Mastering Fear

It’s been said before. It’s good to be loved, but that’s a fickle thing – a fool’s errand. It’s better to be respected, but that’s hard work and takes years. The third option is a bit easier – be feared. That’ll do, and that may be our new foreign policy – a Trump thing from his days on Celebrity Apprentice. “You’re fired!” No one wants to hear that. Fear of humiliation works wonders. People shape up, or submit.

Keep them off-balance. Confuse them– and that may explain last week’s security conference in Munich – where Vice President Pence gave a stirring speech in defense of NATO – the key alliance that has kept Europe and the world stable for almost seventy years. He said he spoke for Donald Trump, who keeps saying that NATO is obsolete and if other countries don’t pay their fair share we might not defend them, effectively ending the whole point of NATO in the first place. No one there seemed to believe the vice president – they had heard the president. They were appropriately confused – and confused about the United States and the European Union. Pence said it was wonderful – the nations of Europe opening their borders and using a single currency and deciding to act as one, as best they could. There would be no 1914 or 1939 again – no more pointless nationalistic wars over there. But of course Donald Trump cheered when Britain chose to leave the EU and keeps saying he hopes other EU nations will do the same. America will negotiate trade treaties with each, one by one. Mike Pence was again left flat-footed. He said he spoke for Trump. He clearly didn’t.

Europe is now frightened by the United States – and it didn’t help that Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, had called Germany’s ambassador here in Washington a week before Vice President Pence’s trip and told him the EU was worthless. Other nations should leave. Bannon of course is a nationalist – people naturally want to defend their nation, and its economy, and their language and their unique culture, to keep it pure. That’s human nature, and he has Trump’s ear. America First! That didn’t come from nowhere – and Trump did win the election, because of the nature of human nature.

The Trump administration denied that the Bannon chat was about that, and the Germans then decided to say nothing. They don’t want to piss off Donald Trump. Fear works wonders, particularly when it’s based on confusion. Keep them off-balance. They’ll shape up or submit.

That’s the plan, or so it seems, and now it’s Mexico:

In the White House, President Trump was telling American chief executives on Thursday that the days of being treated unfairly by Mexico – on trade, on immigration, on crime – were over.

“You see what’s happening at the border: All of a sudden, for the first time, we’re getting gang members out,” Mr. Trump said, referring to his instructions to increase deportations of undocumented immigrants. “And it’s a military operation.”

But in Mexico, his homeland security secretary, John F. Kelly, was saying the opposite, trying to tamp down fears of a military operation and to assure the public that American soldiers would not be used to police the border.

“I repeat: There will be no use of military in this,” Mr. Kelly said at a news conference on Thursday, appearing with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. “At least half of you try to get that right, because it continues to come up in your reporting.”

That didn’t help much:

Last month, on the first day of a trip to Washington by Mexico’s foreign minister, Mr. Trump signed an executive order to build a wall between the two countries.

Then, this week, just before Mr. Kelly and Mr. Tillerson touched down in Mexico, his administration released policies that vastly expanded the potential for deportation of undocumented immigrants.

Yes, keep them off-balance, but that’s hard to manage:

On Thursday, the contradictions between the president and his top staff raised a pressing question: Which version of Washington will come to bear on Mexico in the coming months? Will it be the aggressive approach of the president or the more reassuring stance of Mr. Kelly, who will be assigned to oversee some of the proposals likely to antagonize Mexico the most?

“Let me be very, very clear,” Mr. Kelly said, assuring Mexicans that the rules for deporting people from the United States had not fundamentally changed – another possible contradiction of his boss. “There will be no, repeat no, mass deportations.”

No one was buying that, and things were icy:

The statements during the visit offered a startling departure from past trips to Mexico by American diplomats. Four officials – two from Mexico and two from the United States – walked into a large ballroom with grim faces and made carefully worded comments without taking any questions.

It was the kind of cautious staging normally seen after tough negotiations between adversaries, not talks between friendly neighbors. No one suggested that a breakthrough had been made.

“Two strong sovereign countries from time to time will have differences,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray of Mexico called it a “complex moment in the relationship.”

That’s all he could say:

In the last month, Mexican officials have shown cautious restraint, and even silence, in response to Mr. Trump’s threats, often to the frustration of the Mexican people.

