“I have a friend,” President Donald Trump said on Friday morning, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, in Maryland, where the participants seemed very eager to prove that they were Trump’s friends, too. “He’s a very, very substantial guy,” Trump continued, the kind of guy for whom an annual summer trip to Paris with his wife had been “automatic.” And why not? “Jim,” as Trump called him, “loves the City of Lights. He loves Paris.” And then, Trump said, he ran into Jim after not seeing him for a while. “I said, ‘Jim, let me ask you a question: How’s Paris doing?’ “ The President of the United States knitted his eyebrows in a facsimile of a very, very substantial guy’s disdain.
Jim’s answer, Trump said, his voice deepening, was “Paris? I don’t go there anymore. Paris is no longer Paris.”
Trump let the horror sink in.
Perhaps it would have been helpful, in trying to decipher the meaning of this anecdote, if Trump had offered up Jim’s alternative vacation destination. (Or maybe Jim just stays in New York, like Melania.) What does it mean for Paris to not be Paris? Trump didn’t say, exactly, but the context made it pretty clear, as he had arrived at the story of Jim’s travel by way of eulogies for Sweden and Germany, countries that, he regularly says, have been ravaged by refugees. “Take a look at what’s happening to our world, folks! We have to be smart. We have to be smart. We can’t let it happen to us.” The “it,” for Trump, appears to be immigration—more specifically, the immigration of people whose substance, religion, or looks, do not appeal to him.
That was, indeed, the moral of the story of Jim, which Trump summed up this way: “So let me state this as clearly as I can. We are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.” He added, in direct reference to the various legal setbacks that the Administration has suffered in relation to his executive order banning people from seven countries and all refugees from entering the U.S., “We will not be deterred from this course, and in a matter of days we will be taking brand-new action to protect our people and keep America safe.” Trump talked about terrorists, but one reason that he has been stalled in the courts is that the language of the original executive order was so sweeping that it encompassed, for example, green-card holders who had lived in this country for decades. The executive order’s origin, in Trump’s promised “complete and total” Muslim ban, has also contributed to its constitutionally dubious character. And Muslims were not the only ones Trump had in mind when he talked about “our world” and what might “happen to us.” Earlier in the speech, he had said, “As we speak today, immigration officers are finding the gang members, the drug dealers, and the criminal aliens, and throwing them the hell out of the country.” This was a reference to Department of Homeland Security enforcement memorandums, issued earlier this week, that, again, prioritized the deportation of a far broader range of people than Trump acknowledged.
Trump, at CPAC, dismissed concerns about the memorandums by asking why Americans care about what happened to “the bad ones” in their midst. They would soon be gone; they were not coming back; and “If they do, they are going to have bigger problems than they ever dreamt of.” That last phrase may have been one of the more alarming from Trump’s address, implying, as it did, more extreme measures to come—the kind that might haunt the dreams of people fleeing repressive regimes or broken countries but were not contemplated in our Constitution. It also suggested that a Trump who fails might lash out.
And who can tell who “the bad ones” are? At the beginning of his speech, Trump had attacked the “dishonest media” for raising alarm about this tweet:
The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!
Calling the country’s leading newspaper and every major news network except Fox “the enemy of the American people” is and ought to be alarming; it is, as David Remnick recently noted, how authoritarianism settles in. At CPAC, Trump said that the press shouldn’t be “allowed” to use unnamed sources—a vital outlet for dissent when a government entity acts badly—and complained that reporters “say that we can’t criticize their dishonest coverage because of the First Amendment—you know, they always bring up the Fiii-rrrst Amendment.” As he referred to the Constitution, he adopted an insubstantial whine. For Trump, the expression of First Amendment concerns was yet another example of the media’s perfidy: when they wrote about his tweet, he said, “They dropped off the word ‘fake.’ … I am only against the fake news media or press. Fake. Fake. They have to leave that word.” By “leave that word” is he suggesting that the media organizations he has labelled America’s enemies should call themselves “fake,” in some sort of reportorial self-criticism session—a Trumpian cultural-revolution exercise? The media, for the record, did pay attention to his use of the word “fake,” in part because his dismissal of serious reporting—of facts—was one of many problems with his tweet, and with his approach to reality. At CPAC, as an example of fakeness, he referred to a Washington Post story, which he claimed, with no evidence, cited fabricated sources, and to the “Clinton News Network.” A few hours later, CNN, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, and other media outlets were excluded from a White House press briefing. Is that what it means to keep “the bad ones” out? Back at CPAC, as Trump talked about his many enemies, the crowd applauded.