My friend Radley Balko delivers a blistering op-ed about Trump’s speech to Congress, calling out the absurdity of the low expectations that greeted it and more instances of substance-free fear-mongering and demagoguery designed to make us all be afraid of nothing.
That Donald Trump is getting bipartisan praise for Tuesday night’s fit of demagoguery masquerading as a presidential address is a frightening demonstration of how his first month in office has left those of who are supposed to hold him accountable timid and shell-shocked. We’ve been conditioned to accept behavior from the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth that we’d never have accepted from his predecessors (and I have pretty low expectations of presidents) — that we’d never accept from a friend, relative, pastor or community leader — as long as he spares us and our group from his attacks…
Trump’s speech included plenty of lies, but they were the same lies that we’re used to hearing from this president. Because there weren’t any new lies, Trump gets praised. The speech was full of fact-free fear-mongering and ethnic scapegoating. But it’s the same variety of fear-mongering and ethnic scapegoating we’ve come to expect from this president. At least he didn’t ratchet up the demagoguery. So Trump gets praised. The speech was shallow and narcissistic. But that’s just who Trump is. It wasn’t any more shallow or narcissistic than, say, his Twitter feed. So Trump gets praised. The alleged magnanimity in the speech for which Trump is winning plaudits wasn’t just transparent and contrived; it was wholly at odds with Trump’s past behavior. His very recent past behavior. As in, his behavior from just hours earlier. But the pundit class has the memory of a tsetse fly. So Trump gets praised.
And some specific debunking of his claims about drugs and immigration.
We’ve defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross — and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.
By whose measure? While it’s true that there has been a surge in opioid abuse in recent years, much of the problem is driven by prescription medication available here in the United States. Outside of opioids, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, drug use is down, sharply. Marijuana imports from Mexican cartels are down dramatically, thanks to legalization (which Trump’s attorney general would like to see overturned). Meth imports are up, but that’s largely because domestic crackdowns have created demand for imports. (And you can make a strong argument that the demand for meth is itself the product of prohibiting conventional amphetamines.)
Given that illegal drugs are, well, illegal, there’s no foolproof way to prove or disprove the claim. The best we can do is look at border seizures of illicit drugs, on the theory that if demand, the numbers of border agents and the methods of detection remain the same from year to year, the ratio of illicit drugs seized to the total quantity of drugs smuggled will remain about the same. By this measure — really, the only one we have — Trump’s claim fails. Overall, border seizures of illicit drugs are trending down, not up…I have further ordered the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, along with the Department of State and the Director of National Intelligence, to coordinate an aggressive strategy to dismantle the criminal cartels that have spread across our nation.
Good luck. George W. Bush thought he could do that by coercing the Mexican government into militarizing its drug war. The country’s homicide rate jumped by nearly 250 percent. Life expectancy in Mexico dropped for the first time in 60 years. The drug cartels exist for one reason, and only one reason: The drugs they smuggle are illegal in the United States. Alcohol is every bit as addictive as most illicit drugs. There are no alcohol cartels. The cartels exist because people will always want to get high, and because most ways of doing so are illegal. Again, it’s worth noting that the legalization of marijuana has hurt the Mexican cartels — and Trump’s attorney general wants to overturn it…
By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars and make our communities safer for everyone. We want all Americans to succeed — but that can’t happen in an environment of lawless chaos.
Immigrants — including undocumented immigrants — are a net benefit for the economy. They produce more than they take out. They also provide an estimated net $12 billion to Social Security. Currently, the United States spends $30 billion on immigration enforcement, more than on all other federal law enforcement combined. Spending more money to deport people who are a net benefit to the economy won’t “save billions of dollars,” it will cost many, many billions. The conservative-leaning group American Action Forum estimates that Trump’s original plan to deport all undocumented immigrants would cost $100 billion to $300 billion. The same group estimates that Trump’s plan would also shrink the economy by more than $1 trillion, and Moody’s estimates it could shrink the labor force by as much as 5 percent. That would drive up wages, as Trump says, but it would also drive up prices, which would eventually cost jobs. The MIT Technology Review estimates that Trump’s border wall will cost $27 billion to $40 billion. Finally, there’s zero evidence that undocumented immigrants commit a disproportionate number of crimes. Countless studies over the past several decades have shown that immigrants (undocumented and otherwise) are much less likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens and that they’re underrepresented in jails and prisons (outside of immigration detention centers, of course.)
Lies in the service of an authoritarian agenda. What else does Trump have to offer? Mencken had it right almost a century ago:
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
That’s how you gain and maintain political power. That it works on us just shows how irrational and easily manipulated humans really are.