Eight-hundred-thousand federal workers weren’t paid on Friday because President Trump says he needs a wall to protect us. His case for continuing the partial government shutdown, repeated once more in his Oval Office fundraising speech last week, is that migrants from Mexico and Central America are poisoning our country with their terrorism, drugs and propensity for rape. It is actually a more anodyne version of the argument that Pat Buchanan made in a syndicated column Sunday, one that Trump celebrated on Twitter for its citation of phony White House statistics about immigrant crime. The former presidential candidate and Nixon aide argued for Trump to take actions other presidents have resorted to in wartime because “the Democratic Party is hostile to white men.”
Trump’s entire presidency has embodied that sentiment. The wall may have started as a pneumonic device to remind him to demonize Hispanic migrants, but it morphed into the euphemism “border security.” Trump wants to make this shutdown about our safety, yours and mine. But especially yours, if you are reading this and happen to be white. He is here to protect us against a threat that he invented to get elected.
No matter what color you are, though, it is difficult to square Trump’s supposed obsession with public safety with how servile he has been toward the nation and leader whose tangible interference in the United States is a sustained threat to national security.
On Friday night, as many furloughed government employees wondered how they will pay rent, tuition or medical bills, the New York Times reported that in addition to the previously revealed FBI criminal probe into Trump’s ties to Russia, the bureau had also opened up a counterintelligence investigation into the president after his suspicious behavior following the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. One day later, the Washington Post wrote that Trump “has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations” with Vladimir Putin, the authoritarian president with whom he has met at least five times since the 2016 election.
The White House spit out a childish statement, all but calling the Times and the Post doody-heads. When asked directly on his favorite cable network Saturday night whether he has ever worked for Russia, Trump filibustered for two minutes, insisting that it’s good to be friends with a nation that attacked us and saying just about every word in creation but “no.” His consciousness of guilt was palpable.
This is an unsustainable presidency. Knowing the FBI’s history with black Americans, I hesitate to lionize the agency’s every deed. That being said, we should be having real, adult conversations about Trump’s impeachment. Today. Call that a political gift to him if you wish. News cycles and Republican talking points are less a concern to me than whether or not we have a foreign agent running the country.
We are where Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger supposedly felt he’d arrived in 1974, when he ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ignore any White House military initiatives lacking his signature, undercutting Richard Nixon’s authority at a time when it was feared he might use war powers to escape the stink of Watergate.
Many considered that treasonous, so I am not here to get into a debate about whether or not Trump is a traitor. What can be demonstrated, without semantics or legal definitions, is that the president has made this country more unsafe. Even worse, he has done so to advance his own personal and political interests. He has used the fear of fictional mobs of violent migrants while taking his eye off very real threats, including Russia and white extremist terrorism. He has compounded that betrayal by engineering this shutdown, which on Saturday became the nation’s longest ever.
The shutdown has belied Trump’s promise to protect poor to middle-class white voters. This is not a “vacation,” as White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett idiotically termed it. All throughout the country, local stations have captured stories of furloughed employees not merely struggling to pay rent or make their electric bills, but to choose between doing so and fulfilling their most urgent medical needs. One diabetic woman who works for the Department of the Interior is now rationing her insulin. A Maryland group handed out meals on Friday to affected families, much as one might see charities doing for the homeless at the holidays. How is a wall keeping them safe, or even fed? And while the panic over the lack of Food and Drug Administration inspectors may have been overblown, the increasing number of TSA officers calling in sick is increasingly worrisome.
People of color and most other marginalized groups could see how Trump was weakening the United States because they were experiencing it first hand from the moment he announced his candidacy almost four years ago. Now, everyone is in on it. Much like the notion that America under Trump is like a nation without adult supervision, the shutdown shows that our conjecture about his presidency weakening us is no longer a theoretical exercise. Trump chose to elevate both Russia and racism, and the revelations from this past weekend reminded us of the consequences of those decisions.
We are being offered a choice: not merely as far as what we are willing to tolerate from a president, but what we choose to fear. Trump needs us be frightened of these migrant families to a point that is actually fictional, all to justify both his immoral mission of white supremacy and the cruelty he shows his targets. He does this all while prostrating himself before a strongman who actually attacked our country. Now he unplugs our government and lets it atrophy. If we didn’t know before, we surely can recognize now what, and who, is terrorizing us.