Scolded but not scalded by the uproar over his “animals” comments last week, President Donald Trump is heading Wednesday to Long Island to talk about the scourge of gangs in a place hit hard by MS-13.
“Animals” is what, depending on how you heard it, Trump called the murderous members of MS-13, or immigrants here illegally.
In truth, both sides are right. In the conversation last week, Trump seemed to be referring to MS-13 as “animals.” But he also kicked off his presidential campaign in 2015 by saying of a much broader group of immigrants: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best . . . They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
And Trump repeatedly doubles down on that comment, and has made it clear he includes legal immigrants in this estimation. In April, he said of people who come to the United States legally: “With us, it’s a lottery system — pick them out — a lottery system. You can imagine what those countries put into the system. They’re not putting their good ones.”
So Trump is glad to say horrifying things about all immigrants. That he singled out MS-13 last week is an improvement, but it’s likely an inadvertent one. We know what Trump thinks of immigrants, particularly the dark-skinned ones whose homelands he has called an expletive.
It’s what he thinks about animals in relation to humans that defies comprehension.
This week the Trump administration moved to end a ban on hunters on public lands in Alaska brutally killing animals, including babies, for sport.
The National Park Service issued a notice Monday of its intent to amend regulations for sport hunting and trapping in national preserves in Alaska.
Under the changes, lifting a ban imposed by the Obama administration, hunters could use spotlights to blind black bears and cubs in their dens to more easily kill them. Hunters could do the same with baby wolves, and use bacon and doughnuts to bait the animals.
They could “bearbait,” hunting black bears with dogs, a practice generally considered inhumane even in William Shakespeare’s day. And they would be able to shoot swimming caribou from motorboats.
Hunting food is fine, but people almost never eat bear or wolf. Killing predators threatening us makes sense, but baby bears and wolves in Alaskan wilderness don’t do that.
This is trophy hunting, the cruel destruction of sentient creatures for ornamentation.
Trump’s elder sons are noted big-game hunting enthusiasts. Trump’s Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, has appointed a board full of trophy hunters to advise him on regulations. And under Trump, the federal government overturned an Obama-era ban on imported elephant tusks, restoring the incentive to kill them.
There is no comparison between the MS-13 members who kill humans brutally and pointlessly and the hunters who do so to animals that do not threaten them and which they will not eat. The sin of killing humans is far greater.
What the two groups of killers have in common, what Trump needs to see, is that neither can be called “animals.” Animals kill from instinct, or need. The creatures who kill for fun and to impress pals, whether slaughtering defenseless animals or slaughtering defenseless people, are inescapably human. And often, they’re born in the United States.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.