Trump's demonisation of the migrant caravan is nothing more than a cynical ploy for votes – but it's working
America has more important issues to consider than some non-threat from a group of harmless, peaceable, unarmed and desperate refugees
According to one baseless conspiracy theory doing the rounds, George Soros is supposed to have “funded” the caravan of migrants making its way steadily up Latin America towards the United States. It hardly needs a billionaire philanthropist to finance such an arduous journey, and the idea is inherently absurd. That, however, has not stopped Donald Trump from lending it some credibility – “I wouldn’t be surprised” was his response to reporters.
In fact it would be less of a surprise to learn that Trump himself was encouraging the caravan, such is the political capital he has been able to make out of it. As if on cue, images of this pitiful wave of humanity searching for peace and stability appear just as the US midterm election campaigns are entering their final stages.
Thus, the political agenda is being dominated by an issue that Trump made his own during his presidential campaign in 2016 – symbolised by his infamous pledge to build a useless wall across the US border with Mexico. The wall still unbuilt, Mr Trump has instead pledged to send 10,000 to 20,000 American troops south to ensure that the migrants don’t get in to the United States. Such is the porous nature of the frontier that the entire armed forces of the United States would fail to prevent the migrants getting through.
That, though, remains to be seen, and for now the issue is acting as an extremely helpful distraction from Mr Trump’s other woes: his divisive, incendiary language, the FBI inquiry into collusion with the Russians that is grinding on, and his dangerous trade war with China. After the massacre in Pittsburgh and after a year in which Mr Trump has created his own “fake news” about “fake news”, America has more important issues to consider than some non-threat from a group of harmless, peaceable, unarmed and desperate refugees.
That the issue has surged again will help his Republican allies minimise their losses in the congress, and particularly the House of Representatives, where the pressure on Republicans is rather stronger than it is in the senate races.
As if to drive the issue even higher up the news agendas, Mr Trump also suggested abolishing “birthright” citizenship. He may not have read the US constitution recently, because it clearly reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” Or perhaps, more characteristically, he doesn’t care because he is so fond of “dead cat” political tactics – the idea being that slapping a dead cat on the table distracts everyone from anything else in the room. It appears to be working.
In one of his most foolish tweets, Mr Trump declared: “This is an invasion of our country and our military is waiting for you!” The impression is clear: that Mr Trump might not particularly mind or care if the migrants came under fire from US forces, and perhaps not even if some of them were as a result injured. In raising the stakes and the political temperature in this way, Mr Trump may have gained some marginal short-run voter advantage. But, with the grave danger of high-profile clashes between migrants and the US Army on the border with Mexico, this could plausibly lead to loss of life and a major diplomatic incident with Mexico.
And for how long will American troops be stationed in their own makeshift camps along the border? A month? A year? Permanently? Until the wall is finished? It is already a larger deployment than that in Iraq or Afghanistan, to meet a nonexistent threat to US national security. This episode will not end well.
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