What Donald Trump accidentally revealed during his threats to sanctuary cities

The president isn’t going to war with the Democratic Party or a specific Democrat candidate any longer — he’s going to war with Americans themselves

Holly Baxter
New York
Tuesday 16 April 2019 08:09 BST
Donald Trump confirms plans to send undocumented migrants to 'sanctuary cities' to punish Democrats

“Liberals are freaking out about sanctuary cities,” said Twitter today, through the typed fingers of hundreds of Trump supporters. “Trump got the entire Democrat party to admit sanctuary cities are dangerous,” One America News host Jack Posobiec crowed. Act For America, a self-described “grassroots national security organisation” hoping to “make America safe again”, added that Democrats had said they “want illegal immigrants in our sanctuary cities” but responded with outrage when told by Trump, “OK, here they come!”

“This was a great move,” said a Trump supporter whose tweets are still raking in the likes, “and why Trump is a smart businessman. Call their bluff … Well played, Mr President.”

Of course it plays well for Donald Trump to frame a liberal idea as hypocritical. They know that illegal immigrants are dangerous really, the argument goes. They just like to say they back open borders because they live in huge houses in gated communities and don’t have to deal with wage depression, rising crime rates, and oversubscribed schools and hospitals. They want everyone else to deal with the repercussions of immigration so they can claim the moral high ground from their mansions in LA or their cushy apartments on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

All of this would be fantastic for the Republican Party – especially its pro-Trump section – if it were true.

The actual truth is that immigration makes communities stronger, richer and better places to live. Sanctuary cities are safer than comparable cities without sanctuary policies; immigrants are less likely to offend than their US-born counterparts; and no one has ever been able to conclusively prove that immigrants depress wages in the jobs market, but Nobel Prize-winning economists from across the political spectrum have all agreed that the presence of immigrants is better for the economy overall. An easy way to prevent wage depression from happening is to institute a proper minimum wage or a living wage, of course, but Ivanka Trump doesn’t think people want that. The economic policies which favour the rich and fail to build infrastructure or invest in public services belong to the right wing, not the left.

I could say all of that until I was (liberally) blue in the face and not win over lifelong Republican voters; I’ve accepted that already. But what I do find interesting is the way in which Trump marked out his base so explicitly with his on-again/off-again threats to “release” detained immigrants into sanctuary cities. After all, there are Republican voters in New York City, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco. There are certainly Republican voters in the state of California, about which the president tweeted over the weekend: “We hereby demand that [illegal immigrants] be taken care of at the highest level, especially by the state of California, which is well known for its poor management & high taxes!”

At this point, Republicans living in sanctuary cities or even certain states known to be majority liberal have become Democrat by association for Donald Trump. He doesn’t even want to try and win them over, much less engage with swing voters. He doesn’t want to accept that they are part of the country he leads; they are, instead, “dumping grounds” for “bad hombres”, outside the boundaries he has decided to acknowledge. I think we can say with some certainty now that he has no plans to widen his appeal in 2020.

What we learnt in the past couple of days is that Donald Trump does not govern America; he presides over a fandom. High on retweets and rallies populated with thousands of bright red MAGA hats, he’s decided that his America is his business and the rest of the country can be somebody else’s. If you’re not a paid-up member of his base, or you live somewhere where most of the people aren’t Trump enthusiasts, then that’s your problem and you can deal with the consequences.

This is exactly why Trump can’t understand liberal thinking when it comes to migration. When you’re addressing the issue of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflict and hardship at your country’s border, your solution has to be a nationwide solution, and your belief system has to be based on a “vision for America”. You have to speak to people with varying opinions about how many people can enter, how they should be housed and supported, and where they should settle. You have to assume that every area should be treated fairly and equally, for the good of the country as a whole. You have to accept that the majority of voters have spoken, but governance has to be undertaken for the benefit of everyone. This is the antithesis of playing to a singular base as if they are your employees in a Trump-branded organisation.

When you’re reading from such different playbooks, how can you possibly go head-to-head in an election together? The problem is that Donald Trump isn’t going to war with the Democratic Party or a specific Democrat candidate any longer; he’s going to war with Americans themselves. Brand Trump versus Blue State America isn’t going to be pretty to watch. And, if the president would think about it for a second, he might also realise it probably isn’t going to work.

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