By D’Anne Witkowski
There is a group of about 4,000 people walking from Honduras toward the United States. President Donald Trump and the Republicans would like you to believe this is an invading army. It isn’t. It’s by and large unarmed people fleeing violence and poverty. These are asylum seekers, not invaders. But, of course, to Republicans there is no difference.
It’s now being reported that Trump intends to send more than 15,000 troops to the Mexican border. Not to provide humanitarian aid, mind you. The troops are much more likely to kill these asylum seekers than to help them.
“We do not have any intention right now to shoot at people,” Trump’s Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said about the troops. “But I also take my officer and agents, their own personal safety, extraordinarily seriously. They do have the ability of course to defend themselves.”
You don’t even have to read between the lines to translate this: “We reserve the right to shoot at people because we can and no matter what happens, it will be totally justified.”
This show of force against vulnerable people is how the Trump administration rolls, of course.
I often hear people remark that they can’t believe Trump’s approval level is so high (and for most people, anything above zero is too high). They can’t understand why anyone would have voted for Trump in the first place, and they certainly can’t understand how he still has so many fervent supporters. The New York Times has spent a billion or so words on trying to figure out the enigmatic Trump supporter. But, really, it’s not complicated. Trump promised his supporters that he would make their lives better and that he would hurt the people they didn’t like.
He has, of course, not made their lives better, but that’s the thing: they never expected him to. Trump fanatics don’t believe that government can make someone’s life better. Republicans have been spreading the idea for decades that government is bad and has no role in bettering our lives or societies. Bettering one’s life happens through personal responsibility, not working toward a collective good.
What Trump has done, and has done really well, is hurt people. Specifically some of the most vulnerable populations of Americans: transgender people, blacks, Mexicans, “Middle Easterners” (a term Trump used to warn of the dangerous people he said are in the asylum-seeking caravan), Asians, Jews, Muslims — the list goes on and on, but the commonality is that these are people that Trump’s base doesn’t like. So they are more than happy to see government being used as a weapon since it is apparently not capable of anything else.
Meanwhile, yet another white man radicalized right here in the United States opened fire at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11. And why did he do it? Because he believed what Trump said: that the caravan was full of dangerous people and was funded by outside groups including George Soros, a man who has lots of money and gives it to progressive causes and candidates and who is, wouldn’t you know it, Jewish.
The shooter’s posts on social media indicated an obsession with the caravan by a man who was wildly anti-Semitic. Right before the mass murder, he was railing on social media against the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a group he believed to be helping the caravan.
“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” Bowers posted. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
And that’s exactly what he did, armed and ready to kill.
Adam Serwer put it best in The Atlantic: “The apparent spark for the worst anti-Semitic massacre in American history was a racist hoax inflamed by a U.S. president seeking to help his party win a midterm election.”
In other words, in Trump’s attempt to shore up his racist base so that they’d get out and vote for Republicans, he spurred one of his followers to enact real-life violence that had deadly consequences.
—D’Anne Witkowski is a poet, writer and comedian living in Michigan with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBT politics for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.