In retrospect, it’s unclear why America should have expected anything from President Trump’s Tuesday night primetime speech other than a rant about how immigrants are coming across the border to kill you.
With the federal government partially closed since December 21, and 800,000 federal employees about to miss a paycheck on Friday, there might have been an expectation that Trump would discuss the shutdown. He might have been expected to make a sustained case for why now was a particularly important time to get $5.7 billion to build 250 miles of physical barriers along the US-Mexico border.
Trump glancingly covered those talking points: The border is both a national security crisis (because of spurious arguments about drugs, smugglers, and terrorism) and a humanitarian crisis (because of the genuinely unprecedented influx of children and families into the US). He very briefly talked through his administration’s demands for reopening the government — though he characterized them as coming from “law enforcement officials and border agents.”
But mostly, he gave the exact same speech he always gives: that immigrants are coming across the border to kill you.
This is not really an exaggeration. I have been following Trump’s immigration rhetoric since he came down the escalator at Trump Tower, and the relentlessness with which he hits this particular narrow subgenre of anti-immigrant panic is noteworthy.
This isn’t just a matter of Trump going back to a stump speech, or the riffs he knows the audience loves. The idea that immigrants are coming to kill you is a persistent motif in his scripted speeches — the formal addresses that are supposed to be the hallmarks of statesmanship, the moments when other presidents “truly become president of the United States.”
Most politicians have more than one way to talk about the enemies of the American people. Most have more than one way to express sympathy for Americans going through hard times. Most have more than one way to assure America that they can keep its people safe. Trump only has the one note, and he has played it literally every time he’s been called on to talk like a president.
His campaign launch on June 16, 2015:
They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
His response to the Pulse nightclub shooting in June 2016:
We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer.
The speech with which he formally accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for the presidency, in July 2016:
They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.
One such border-crosser was released and made his way to Nebraska. There, he ended the life of an innocent young girl named Sarah Root. She was 21 years-old, and was killed the day after graduating from college with a 4.0 Grade Point Average. Her killer was then released a second time, and he is now a fugitive from the law.
I’ve met Sarah’s beautiful family. But to this Administration, their amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting. One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.
A campaign speech on immigration (billed as a policy address and delivered in primetime) in Phoenix, Arizona, on August 31, 2016:
Also among the victims of the Obama-Clinton open borders policies was Grant Ronnebeck, a 21 year-old convenience store clerk in Mesa, Arizona. He was murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member previously convicted of burglary who had also been released from Federal Custody.
Another victim is Kate Steinle, gunned down in the Sanctuary City of San Francisco by an illegal immigrant deported five previous times.
Then there is the case of 90 year-old Earl Olander, who was brutally beaten and left to bleed to death in his home. The perpetrators were illegal immigrants with criminal records who did not meet the Obama Administration’s priorities for removal.
His “American Carnage” inauguration speech (which, in this company, looks pretty tame), January 21, 2017:
the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
His speech to a joint session of Congress in February 2017:
Joining us in the audience tonight are four very brave Americans whose government failed them. Their names are Jamiel Shaw, Susan Oliver, Jenna Oliver, and Jessica Davis.
Jamiel’s 17-year-old son was viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member who had just been released from prison. Jamiel Shaw, Jr. was an incredible young man, with unlimited potential who was getting ready to go to college where he would have excelled as a great college quarterback. But he never got the chance. His father, who is in the audience tonight, has become a very good friend of mine. Jamiel, thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)
Also with us are Susan Oliver and Jessica Davis. Their husbands, Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver and Detective Michael Davis, were slain in the line of duty in California. They were pillars of their community. These brave men were viciously gunned down by an illegal immigrant with a criminal record and two prior deportations. Should have never been in our country.
A speech to law enforcement in July 2017, in which he casually ad-libbed an endorsement of police brutality:
MS-13 gang members have brutally murdered 17 beautiful, young lives in this area on Long Island alone. Think of it. They butcher those little girls. They kidnap, they extort, they rape and they rob. They prey on children. They shouldn’t be here. They stomp on their victims. They beat them with clubs. They slash them with machetes, and they stab them with knives. They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful, quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields. They’re animals.
