Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Before Trump embarked on his trip abroad, some of us were cringing at the idea that Stephen Miller, who has publicly embraced Islamophobic rhetoric, was writing the speech the president would give in Riyadh to the leaders of the Middle East. But after it was delivered, many were surprised by remarks like this:

We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership – based on shared interests and values – to pursue a better future for us all.

Instead, the lecturing was reserved for our NATO allies a few days later.

NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations, for 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for their defense.

This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States.  And many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years.

Of course, none of that is true. But I’d like to zero in on something he said immediately prior to that lecture.

The NATO of the future must include a great focus on terrorism and immigration, as well as threats from Russia and on NATO’s eastern and southern borders.  These grave security concerns are the same reason that I have been very, very direct with Secretary Stoltenberg and members of the Alliance…

Notice that immigration is on Trump’s list of “grave security concerns.” That is a page right out of the Bannon/Miller playbook.

“The media tends to cover immigration issues through the frame of how it impacts everybody but actual citizens of the United States,” Miller complains…

Miller and Bannon want Trump to undertake a radical recasting of U.S. policies, from immigration to trade to taxation, that would invert this frame by making the interests of U.S. citizens (or what Miller and Bannon perceive to be their interests) predominant, almost to the point of exclusivity.

Flipping the script on immigrants/refugees from one of compassion to one that sees them as a “grave security concern” is at the heart of their nationalist agenda. So rather than the kind of Islamophobia we were concerned might make it into Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia, the Bannon/Miller wing inserted their agenda into his remarks to NATO leaders.

As has been noted over the last few days, Trump has repeatedly praised the autocratic leaders of countries like Saudi Arabia and often shown contempt for our democratic allies in Europe. That builds on the kind of thing we saw when he refused to condemn Putin’s killing of dissidents during his interview with Bill O’Reilly and the fact that he congratulated Duterte’s murderous approach to his drug war.

In the end, Donald Trump seems to have much more affinity with leaders like King Salman than he does with Prime Minister Angela Merkel. Some might suggest that is related to the influence of people like Bannon and Miller and/or his ties to Vladimir Putin. It is clear that all of those forces align in the same direction. But to cast the president as a clean slate on which this agenda is projected ignores his history.

Back in 1989, Trump took out an ad during the controversy about the Central Park Five in which he called for the death penalty before the young men had been tried in court (and eventually exonerated). In it, he encouraged people to hate them and wrote, “Criminals must be told that their civil liberties end when an attack on our safety begins!” That goes against one of the guiding principles of our democracy, as articulated in the Fifth Amendment.

No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;

By now we should all recognize that the current President of the United States doesn’t share many of the bedrock democratic values that we hold dear.

As things heat up for this White House and they go into battle mode, we’ll see this side of Trump increasingly on display. Fair warning.

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