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What the Devil won't tell you

Trump's big border failure the perfect ending to a lousy presidency

So we say goodbye to the lying, toxicity, racism, sadism, self-dealing, blasting of our alliances, cozying to countries who would do us harm and twice-weekly scandals that would end any other presidency.

I’m left to ask one question: When did Democrats become the competent party?

This is the third Republican presidency in a row to end with the “worst jobs record since Herbert Hoover.” This is back-to-back Republican presidencies to not just end with a choking recession but with a complete clusterpuck that will be studied for centuries as a classic case of “don’t do that.”

George W. Bush had Iraq. Donald J. Trump had coronavirus.

Bush missed the warning signs for 9/11, though I cut him some slack for that. Trump caused 1/6 and still has a 43 percent job approval. Can anyone imagine in October 2001, Osama Bin Laden having 43 percent job approval with a majority of one party hoping he’d be their nominee the next presidential go-round? Did you notice all the MAGAs with the big bushy beards?

Who knew, as Trump and his supporters allege now, that Vice President and Senate President Joe Biden in 2017 had the constitutional prerogative to say “Russia hacked our election and given how close this was, we can’t seat Trump. I unilaterally declare Hillary the winner.”

Funny. It wasn’t even discussed then. It’s a fact clad in iron now, in some circles.

And for saying that, I’m fake news.

Even his tent-pole grievance proved to be an unworkable knot for the Trump administration. The man promised to end the “open borders” policies of the past and crack down on illegal immigration, and he'd even build part of a wall and engage in kidnapping to do it.

I'm fine with immigration. I would like to see a lot more of it. I'm not one of the voters who elected him to stop a fake invasion. Those who did might want to know Trump's four-year jihad of malevolent rage against illegal immigration barely made a dent in the numbers of undocumented border crossers.

News flash: He was bad at his job.

In Fiscal Year 2016, Customs and Border Protection apprehended 408,000 undocumented migrants. Four years later, that number was slashed all the way back to 400,000.

Deportations during Trump's administration remained largely unchanged from Obama's two terms. To be fair, an expedited process for COVID-19 did increase the figure in 2020.

I’m sorry. What?

That hardly seems like a massive dent in migration, despite a wall, family separations, a government shutdown over that wall and sending the U.S. military to confront invading "caravans."

Someone might be able to convince me that 400 miles of wall (and turning D-Day pylons into a fence/wall is something ... kinda ... long story) funneled migrants into a place where Border Patrol can catch them. But people have proven they can climb the big beautiful wall, just like they climbed the old landing-mat wall. 

Still, the central motivating crusade of the Trump Administration was to stop illegal immigration, remember? They failed sideways despite all that rage, fury and scandal meant to signify the government would finally take the border seriously.

The thing is that the border had already been beefed up in order to crack down. There hadn't been an open border between the U.S. from Mexico in 20 years, but no one knew that because most of the country has never seen the damn border.

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Even I was a bit shocked to see the final numbers that lay out the size and scope of Trump's failure. I'm a pretty serious 45-skeptic but I thought he'd made a sizable dent in the numbers compared to Obama. Nope. Not so much.

This is what happens when you put a frat party in charge of the executive branch of the federal government.

I know. This doesn’t tell the whole story.

The numbers in 2018 and 2019 absolutely skyrocketed with the arrival of asylum-seekers. In Fiscal year 2019, apprehensions reached 851,000 and so there was a dramatic cut in border traffic.

The falling numbers coincided with the slowing economy, just as it did from 2007 to 2009.

Still, and stay with me here, MAGAs voted so hot and heavy for Trump because Obama utterly failed to stop the flow of migrants in 2016. The traffic leading to 408,000 arrests was unsustainable and un-American.

But they see border traffic double and chant “USA! USA!.”

No wonder these guys can’t count votes.

Yeah, but why?

What have we, as a nation, gotten for our rage?

We told a bunch of people who would come and pick our fruit that our fruit will pick itself thank you very much. We told a bunch of asylum-seekers, searching for a better life in America, that we don’t do that anymore. We’re full. Go home.

The U.S. mobilized to stop caravans coming up from Central America seeking asylum. No, we were told, they are just coming for American jobs.

So riddle me this, MAGA shaman: Where was the caravan of jobless GM workers traveling from eastern Ohio to the farmlands of California's Central Valley? Was there a second class of Tom Joads who got cheated out of work by Hondurans?

Even if their fears of political violence were a sham and they just wanted work, they weren't taking jobs. They were doing jobs that no one else was doing. 

