If there is one thing—by now—that we can all give Donald Trump full credit for, it’s his expert deployment of language.
He’s used it to earn billions of dollars of free media and make himself the centre of a presidential campaign; electrify and solidify white voters; extend sympathy to the Confederacy and moral equivalency to Nazis with other “bad” people; and perhaps most importantly, establish such an ingrained, unending narrative of non-truth that no one who loves him cares any longer whether he’s ever telling a lie.
This week, one word in particular has stood out: compassion.
That is what Donald Trump and attorney general Jeff Sessions claim is driving the announcement this week to end DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy established under Barack Obama, which allows immigrant children brought to the U.S. to remain, work and go to school without threat of deportation.
“We will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion,” Trump said in a statement, adding, “we must also have heart and compassion for unemployed, struggling, and forgotten Americans.”
“The compassionate thing to do is end the law,” Sessions said.
It was all very echo-y of the spring, when budget director Mick Mulvaney argued Trump’s historic cuts across the board to the federal government were “compassionate” towards taxpayers.
Compassion here is employed for two reasons: To both defend a policy, and claim moral high-ground.
The thing is, with Trump, there is no high or low ground, only the ground on which he’s currently standing. And that can shift dramatically in short order.
Trump has demonstrated consistent compassion for a very few things: whiteness, masculinity, wealthy people, family and those currently in his good books. He’s displayed a deeper pool of venom for those he’s currently hating. And then seemingly a broad, shallow, horizonless amount of indifference for the rest of us.
For the nearly 800,000 young people protected by DACA, that all adds up to an incredible amount of insecurity.
While announcing the end of DACA, Trump also demanded that Congress “legalize” the policy that was made law by an Obama executive order within six months — the opposite of his campaign promise. He then tweeted, apparently at the urging of Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi, that no action would be taken against DACA-covered immigrants. Pelosi even suggested Trump would sign the Dream Act, the Obama legislation that failed and lead to the DACA executive order.
The former “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” became simply “Chuck” after he, Trump and Pelosi agreed on a three-month debt ceiling extension. Trump even called them both Thursday morning, reportedly to celebrate the good news coverage.
But good press for Trump almost categorically does not jive with a happy base. A Breitbart article chastised Trump for the Schumer/Pelosi deal, and right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter warned “millions of voters not only won’t vote for @realDonaldTrump again, but will never vote Republican again if they pass this DACA amnesty.”
The one thing you can trust about Trump’s words is their propensity to change. And if Trump can’t find the right language to both placate his base while avoiding deporting hundreds of thousands of young people who’ve known only America as home, self-preservation — not compassion — will dictate what words come next.