Their logic, officials say, is clear-eyed: To descend into a fight with the United States would serve no one, least of all the Mexican people who are spoiling for a harder line against Mr. Trump.

But that is not to say the Mexicans are without recourse. While they are hoping to avoid a confrontation, the whispers of discontent have started to spread.

The minister of economy has said there will be no trade talks without similar talks on security and migration, twin areas of vulnerability for the United States.

And Mr. Videgaray, responding to a directive from Mr. Trump broadening the scope of deportations in America, has vowed to bring to the United Nations any actions by the United States to send non-Mexicans to Mexico.

That last bit is odd. If someone from Brazil crosses into the United States over the Mexican border, the United States will deport them to… Mexico? Mexico was having none of that, and Trump may be picking the wrong fight here:

Mexico is keenly aware of its leverage in the bilateral relationship: billions of dollars in agricultural purchases by Mexico, a decade of security cooperation to dismantle cartels and intercept drugs destined for the United States, and the detention of hundreds of thousands of migrants passing through Mexico on their way to America’s southern border.

On trade, putting aside the supply chains of vehicles and electronics engineered by the North American Free Trade Agreement, agriculture is a major vulnerability for the United States. Mexico is an immense purchaser of American farm goods.

The nation is the No. 1 purchaser of American corn, dairy, pork and rice. Mexico purchased nearly $2 billion of corn in 2016 and also bought large amounts of soybeans, wheat, cotton and beef.

A Mexican lawmaker recently proposed a bill to redirect purchases of corn away from the United States, a tactic that could devastate American corn farmers in the heartland of Mr. Trump’s base.

This could get nasty in a way that Donald Trump hadn’t considered, and there’s this:

On national security, Mexico also plays a large role. The government could slow down extraditions to the United States, keeping sought-after drug lords like Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known as El Chapo, instead of sending them north. It could also stop deporting American fugitives who have fled to Mexico.

Perhaps more threatening to the United States would be a reconsideration of Mexico’s participation in the drug war. For more than a decade, the Mexican authorities have cooperated in arresting top cartel leaders and intercepting drug shipments destined for the United States.

Mexico could also leverage its participation in the sharing of intelligence. The vast majority of drugs funneled – and tunneled – through Mexico are not for domestic consumption.

“We receive information from Mexican authorities on a daily basis that helps us better target drugs smugglers at the border,” said Gil Kerlikowske, who was the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection in the Obama administration. “These are ties we want to strengthen, not weaken.”

Donald Trump hasn’t thought this through:

In 2014, Mexico launched Plan Frontera Sur to safeguard its southern border from migrants trying to enter from Central America. The plan has essentially served as a dragnet 1,000 miles south of the Texas border, catching hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans en route to the United States.

Some experts and officials have suggested that Mexico could simply ease up on its border patrols, granting passage to large numbers of Central Americans. That would not only swamp the American authorities, but might enable potentially dangerous migrants to slip into the country.

It was time for at least a little clean-up:

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, tried later in the day to clarify the contradiction between Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Kelly’s remarks. He said that Mr. Trump had not meant to characterize the deportation efforts as a military operation, arguing that the president had been using the word “military” as an adjective.

“It’s being done with precision,” Mr. Spicer said.

In short, ignore what Trump says. He just says things, but Emily Tamkin and Robbie Gramer in Foreign Policy note this:

Mexicans more broadly gave Tillerson and Kelly a decidedly lukewarm welcome. Someone (though the bus company would not say who) rented a bus adorned with an advertisement featuring Trump’s visage and a quote that roughly translates to, “We are Mexicans and we fuck your mother.”

And then there was the Foreign Minister:

Videgaray said Wednesday that Mexico had no reason to accept unilateral decisions imposed by another country. “We are not going to accept that, because we don’t have to.”

That was about Trump’s wall, which they won’t pay for, and Josh Marshall offers this:

It’s amazing that we are actually having a discussion over whether the US and Mexico can mend their differences over the US demand that Mexico pay what amounts to a war indemnity to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. It’s not just that Mexico hasn’t agreed to this. It is important to step back and realize that this is the kind of demand that usually happens in the context of punishment or exaction for losing a war or some other belligerent action.

The demand that Mexico pay for a wall has never really been about money. As wasteful and needless as the wall is, its cost would be manageable in the context of the total US national budget. The point of the demand is humiliation. It is comparable to the way authoritarian regimes (like China, for instance) sometimes charge the family of an executed criminal for the bullets used to execute their loved one. It’s not the money; it’s degradation.

