Mr. President, is there a method to the madness?



CHICAGO — In the climactic scene in the movie “Apocalypse Now,” we find Capt. Willard in his attempt to terminate the command of a rogue colonel saying to his target, “They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.”

Col. Walter E. Kurtz responds, “Are my methods unsound?” And Willard replies, “I don’t see any method at all, sir.”

That’s what I see with President Trump this past month. A year after U.S. Sens. Todd Young and Joe Donnelly advised us to “wrap our heads around” the potential of a nuclear war with North Korea, President Trump had a one-day summit with the despot Kim Jong Un. His “fire and fiery” rhetoric appeared to bring Kim to the table. Dialogue is always preferable to war. You can make the case that incendiary tweets motivated the murderous Kim to show up.

In its wake, Trump tweeted there was “no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” It was a naive assertion, contradicted by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who was asked about Kim’s steps to dismantle, saying, “No, I’m not aware of that. The detailed negotiations have not begun. I wouldn’t expect that at this point.”

Trump’s nominated ambassador to South Korea, Harry Harris, also believes a nuclear threat still exists, telling Congress, “We have to continue to worry about that … it’s based solely on the ballistic missile threat from North Korea.”

Which brings us to immigration. Last April, President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal immigration, and this included separating children from families appearing at the U.S./Mexican border seeking asylum.

What has ensued is an utter encroachment on American values, on our long embrace of the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Unless you’re a native American, your ancestors once huddled and yearned.

For weeks, President Trump lied about this. Last week Trump declared, “The Democrats have to change their law — that’s their law.” But there is no law requiring family separation. There are laws against “improper entry” and a consent decree called the “Flores settlement” that limits migrant child incarcerations to 20 days. A federal judge ruled in 2016 that it applies to families.

No, this was a policy concoction of Trump and Sessions, who appeared in Fort Wayne last week referencing the Holy Bible. “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said.

In Trump’s worldview, taking a hard line of illegal immigrants, even mothers and children, is red meat for his political base. It ignored the question, “What would Jesus do?”

The outcry to the 2,300 children separated from their families included rebukes from Rev. Franklin Graham, all the living and former First Ladies, Bono and Pope Francis. If one of you had a pastor last Sunday advocate these family separations, please send me the text of the sermon.

U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, one of the few Hoosier Republicans to speak out, said, “As a father of four children, I believe the separation of illegal immigrant families at the border is heartbreaking, and I am against it. Our nation’s immigration system has been broken for many years, and this is just the latest example of how broken it truly is.”

Bucshon is correct on both fronts. The separations are cruel and inhumane. The immigration system is broken and has been for years. We’ve watched Republican Indiana General Assembly leaders Brian Bosma and David Long plead with Congress to do its job and come up with durable border and immigration solutions. Congress is inert. With moderates routed via primaries from both parties, the polarized Republicans and Democrats have repeatedly punted. It’s why the notion of throwing all congressional incumbents out is so appealing.

Donald Trump fed on these fears and discordant responses from “leaders” who simply won’t lead. He won the presidency by exploiting these paranoias that prompted the chants, “Build that wall.” Since April, 2,300 kids were removed from their families, perceived by the White House as a bargaining chip on a wall Congress has virtually no appetite to build and Mexico won’t pay for.

Trump’s ultimate truth after a façade of lies is, as he put it to the Republican National Convention in July 2016, “I alone can fix it.” And after mushrooming criticism, he signed an executive order ending the separations. “We’re going to have strong — very strong — borders, but we are going to keep the families together. I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.” Neither did the scores of suburban moms who voted for him in 2016.

Trump was flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, whose longtime motto has been, “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican in that order.” Perhaps that order held as he consulted his boss.

Trump’s executive order is simply a temporary fix. While families arriving today won’t be separated, it leaves those 2,300 kids in limbo, without their parents. There is no long-term solution in sight.

No, Mr. President, I don’t see any method at all. Sir.

Brian A. Howey of Nashville is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.

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