A lot of the people who would criticize Trump for his border failures are people like me, who think the country lost itself when it put an end to Ellis Island-style immigration. 

The people who love Trump, love Trump no matter what, and won’t believe numbers. 

Herein lay the fatal flaw of the Trump administration. 

Facts didn't matter. Feelings did. And there was no accountability so long as his supporters felt good.

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Separate but not competent

This brings us to family separation.

Love the policy or hate it, the Trump administration badly botched "their zero tolerance policy," according the Department of Homeland Security's own inspector general investigation.

The report laid out how the policy change wasn’t didn't follow what one might call “communication and coordination.” They are usually pretty important tools to accomplish a new initiative. The Trump crew had no use for that East Coast/Hollywood/elitist concept of planning ahead.

Federal prosecutors had a long-standing policy of not prosecuting adults in detained family units unless there was a special circumstance involved. The Border Patrol dealt with family cases administratively. If separation were necessary, then that would require sending the kids to a third agency, the Department of Health and Human Services.

Then on April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued the following order with a self-evident contradiction:

"I direct each United States Attorney’s Office along the Southwest Border—to the extent practicable, and in consultation with DHS—to adopt immediately a zero-tolerance policy for all offenses referred for prosecution under (federal law)."

Right off the bat, a “zero tolerance” policy is not a policy that is enforced “to the extent practicable.” The tolerance is higher than zero if enforcement is abandoned if it is deemed impractical.

It seems like a small point, but it's important because at least one U.S. Attorney's office figured zero tolerance didn't apply to families because that wouldn't be practicable. 

Wrong. A month later Sessions sent down a subsequent "no-I-mean-it" order.

He caught his own prosecutors, Customs and Border Enforcement, and Health and Human Services completely off-guard with an emergency one year in the making.

Sessions put family separation into place the way Bob McNamara got the U.S. into Vietnam. He let himself get sucked into it, without a clear vision of what he was trying to do without telling the people responsible for accomplishing it what would be required of them.

He declared he would get tough. Then for a year he hemmed, he hawed, he wagged his finger, made unspecified instructions. The next thing he knew, he was in the middle of a political disaster on the scale of Tet Offensive.

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They had no answer to a federal court decision requiring kids be transferred from Homeland Security detention to Health and Human Services custody. Courts? What courts? Trump does what he wants.

The Deep State way

He could have made clear in the early days of the administration that his intention to take the U.S. to a zero-tolerance enforcement policy, whether it involved families or not. He could have told the companion agencies to get ready and sold the president on the additional resources required.

Then, when the pieces were in place, Sessions could have then announced the new policy.

I guess that would have made too much sense. That's the Deep State way. It put critical thought above blessed anger.

Nothing matters but those sadistic warm and fuzzies that the message was sent: “Try to come to America from the wrong direction, and we’ll steal your kids. Maybe you won’t get them back."

Mwah

Hawh.

Hawh.”

Turned out, the American people weren’t OK with the government stealing children from parents.

It also bears pointing out that the families the policy wound up being used on were not your father’s “illegal immigrants.” They were claiming asylum under U.S. law. They may have crossed illegally but they were looking for an agent so they could seek asylum.

Sure the message was sent but 2018 would witness skyrocketing border traffic anyway. The numbers would come down over the next two years, basically arriving at what Trump inherited.

The entire Trump administration was basically, select-all, copy, paste that lousy policy process.

In this case we have the receipts in the form of numbers.

Gremlin be gone

So, let me leave you with one final metaphor because I’m in a mood.

This orange guy tells you he’s the best mechanic in the world and mocks you mercilessly for driving a Honda Accord. He convinces you that he can turn your Honda into a Mercedes in four days. So you take your car in and give it to him.

Four days later, you walk in and he hands you back a Honda Accord.

What’s the deal? You ask. You promised me a Mercedes.

Yeah, he says, but you should have been here two days ago. It was a ‘73 Gremlin and the engine wouldn’t turn over. Good thing I’m the best mechanic ever.

But he’s holding a few extra parts and he’s not sure where they go. He didn’t read that part of the manual.

In walks a smiling silver-haired grandpa wearing Ray Bans and the grease of 10,000 tuneups. And suddenly, you feel better when Old Man Joe says: "Donnie, you're fired."

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Steel from the wall built by previous administrations lies in a pile, as contractors build a new 30-foot high wall near Sasabe, Ariz., in 2020.

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