Playing Whack-a-Mole With Trump’s Lies Isn’t Enough

As I wrote yesterday, it is clear that Donald Trump and Stephen Miller think that putting white supremacy on the ballot is a winning issue for the November midterm elections. There are those who suggest that their latest attempt to do that—the family separation policy for migrants crossing our southern border—is a guaranteed loser in that regard. I’m not so sure.

It is important for Democrats to take on the lies the administration constantly tells about that policy. But it has to be more than pointing out that this particular initiative is not a result of Democratic legislation or that enforcing it is not somehow “biblical.” To do only that when it comes to Trump’s immigration policies is to engage in “whack-a-mole” with each new effort they role out. Not only does that fail to paint the bigger picture of what’s going on, it actually feeds the underlying lies the Trump administration is trying to sell.

Step back from this particular outrage for a moment and think about the fact that the entire country is now engaged in a conversation about the ins and outs of illegal immigration. What we’re not talking about is the threat of climate change, income inequality, gun violence or access to health care. Those are all issues that pose a real threat to Americans and that voters tend to put at the top of their list of concerns.

Instead, we’re talking about the lies this administration has told us about the so-called “threat” of immigration. For example, look at what the president tweeted this morning.

Is the safety and security of our country threatened by illegal immigration? No! That is a summary of the four basic lies this administration is pedaling on a daily basis. To be clear:

  1. Illegal immigration is not on the rise
  2. The majority of immigrants are not criminals
  3. Immigrants aren’t taking your jobs away
  4. The terrorist threat from immigrants is almost non-existent

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems with our immigration system that need to be fixed. What it does mean is that basing those fixes on lies will always lead to the wrong answers.

There is a reason why Donald Trump and Stephen Miller want to keep the country’s focus on the lies of these non-existent threats. It was perhaps best captured by the leadership of Cambridge Analytica.

The two fundamental human drivers when it comes to taking information onboard effectively are hopes and fears and many of those are unspoken and even unconscious. You didn’t know that was a fear until you saw something that just evoked that reaction from you. And our job is to get, is to drop the bucket further down the well than anybody else, to understand what are those really deep-seated underlying fears, concerns.

It’s no good fighting an election campaign on the facts because actually it’s all about emotion. The big mistake political parties make is that they attempt to win the argument rather than locate the emotional center of the issue, the concern, and speaking directly to that.

Trump and Miller believe that as long as they are “dropping the bucket further down the well” to tap into deep-seated fears associated with the demise of white supremacy, they have a fighting chance in the upcoming election.

Cambridge Analytica staff are right to say that you can’t win that battle with facts alone. While it’s important to stay grounded in facts and point out the constant lies, the resistance will need to do more than that. Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts recently provided an example of how that’s done:

He transformed the story about “those” parents and children who are being detained into “our” story and went on to say that “humanity doesn’t come with citizenship or a green card.” In other words, he laid the foundation for empathy and tapped into our values. While liberals will always need to be grounded in facts and coherent policies, that is the kind of message that is required to take on the fear-mongering that is at the core of the Republican Party right now.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.