns. Can a gator-filled ditch or shooting fleeing migrants in the legs be that far afield for a mind that works in such dehumanizing ways?
“You are making me look like an idiot,” he reportedly told his aides in a fit of frustration over his signature issue. No, Mr. President, you’re doing a bang-up job of that all by yourself.
It is remarkable that enough American voters bought his act three years ago to elect him president, an eruption of frustration and anti-government sentiment that strains the fabric of our democracy. Our system of self-governance rises and falls on our collective faith in it; the fact that we elected a candidate who campaigned against the very government he sought to run exposed the dangerous cultural, regional and political rifts that have emerged in this country.
Healing those rifts takes talent, wisdom, creativity and an ability to, as the old saying goes, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Trump is not that person. And his actions since taking office reinforce our belief that he is unfit for the job. But his actions have also revealed something deeper and darker than a man in over his head. It has proven just how dangerous it is to give the power of the presidency to a person who has no brakes and no discernible empathy.