Assuming no utter self-inflicted catastrophes occur in the Trump administration’s remaining time, perhaps its greatest lasting damage will be that its shocking transgressions against basic decency leave us numb to its more banal evils.
For instance, the scandal over Russian interference has mostly driven the Trump family’s open profit-seeking out of the headlines. Myriad promises to put a barrier between the Trump family’s business and governmental operations have turned out to be jokes, and few even bat an eye anymore because the public lacks the capacity to focus on it when blinded by even greater outrages.
So too it is with the Dreamers and President Trump’s impending threat to eliminate the DACA program in exchange for his billionaire tax cuts and his pointless border wall.
As I write this, hundreds of thousands of kids and young adults whose only crime was being brought to the United States by their parents fear for their safety on account of the leader of the only country they have ever known. This is appalling viciousness from our nation’s president.
But it’s not just Trump. As racist and without scruples as Trump is, many Republican governors and attorneys general are even worse. Left to his own devices, it seems that Trump would simply allow DACA to hobble on as before. But a group of Republican elected officials seem determined to outdo Trump in support for obscenely racist policies that threaten to destroy American families with no redeeming upside at all. These Republican governors and attorneys general have threatened to sue the Trump administration if it continues to uphold DACA.
Trump could simply stand up to them, of course. A decent leader of either political party would do just that, no matter how bigoted and depraved the attorneys general of failed Republican states like Nebraska and Alabama might be. The American people strongly oppose getting rid of the DACA program; even a majority of Republicans support keeping the Dreamers in the country. Even at Trump’s uber-nationalistic campaign rallies of frenzied xenophobia, Trump has been careful to make a distinction between the “good kids” and the “bad hombres.” But in his weakened position he cannot afford to make an enemy of so many Republican attorneys general, as well as the far-right conservative media that expects him to Make America White Again. So what will Trump do?
Here, at last, comes the banality of evil that should shock the conscience but barely registers compared to the weight of this administration’s and its Republican allies’ other transgressions. As Greg Sargent notes, Trump’s likeliest path is to leave DACA in place for current recipients, but discontinue it for any future individuals. This plan would also set DACA up to expire, requiring a renewal that Trump could then use as negotiating leverage with Congress.
What would Trump do with that leverage? His biggest conflict with the GOP congress at the moment is over his border wall with Mexico. Every serious policy analyst knows that the wall isn’t just a bigoted and immoral idea: it’s also a functionally stupid one. It would be an incredibly expensive and environmentally damaging boondoggle that would do almost nothing to reduce illegal immigration. But the wall was Trump’s signature promise to his base, and he feels he must deliver on it no matter the cost–even if it means using DACA as a bargaining chip.
Trump also wants to push through “tax reform” to help him and his billionaire friends stash away more of their ill-gotten loot, at the expense of the poor and middle class workers whose labor created their wealth. Having failed to deliver on Obamacare repeal, Trump cannot afford another high-profile legislative defeat. But getting a tax bill through Congress will be tricky at best, and Trump has very few cards he can play against a Congress that hates him. DACA would be one of those cards.
If Trump holds to his likeliest course, then, he will hold hundreds of thousands of blameless kids hostage in a bid to force Congress to fund his wall and his tax cuts. The evil of that goes beyond the obvious threat to the Dreamers themselves. It’s also a blase political callousness that itself should make the skin crawl.