Vice President Mike Pence’s public relations visit to detention facilities on our southern border was a total disaster. Specifically, the photo-op at the men’s facility was meant to show that this administration was protecting the public by locking up scary-looking brown men. Apparently the whole thing was dreamed up by Trump himself, who said that the stories about the conditions in these facilities were “phony.”
Instead, the photo-op confirmed the worst horror stories that have been told by others who visited the facilities, as we see from the initial report submitted by the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey.
[P]ool was taken into an outdoor portal at the McAllen Border Station around 5pm, where almost 400 men were in caged fences with no cots. The stench was horrendous.
The cages were so crowded that it would have been impossible for all the men to lie on the concrete. There were 384 single men in the portal who allegedly crossed the border illegally. There were no mats or pillows—some of the men were sleeping on concrete.
When the men saw the press arrive, they began shouting and wanted to tell us they’d been in there 40 days or longer. The men said they were hungry and wanted to brush their teeth. It was sweltering hot. Agents were guarding the cages wearing face masks.
It is important to keep in mind that most of the people being held in these facilities are not what the administration called “illegal aliens.” Instead, they are refugees seeking asylum. The administration is, in fact, manufacturing this crisis by locking them up rather than either (1) dealing with the backlog in court hearings for asylum cases, or (2) releasing refugees until their court hearing (81 percent of released migrant families attend their court hearings). In other words, none of this is necessary to “enforce our border.” The cruelty is intentional and has been designed to discourage refugees from seeking asylum in this country.
The trip to the men’s facility by Vice President Pence provided a visual representation of that cruelty and the lies being told by this administration. That happened on Friday, and by Sunday morning, Trump changed the subject by writing racist tweets.
That is perhaps the most virulently racist garbage we’ve heard from this president since his remarks about the violence by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Voices all over the country—even some in right-wing media—are calling Trump out on those tweets.
At least for a day, Trump managed to change the subject from an exposure of his lies and racist policies to something he said that was racist. As a reminder of why it is important to not let the president distract us, here is what Eric Holder said during his 2014 commencement address at Maryland’s Morgan State University.
[W]e ought not find contentment in the fact that these high-profile expressions of outright bigotry seem atypical and were met with such swift condemnation. Because if we focus solely on these incidents – on outlandish statements that capture national attention and spark outrage on Facebook and Twitter – we are likely to miss the more hidden, and more troubling, reality behind the headlines.
These outbursts of bigotry, while deplorable, are not the true markers of the struggle that still must be waged, or the work that still needs to be done – because the greatest threats do not announce themselves in screaming headlines. They are more subtle. They cut deeper. And their terrible impact endures long after the headlines have faded and obvious, ignorant expressions of hatred have been marginalized.
While it is important to call out Trump’s racist remarks about congresswomen of color, we must keep our “eyes on the prize” of his racist policies that “cut deeper” and whose impact will endure long after the headlines fade.