President Trump certainly stirred his base on the campaign trail in 2016 by targeting immigrants right out of the box, putting them in the bull’s-eye of his brand of attack politics. And yes, even now Trump has threatened to shut down the government over his “border wall,” though the issue seems to have faded in the minds of the vast majority of Americans.
Perhaps because his threats of a shutdown have alienated Republicans in Congress, the president now has turned to what he foolishly perceives as another chance to feed his base some red meat: a phase-out of the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program that has allowed some illegal immigrants who entered the country as minors to get a renewable two-year deferral of action from deportation, and to become eligible for a work permit.
The program is practical, and humane. Those who came to the country through no decision of their own and have been law-abiding residents have earned the right to earn resident status, and they already have contributed to their communities in many ways. The Obama administration founded the program, and it has been instituted with success.
For Trump to phase out the “Dreamers” program is nothing more than a play to the right-wing, xenophobic base that helped bring him to office. Polls have shown the Dreamers program is popular, so it’s not as if Trump’s following the “will of the people” or anything like that. This is same-old, same-old for the Trump White House, a disjointed, confusing (and confused) place where even some staff members seem bewildered by Trump’s actions.
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Trump’s popularity, the lowest on record in polls even in the run-up to his inauguration, has dived of late, but the president seems to be a man tilting at ideological windmills, bouncing from one thing to another. His response to the damage from Hurricane Harvey was appropriate, though Trump lacks the eloquence of his predecessor in such times or the gift of Ronald Reagan, for example, to show empathy for the victims of tragedy.
But in now going after DACA and the actual and potential productive people it benefits, Trump’s a man driving up on the sidewalk to go after targets who don’t deserve to be targeted. In denying an opportunity to these immigrants, Trump is denying an opportunity for himself.
He might have proceeded without touching DACA, and his base wouldn’t have noticed. He could have calmed down his rhetoric following Harvey and talked more about the nation pulling together in crisis. And, he could have held out his hand to Congress to move ahead on the next spending plan and supported a quiet, routine raising of the debt ceiling that allows borrowing by the Treasury so the nation can pay its debts.
Instead, Trump seems to enjoy stirring a fight, even when White House staffers and an obedient Vice President Mike Pence appear to be the only ones on his side. Right now, Trump’s actions stir things up and grab headlines, but as he lurches forward, he will become less and less relevant – and less and less effective as a leader, if that is even possible.