US midterm elections: Donald Trump more hardline and confident than he ever was in 2016; immigrants are firmly in the crosshairs

2016 was just a test run. The 2018 version of US President Donald Trump’s hardline politics is going further right than it ever was at the time of his controversial campaign two years ago. Trump is now cycling through a more grisly version of many of his favourite themes as he hits the campaign trail for the 2018 midterms which have begun to look much more like it’s already 2020.

File image of US president Donald Trump. AP

File image of US president Donald Trump. AP

Experts are divided over whether the White House is using immigration as a “wedge issue” to turn out its base or if its simply too clumsy and indifferent to whether individual policies are popular. Maybe neither matters at all. Americans as a group fearing "status threat" as a dominant white herd are the ones who catapulted Trump into the White House, says a recent paper published in the Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences (PNAS). It's entirely possible, at least in theory, that Trump's growing confidence in going further right and becoming more abrasive could be coming from a deep understanding that immigration and immigrants feed the white man's fear of being under "siege" better than any other ingredient.

Leading thinkers are wringing their hands over ideas like the 'American Democracy On The Brink' but the theme of racist dog whistling is only growing louder each day and it's coming right from the tippy top of American politics.

Hurling one insult after another, Trump is tearing into past Presidents, immigrants and opponents in general. Most recently, he reserved his choicest skewering for Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, considered a potential 2020 Democratic candidate. Trump, who has has relished calling Warren "Pocahontas" is now ridiculing her claims of Native American ancestry with low blows at a wild rally in Montana this week.

Trump said Thursday that he would give Warren a DNA test in the middle of a debate and say: "I'll give you a million dollars for your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you're an Indian."

As campaigner in chief once again ahead of the 2018 midterms, Trump’s kitchen sink approach is far muddier than in 2016 and decidedly growing in confidence.

Both on the campaign trail and off it, Trump’s policies that are shaping America and the stuff he’s spouting as part of his roast comedy are way more restrictionist than where he began in 2016. Whether it's separating families at the US border, booting non-US citizens from the Army or spinning completely false theories about a Senator with Indian roots, immigration and immigrants are the tinder boxes of choice for the US President all the way till 2020.

This isn't very different from the storyline in 2016; the sledgehammer has just gotten more lethal.

Even as the United States launches what Beijing calls the "biggest trade war in economic history," and people are fearing job losses, Trump’s base is not losing faith in the man behind it all. By most accounts, these are precisely the folks who are choosing to separate the effects of Trump’s policies from their rock solid allegience for the lead actor.

Here is a round up of all that’s taking America to the uncompromising right of the political aisle, coming from the White House and its chief occupant eyeing a 2020 run. Without exception, each of these cases involve immigrants. Although each is given a different label, the motivations for the backlash seem to be coming from a singular dislike of outsiders threatening the construct of the white man's America.

Immigrant US Army recruits being booted out, labeled as security risks
Some immigrant U.S. Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship are being abruptly discharged, the Associated Press is reporting. At a very high level, it adds meat to the Opposition’s argument that Trump may be using a pet phrase “broken immigration system” as a proxy for race - something far more oriented towards stemming the browning of America than any other reason.

Some of the service members say they were not told why they were being discharged. Others who pressed for answers said the Army informed them they'd been labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them.

Former US President George W. Bush ordered "expedited naturalisation" for immigrant soldiers in 2002 in an effort to swell military ranks. Seven years later the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, known as MAVNI, became an official recruiting program.

It came under fire from conservatives when President Barack Obama added DACA recipients — young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally — to the list of eligible enlistees. In response, the military layered on additional security clearances for recruits to pass before heading to boot camp.

'Zero tolerance' border control
This spring, the Trump administration began a "zero tolerance" policy to criminally prosecute anyone caught crossing the border illegally. Because children can't be in jail with their parents, more than 2,300 families caught by Border Patrol were separated. The move prompted mass outrage in the United States and internationally. After first blaming the practice on the Democrats, Trump on June 20 signed an executive order that stopped the separation of families. A June 26 court order by a federal judge set a hard deadline to reunite the families, and that deadline is fast approaching. Repeatedly, Trump has used immigration

White House Twitter handle begins peddling political conspiracy theories
Note how the White House Twitter handle, which has more than 17.3 million followers, has gone from a social media platform of record and standard propaganda to an amplifier of political conspiracy theories. This week, it has falsely accused California senator Kamala Harris, a possible 2020 hopeful, of "supporting the animals of MS-13," a violent gang that has become the centerpiece of Trump’s anti-immigrant battle cry. Responding on Twitter, Harris pointed to her work as a prosecutor who "went after gangs and transnational criminal organizations. That's being a leader on public safety. What is not, is ripping babies from their mothers."

On voting day, a "broken immigration" system may work better than one that's fixed 
After months of chaos over voluminous immigration reform bills, Trump walked away when Republicans most wanted him to play along. Trump now claims that he never pushed House Republicans to vote for immigration bills that failed, offering his latest display of whiplash on the legislation. This goes back to the findings of the PNAS paper mentioned above. If immigration is on the path to getting "fixed", then how do you continue the scaremongering about "open borders" that can potentially rile the Republican base enough to turn them out in large numbers? For politicians running on immigration, chaotic scenes at the border are gifts that keep on giving. They won't let it die in a hurry.

(With reporting by Nikhila Natarajan in the US)

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Updated Date: Jul 07, 2018 02:58:51 IST

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