In the world of the 24-hour news cycle, when each major story commands the headlines for a couple hours only to be displaced by the next big thing, it’s easy to miss something important.
So, in case you missed it this week, here’s something: In the early days of the pandemic, The New York Times reported on Tuesday, Trump’s sinister immigration policy adviser Stephen Miller proposed sending a quarter of a million troops to the US-Mexico border to completely seal it off from would-be migrants. It would have been by far the largest domestic deployment of the military since the Civil War and would have done unfathomable damage to what remained of the country’s democratic fabric. It would also have turned large swaths of the American West into armed camps, on par with the regimented border regions of the decaying Roman Empire sixteen and seventeen hundred years ago, or, more recently, with the fortress Europe created by the Nazis during World War II. California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas would have suddenly found themselves hosting tens of thousands of soldiers with marching orders not against foreign armed forces but against destitute asylum-seekers and those in the United States with heart enough to help them.
Trump’s Justice Department had already begun prosecuting activists out West for aiding and abetting undocumented immigrants. In 2018, for example, Arizona-based Scott Warren, who was a member of a group called No Más Muertes, was charged with providing would-be-migrants with food, water, a bed for the night, and clean clothes on their journey north. Had a jury not been deadlocked in his trial the following year, he could have faced 20 years in prison. Other activists were convicted on lesser charges, such as entering wildlife refuges—which many migrants cross—without a permit.
In any event, the Pentagon and national security advisers nixed Miller’s extraordinary recommendation to deploy half the army’s active-duty soldiers on American soil, and Trump—who had mused about using heat rays, alligator-filled moats, sharp-shooters, and bayonets against those who crossed the border without papers—reluctantly moved onto other ways of tormenting impoverished, desperate would-be asylees. By late March of last year, Miller had convinced the CDC to activate Title 42 of the Public Health Service Act of 1944. Nineteen months on, the emergency provisions are still being used to throw huge numbers of people back into Mexico without due process.
The story about the request for hundreds of thousands of troops to be deployed Stateside isn’t just a bizarro look into the mad musings of a failed president and his disgusting henchmen. To the contrary, it’s a warning about what to expect if Trump, or a Trump-like acolyte, is somehow allowed to get their hands on supreme power again.
From the first months of the Biden presidency, Trump has carped from the Mar-a-Lago sidelines about the US-Mexico border. In June, he traveled to South Texas to whip up the base against his successor’s immigration policies. Since then, despite the Biden administration continuing to use Title 42, expelling Haitian asylum-seekers en masse, as well as a court order mandating the administration to revive the “remain in Mexico” policy, Republicans have been merciless in their attacks on what they perceive to be Biden’s lax and lawless border policies. In June, notwithstanding the huge surges of undocumented migrants along the southern border, 45 percent of those polled still approved of Biden’s immigration policy. While that meant a majority disapproved—as is almost always the case when it comes to presidents and immigration—it was a significantly higher number than that of those who supported Trump’s grotesquely sadistic policies. By this month, however, Biden’s approval ratings on immigration have cratered, with barely one-third of those polled saying they approve.
The GOP, now fully remade in Trump’s viciously nativist mold, sees an opening in these numbers, and you can bet your bottom dollar that in the run-up to the midterms next year and the presidential election two years later, it will do everything in its power to keep the border front-and-center in voters’ consciousness.
In 2016, after Trump’s shock victory, too many pundits chose to avoid fully confronting the horrors a Donald Trump presidency would unleash. By and large, while they knew the crass mogul’s views on immigrants, Muslims, political dissent, and so on, they chose to believe that he was simply a master blusterer, a bullshit artiste extraordinaire, and that when push came to shove, he wouldn’t actually follow through on his proposals. But he did, or at least he tried mightily to do so. He implemented family separations, activated Title 42, deployed troops to the border (though on an order of magnitude less than that suggested by Miller), virtually destroyed the refugee resettlement program, and generally made life hell on earth for poor, nonwhite migrants and asylum-seekers.
If Trump runs, and—God help us—wins in 2024, no one should be under any illusions about what a redux presidency will entail. In 2020, the professional cadre of senior leaders in the Pentagon and national security apparatus successfully pushed back against the mass deployment of troops Stateside. If there is a Trump president number 47, you can be sure anyone with the integrity to say “no” would be rapidly purged.
For California, in particular, that would be a catastrophe. In 2020, Trump was itching to use troops and state-of-the-art weaponry to quash domestic protests. What we didn’t know, until this past week, was that his senior advisers hoped to militarily occupy the entire border zone, saturating it with so many soldiers that nothing and no one could penetrate into the country. The more we know about his repeated efforts to activate soldiers inside US borders, the more sinister the entire Trump project becomes.
Deploying huge numbers of armed military personnel throughout the West to go after asylum-seekers in a post-2024 dystopian America would be guaranteed to trigger vast protests, especially in California—against which a Trumpified federal bureaucracy, purged of “moderating” voices, would then quite possibly also use military units, as Trump was so keen to do in the late spring of 2020.
It all sounds far-fetched. But then, again, isn’t that what so many of us thought in 2015 when Trump himself announced his run for the presidency?