Can We Stop Pretending Donald Trump's Speeches Are Interesting?
A much-hyped speech on immigration was just a rehash of the same build-the-wall-and-deport-them-all rhetoric he's been spouting all year.
Donald Trump delivers an immigration speech in Phoenix, Arizona, on August 31, 2016. Photo by Evan Vucci/AP
On Wednesday, Donald Trump got up before an audience in Phoenix and gave a much-ballyhooed speech on his immigration policy. Notably, the Republican presidential candidate—actually, you know what? Fuck this.
For the past few months, Trump's campaign has been in the habit of making a big production over the kinds of policy addresses that credible presidential candidates are supposed to deliver as often as they kiss babies. Obligingly, the media swarms around Trump like fruit flies to a rotting orange.
But each time, all that we get is an alleged billionaire throwing out platitudes and vague wish lists of policies he'd like to see enacted on the off chance he gets elected president. It's become very, very tiring to pretend that this exercise is interesting in any way, so I'm not going to try.
A couple weeks ago, in a widely hyped national security speech, Trump declared that ISIS and other terrorists are bad and proceeded to offer very little in the way of actual policy solutions. His economic policy speech the week prior followed the same pattern: After promising that he'd explain the details of his tax plan, Trump basically just told the audience that taxes are bad, and that America should have less of them.
But nevertheless, his campaign was at it again on Wednesday, making a big, fancy media push before what was supposed to be yet another big fancy speech. Would Trump pivot toward a kinder, gentler treatment of immigrants? Would he turn his back on the nativism that his fan base knows and loves?
"Tonight is not going to be a normal rally speech," he declared after taking the stage in Phoenix. "Instead," he added, "I'm going to deliver a detailed policy address on one of the greatest challenges facing our country today: illegal immigration," emphasizing that this was a "very complicated, a difficult subject."
The idea, it seemed, was to give the impression that he and his campaign wonks have spent weeks contemplating the ins and outs of immigration policy. But does that mean that we have to pretend Trump actually cares about the ins and outs of policy? Because when you strip out the yelling about immigrants committing horrible crimes, his hyperbole about Hillary Clinton's plan for "amnesty" and "open borders," and the jokes about deporting her, the speech revealed pretty much the same plan that Trump unveiled more than a year ago.
That includes: building a Big Wall on the US-Mexican border—and making Mexico pay for it; deporting undocumented immigrants en masse; reversing Barack Obama's executive orders granting a pathway to citizenship to some undocumented people; withholding funds from "sanctuary cities"; suspending immigration from war-torn Middle Eastern countries like Syria; and even limiting legal immigration. Blah, blah, blah.
Wednesday's delivery may have been a bit more forceful, the fans a bit louder; maybe more voters tuned in thanks to the media hype machine. But there was nothing new here. The only thing notable was how many people—even, reportedly, Trump's own advisers—believed the Republican nominee would be unveiling some new, kinder, gentler immigration policy. Turns out, Trump doesn't do kinder or gentler. He doesn't do "new." Mostly what he does is fear.
"He has characterized immigration as a threat to the country, and as a force that's undermining our values," said Doris Meissner, a former commissioner of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service who now leads the US immigration policy program at the Migration Policy Institute.
I spoke with Meissner before the speech to get some insight on Trump's past views, but since Trump's views haven't changed, our conversation conveniently doubled as a postmortem of the speech.
"He's talking in these terms of urgency, especially where the US-Mexico border and Mexican immigration is concerned in a way that is so contradictory with the evidence on the ground as to almost seem as willful misrepresentation," she said. "We are at the lowest point in 40 years of Mexican illegal immigration across the Southwest border... It's completely inaccurate [to say] that people are pouring across the border and that the Mexican border is somehow not in control."
Should we go into all the other half-truths, and even outright lies, Trump spouted off Wednesday? Like the fact that while the Obama administration has given some undocumented immigrants amnesty, it has also deported more than 2.5 million people, a record. Or that hours before telling a crowd in Arizona that Mexico would pay for the wall, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto—who Trump had met with that day!—reiterated that no, in fact, Mexico will not be paying for any wall. And so on.
But who cares? The people cheering on Trump Wednesday don't give a shit about my fact-check, or anyone else's—Trump's fans eat all of this up with a spoon.
In the end, the speech was not about immigration, or really about anything for that matter. Like every speech he gives, Trump's speech was about Trump. He does not need to explain himself or his plans, and he does not need to tether his policies to reality. Trump will fix everything, overturn every obstacle, overrule every pesky fact, by virtue of his sheer Trumpiness. This election is about who Trump is—it doesn't matter what Trump says.
Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.