In a calibrated move to stoke anti-immigrant furor in a midterm election year, President Donald Trump allowed journalists to film an hour-long Cabinet meeting this week with state and local leaders from California.
Accustomed now to violating the dignity of the office he holds with little consequence, the president amped up the rhetoric to deliver his customary mix of lies, gross exaggerations, and dehumanizing adjectives to describe immigrants.
“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them,” Trump said. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”
Yes, the president of the United States of America called people seeking refuge at the border “animals.” He's no longer the candidate using anti-immigrant epithets to outdo a crowded Republican slate of hopefuls, but he doesn't act it.
He says these human beings aren't people. And his nastiness is echoed by his chief of staff, John Kelly, who propagates the falsehood that undocumented immigrants "don’t have the skills" to assimilate into U.S. society, and his pitbull attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who turns it into enforcement practice.
We're talking about women and children with the broken, suffering faces of people who flee terrible circumstances unimaginable to most Americans. We're talking about men whose crime is struggling to give their families a better life. "Animals," and "not people."
There's no excuse for that language.
In the face of controversy, his defenders are trying to cast what Trump said as condemnation of the Salvadorean MS-13 gang, which we all want off the streets, but the president was clearly talking about the poor souls from troubled Central American countries asking for asylum at the border. Shameful.
What the president unleashed on the American people with his comment isn’t a policy debate on immigration policy.
It’s hate speech.
Trump is no different than the New York City lawyer, Aaron Schlossberg, videotaped threatening employees at a café that he’s going to call ICE because they’re speaking Spanish. “This is America!” he ranted, feeling entitled and no doubt emboldened by the big boss of bigotry, the president, to dictate what other people speak in this beleaguered but still free country.
The president’s indecent comments were dutifully chronicled by journalists, but they didn’t make the front page of the New York Times or the Washington Post or the Miami Herald. Such are the times.
A year and four months into Trump’s scandal-ridden presidency, few are outraged and offended anymore — as we all should be — because he’s doing great harm to the country’s psyche. His lack of basic human decency isn’t a gotcha to Democrat me or a victory for Republican you. It degrades all of us.
Listen to Trump's former secretary of state when he says that democracy is being threatened by a growing “crisis of ethics and integrity.”
That's what is at stake, what will do us in, not the immigrants knocking at our door or the undocumented who've made this country their home for decades.
“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom,” Rex Tillerson, fired by Trump in a tweet, said in a commencement address at the Virginia Military Institute.
This country's leaders have so lost their way that what was scandalous before Trump is now acceptable behavior in the White House.
So much so that a Trump staffer can degrade war hero and veteran Senator John McCain, who is dying from cancer — and not apologize, and still keep her job. So much so that the president, a draft dodger insisting on a military parade for himself, doesn’t offer an apology to McCain and his family. So much so that McCain’s colleagues, those cowardly Republican senators who have the president’s ear, don’t demand one from Trump. And so the silence condones saying that it doesn't matter what McCain thinks because “he’s dying anyway.” Appalling.
From the act of killing needed environmental regulation to downgrading the value of public education, President Trump isn’t making America great in any shape or form with his policies or his words. It’s almost as if he hated this country and wanted to destroy it.
And what he unleashes every day on the consciousness of this country, built by immigrants and sustained by immigrants, to create a false narrative on immigration policy is pure evil.
Follow me on Twitter, @fabiolasantiago