It’s actually about Celebrity Apprentice – Trump humiliates those useless losers – but it’s more than that:

It’s not just that Mexico doesn’t need to pay for Trump’s wall. It would be terrible if they did.

In recent decades we have, as a society, radically changed our collective attitude toward bullying and abuse of various kinds – the denigration, the demeaning and damaging of the weak by the strong. With respect to Trump, Mexico and his wall, our position as Americans is comparable to being bystanders to abuse. We’re complicit if we don’t at a minimum speak up because between nations, on a national level, this is assault. It is one party with greater power using that power over a weaker party with the specific aim of demeaning and denigrating, of theft.

That may make good reality television but awful policy:

There’s no equitable question here we’re trying to resolve – some relative level of protection for US wages vis a vis lower wage workers in Mexico, no negotiation about who should foot the bill for some environmental degradation in the shared border region…

It is of a piece, intrinsic to the President’s entire worldview and instincts. The strong abuse the weak and society is structured around the hierarchies such abuse creates. As I described at various points over the course of the 2016 election, in the Trumpian worldview there are only the dominating and the dominated. There is no middle ground, let alone broad relations of equality and consensual freedom, where most of us experience much of the world. All relationships are zero-sum. For me to win, you have to lose. This is the root of Trump’s endless references to humiliation, to being laughed at. This worldview is the essence of Trumpism and its politics is the promise to put “us” back on the dominating side of the equation.

In this sense, the wall drama and who pays for it, isn’t really a budgetary issue at all. It’s something far more basic, far more essential to who we are, to how we act as a nation.

And who are we, as a nation? CNN reports that it has come to this:

A hammer pounds away in the living room of a middle class home. A sanding machine smooths the grain of the wood floor in the dining room.

But this home Pastor Ada Valiente is showing off in Los Angeles, with its refurbished floors, is no ordinary home.

“It would be three families we host here,” Valiente says.

By “host,” she means provide refuge to people who may be sought by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The families staying here would be undocumented immigrants, fearing an ICE raid and possible deportation.

The purchase of this home is part of a network formed by Los Angeles religious leaders across faiths in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The intent is to shelter hundreds, possibly thousands of undocumented people in safe houses across Southern California.

The goal is to offer another sanctuary beyond religious buildings or schools, ones that require federal authorities to obtain warrants before entering the homes.

“That’s what we need to do as a community to keep families together,” Valiente says.

Think of the Underground Railroad, or more precisely, to use Sean Spicer’s term, think of Anne Frank in the attic:

At another Los Angeles neighborhood, miles away, a Jewish man shows off a sparsely decorated spare bedroom in his home. White sheets on the bed and the clean, adjacent full bathroom bear all the markers of an impending visit. The man, who asked not to be identified, pictures an undocumented woman and her children who may find refuge in his home someday.

The man says he’s never been in trouble before and has difficulty picturing that moment. But he’s well educated and understands the Fourth Amendment, which gives people the right to be secure in their homes, against unreasonable searches and seizures. He’s pictured the moment if ICE were to knock on his door.

“I definitely won’t let them in. That’s our legal right,” he says. “If they have a warrant, then they can come in. I can imagine that could be scary, but I feel the consequences of being passive in this moment is a little scary.”

It should be:

Under federal law, locations like churches and synagogues are technically public spaces that authorities could enter to conduct law enforcement actions. In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security instituted a policy limiting ICE action at religious locations. The policy ordered ICE to not enter “sensitive locations” like schools and institutions of worship.

Religious leaders in Los Angeles that spoke to CNN are skeptical whether that policy will stand under a Trump presidency.

“There’s a difference between someone knocking on your door at the church who’s a federal agent and someone knocking on the door of your home, where, if they don’t have a warrant, they shouldn’t be entering,” Hoover says.

Right, but that could change, and at the other end of the country:

A news photographer has documented the latest fallout from U.S. immigration policy to hit Canada: asylum-seekers crossing illegally from the United States into its northern neighbor, where they are promptly arrested. The immigrants say they would rather be arrested in Canada then continue seeking a legal way to live in the United States.