We cannot tolerate as a society the spilling of innocent, young, wonderful, vibrant people — sons and daughters, even husbands and wives. We cannot accept this violence one day more.
His State of the Union address in January 2018:
Here tonight are two fathers and two mothers: Evelyn Rodriguez, Freddy Cuevas, Elizabeth Alvarado, and Robert Mickens. Their two teenage daughters — Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens — were close friends on Long Island. But in September 2016, on the eve of Nisa’s 16th Birthday, neither of them came home. These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown. Six members of the savage gang MS-13 have been charged with Kayla and Nisa’s murders. Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors ‑- and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school.
Evelyn, Elizabeth, Freddy, and Robert: Tonight, everyone in this chamber is praying for you. Everyone in America is grieving for you. And 320 million hearts are breaking for you. We cannot imagine the depth of your sorrow, but we can make sure that other families never have to endure this pain.
His speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2018:
These are animals. They cut people. They cut them. They cut them up in little pieces and they want them to suffer. And we take them into our country because our immigration laws are so bad. And when we catch them — it’s called catch-and-release — we have to, by law, catch them and then release them. Catch-and-release. And I can’t get the Democrats — and nobody has been able to for years — to approve common-sense measures that, when we catch these animal-killers, we can lock them up and throw away the keys.
A speech given at an event held with the “Angel Moms” — a group of parents whose children were killed by unauthorized immigrants, featuring some of the parents highlighted in previous speeches — in June 2018, during the peak of the family separation crisis, with the message that the press should pay attention to families “permanently separated” because one of them was killed by an immigrant:
No major networks sent cameras to their homes or displayed the images of their incredible loved ones across the nightly news. They don’t do that. They don’t talk about the death and destruction caused by people that shouldn’t be here, people that will continuously get into trouble and do bad things.
A speech on the eve of the midterm elections — also billed as a policy address and thus covered (at least initially) by multiple TV networks, but which, compared to Tuesday’s, is actually pretty heavy on policy — given November 1, 2018:
At this very moment, large, well-organized caravans of migrants are marching towards our southern border. Some people call it an “invasion.” It’s like an invasion. They have violently overrun the Mexican border. You saw that two days ago. These are tough people, in many cases. A lot of young men, strong men. And a lot of men that maybe we don’t want in our country. But again, we’ll find that out through the legal process.
But they’ve overrun the Mexican police, and they’ve overrun and hurt badly Mexican soldiers.
And finally, Tuesday night, during his first primetime address to the nation from the Oval Office, carried by all major networks:
Day after day, precious lives are cut short by those who have violated our borders. In California, an Air Force veteran was raped, murdered, and beaten to death with a hammer by an illegal alien with a long criminal history. In Georgia, an illegal alien was recently charged with murder for killing, beheading, and dismembering his neighbor. In Maryland, MS-13 gang members who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors were arrested and charged last year after viciously stabbing and beating a 16-year-old girl.
Over the last several years, I’ve met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I’ve held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible. I will never forget the pain in their eyes, the tremble in their voices, and the sadness gripping their souls.
How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?
To those who refuse to compromise in the name of border security, I would ask: Imagine if it was your child, your husband, or your wife whose life was so cruelly shattered and totally broken?
I know I’m forgetting some, because there have been three and a half years of this, and honestly, I haven’t watched every scripted Trump speech. But earlier Tuesday, when I posted a thread about the Immigrants Are Coming Across the Border to Kill You motif (abbreviated IACATBTKY for Twitter), it’s not because I had any advance notice of the content — it’s because, at this point, it’s deeply predictable.
The Trump administration was already playing fast and loose with the facts when it made the case in advance of the president’s speech that the current situation on the US-Mexico border was such a crisis that it merited a partial government shutdown to resolve. Trump himself, though, didn’t even try. His central argument is that there is a crisis of immigrants coming across the border to kill you — the exact same argument he has been making, and the exact same supposed crisis, for three and a half years.
The question he didn’t answer: Why on earth, if the crisis has been that bad for so long, is now the moment of exceptional emergency?