As president, Donald Trump seems guided by two overriding priorities. First and foremost, he is a white nationalist who has spent his adult life slighting, mocking and lobbing insults at one ethnic, racial and religious minority after the next.
His administration embraces voter suppression laws, wants to remake the Census to undercount immigrants, is weakening anti-discrimination rules and is pushing for a border wall. Trump uses Twitter to personally attack African-American athletes, journalists and cultural figures.
Second, Trump and his plutocratic henchmen are vastly contemptuous of poor people. Trump has thrown the full might of his administration to destroy government programs that benefit tens of millions of low-income Americans.
The two obsessions are deeply intertwined. For Trump’s base, “poverty” is code for “non-white,” despite the fact that many white Americans are also desperately poor. Trump has mocked “s-hole” countries, and, by extension those black and brown immigrants from those nations. He has labeled inner cities as war zones and many of their residents as “animals,” and has repeatedly attacked immigrants for lack of education and skills, for criminal propensities and for enrolling in public assistance programs to scam hardworking American (read “white”) taxpayers.
For 50 years, Republicans have had the enormous audacity - what my grandparents would have called chutzpah - to label themselves the “Family Values” party.
It was always a political calculus with more than a dose of hypocrisy. But at least there was a time when many GOP leaders did seem to genuinely care for families - whatever their color or place of origin - and to promote the well-being of children.
Today the Family Values party is led by a serial divorcee who has openly bragged of sexually abusing women, who paid off a porn star and a Playboy model with whom he had affairs and who has made sexually provocative statements about his own daughter.
Trump has compiled a list of political “accomplishments” that ought to rattle the souls of any remotely decent Family Values adherent.
On Trump’s orders, border officials have begun turning away or arresting asylum seekers by the thousands. This not only breaks international law but exposes those denied access, including children, to dangerous conditions in their home countries. The government has also massively curtailed the number of refugees the country admits, thus eviscerating America’s proud history of generously opening its doors to the world’s most vulnerable. It has completely locked out Syrian refugees fleeing the use of nerve gas, barrel bombs and other monstrous weapons that are routinely used against civilians.
The Department of Justice began a “zero tolerance” policy on the southern border that resulted in the separation of thousands of families, and the caging of children in makeshift camps and other detention facilities. These kids have reportedly been forcibly medicated, and some have been beaten and sexually abused. Hundreds of children might never be reunited with their parents. Also, administration officials have admitted losing track of thousands of minors who crossed into the country unaccompanied by adult relatives.
After signing into law a massive tax cut for wealthy Americans, Trump then turned around and attempted to cut $7 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program. He has also obsessively sought to undermine the Affordable Care Act, in particular the expansion of Medicaid, which has provided coverage to millions of low-income Americans. In recent months, the administration tried unsuccessfully to slash the food stamps program, which keeps tens of millions of low-income Americans out of hunger. HUD has announced new policies that will triple rents paid by many low-income families for their public housing units.
Earlier this month, the administration unveiled plans for an expansive new “public charge” definition that would effectively bar millions of immigrants and their children, including U.S. citizens, from a huge array of public services, including low-income heating assistance, aid for new mothers and infants, school lunches and Medicaid. It is threatening non-citizens who use such services, or whose children use them, with a denial of permanent residency and deportation. New York City estimates that as many as one million residents could be impacted. California, too, will see huge increases in poverty.
All of this is quite simply a deliberate policy of pauperization and humiliation, intended to drive immigrant communities underground and to deter would-be immigrants from entering the country in the first place, and also meant to punish poor people, especially poor people of color.
This is what the Family Values party now represents. It is, quite simply, a hideous, sadistic vision.
Sasha Abramsky, who teaches at UC Davis, is a Sacramento writer whose latest book is “Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream.”