A Reuters news photographer on Friday photographed several people fleeing a U.S. border protection officer in New York state, one of the most popular crossing points into the Canadian province of Quebec.

As U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers questioned a man in the front passenger seat of a taxi that had pulled up to a gully at one of the unofficial crossing points, reporters witnessed four other adults and four children cross the gully. A photograph shows that at least one of the refugees had a passport from Sudan.

Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police waited for them on the other side, helping the children up the hill and offering medical care.

It seems that we’ve become the bad guys, and Rolling Stone reports this:

Passengers of a domestic Delta flight from San Francisco to New York were told to show their identity documents to uniformed agents of the Customs and Border Protection agency upon their arrival at John F. Kennedy airport on Wednesday evening.

CBP officers are border agents, whose statutory authority is generally limited to international arrivals.

CBP agents inspected passenger identifications on the jet bridge by the door of the aircraft. A CBP spokesman insisted to Rolling Stone that this action is “nothing new” and that there is “no new policy.” But the unusual – and legally questionable – search of domestic travelers comes days after the Department of Homeland Security outlined its plans to implement President Trump’s sweeping executive order targeting millions of “removable aliens” for deportation.

Upon deplaning from Delta Flight 1583 in New York, passenger Anne Garrett tweeted, “We were told we couldn’t disembark without showing our ‘documents.'”

Keep up the fear, and the confusion:

Rolling Stone asked CBP to point to its statutory authority to stop and examine the identity documents of deplaning domestic passengers. The spokesman sent a link to a document titled CBP Search Authority. The document refers to CBP’s authority to inspect international arrivals. Specifically, it cites 19 C.F.R. 162.6, which states, “All persons, baggage and merchandise arriving in the Customs territory of the United States from places outside thereof are liable to inspection by a CBP officer.” The CBP document adds: “CBP has the authority to collect passenger name record information on all travelers entering or leaving the United States.”

Asked to clarify CBP’s authority over domestic passengers, the spokesman replied that “at this time this is all I have.”

That was it, and the fear spreads, and Ed Kilgore adds this:

“Fear in the immigrant community” is itself a crucial tool for this administration given the signs that it would prefer that as many as possible of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country decide to self-deport. It is certainly less expensive and visible than running down huge numbers of people, holding them in detention facilities, and then shipping them out of the country…

If the self-deportation strategy doesn’t work substantively or politically, then we will find out whether Kelly and Trump have the stomach for the police-state tactics that would be necessary to deport many millions of people by force.

Sure, but fear works wonders so it may not come to that, and Kevin Drum sees a resolution:

I doubt that this noisy crackdown will cause very many undocumented workers to go back to Mexico or Central America. This is not the first time they’ve been the target of a grandstanding politician, and for the most part they’ll ride it out, just as they have with previous crackdowns.

However, it might very well dissuade further illegal immigration. What with the wall and the increased border security and the raids, a fair number of people might decide that the benefits of migrating to El Norte aren’t worth the risk. In other words, Trump’s style of TV-driven governing with little substance behind it might actually work here.

The question, of course, is how long it will work. Not forever, because TV will soon get bored and move on to something new no matter how much ICE tries to amp-up the outrages to get ever more coverage. So maybe it buys Trump six months or a year. After that, if he really wants to cut down the flow of illegal immigration across the border, he’s going to have to adopt an actually effective policy, something he hasn’t yet shown an aptitude for. He’s also going to have to deal with all the good Republican business owners who are going to get increasingly antsy for as long as this keeps up. They need workers, and they won’t be happy if Trump gets too carried away with all this.

That’s hopeful, or naïve. It’s good to be loved, but it’s better to be respected, but it’s easier to be feared – and it feels good too, at least to some people. Those are the ones who elected Donald Trump.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to Mastering Fear

  1. A theory: The Former Star of The Apprentice thinks in Tweets. He has heard that the First 100 Days are important, and he simply has a list of the Promises made to Fulfill the Fears of his Adoring Base (“Build the Wall”, etc.) So he orders Orders, which can be Announced without any Intention of Following Through, and he can say (to himself) I Fulfilled my Promises, which were not, after all, His Promises, rather than the Fears and Loathing of his Base. 100 days is still a couple of months away…it seems like light years.

  2. Alternative theory: The Republican establishment has already deposed the President, and simply not bothered to tell anybody, including him. Let him tweet all he wants, makes no difference.

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