by Leora Tec
I feel like tonight Donald Trump became the President of the United States. (Chris Wallace of Fox News).
He became President of the United States in that moment. Period. (Van Jones of CNN, discussing the moment when President Trump honored the widow of Navy Seal Ryan Owens).
When Donald Trump addressed a joint session of Congress on February 28, 2017 he read some pretty words off a teleprompter (something he used to make fun of President Obama for) condemning threats against the Jewish community as well as the brutal killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian engineer, by a man shouting anti-immigrant slurs that had taken place the week before. If the speech had stopped there perhaps we might think it signaled a true change in tone.
However, the speech continued. Our president introduced the audience to some crime victims. But not just any crime victims. These people were victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, though Trump referred to them as “illegal immigrants.” Of course losing a loved one to crime is a horrible thing, and my heart goes out to these people. But the fact is that undocumented immigrants commit violent crime at a lower rate than the rest of us.
Trump then announced he was ordering the Department of Homeland Security to open a new office called VOICE: the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (a bit of straining was required to get that acronym, if you ask me). This office is supposed to be dedicated solely to victims of crimes committed by undocumented people. He could just as well have brought out people whose family members were victimized by people who wear yellow sweaters or people who like ketchup on their eggs. Because in creating VOICE, Trump implies a causation that does not exist. There is not even a correlation! So in the same speech that began with a denouncing of hate crimes, our president is inciting to hate. It’s quite remarkable. And not at all presidential.
Should we be surprised by this? Not when Trump’s main advisors are Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller. As Emily Bazelon wrote in her mesmerizing and terrifying New York Times Magazine cover story of March 5, 2017, “The Department of Justification,” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/28/magazine/jeff-sessions-stephen-bannon-justice-department.html
“…immigration [lies] at the center of their apparent vision for reshaping the United States by tethering it to its European and Christian origins.” She goes on to write that Bannon and Sessions have effectively presented … the rising number of minority and foreign-born residents…as America’s chief internal threat.” Sessions actually wanted to curb legal immigration and “…has received awards from virulently anti-immigrant groups.”
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions—our Attorney General. He is in charge of enforcing the Civil Rights Laws of this country. Robert Francis Kennedy must be turning over in his grave.
Bazelon asks in her article: Why does Bannon encourage Trump to paint such a bleak picture of America when it is contrary to fact? Her answer: It gives him justification for his hateful measures. The immigration ban was described as an emergency measure, as if we were in imminent danger of being attacked.
So here we are— in an America where people are being manipulated and their fears magnified. Groups are being scapegoated. And individuals are being victimized— and sometimes murdered— by those who buy into the Bannon-Miller-Sessions vision of a “sanitized” America.
Perhaps we need an office for the people like Sunayana Dumala— the wife of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, the engineer murdered in Kansas— an office for the victims created by this misguided, small-minded, dangerous and most decidedly un-presidential vision of America.