President Donald Trump knows best. He knows better than his Department of Homeland Security. He knows better than the authors of the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment. He knows better than the director of national intelligence and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. And he especially knows better than anyone who ever worked for Barack Obama. Just ask him. Or better yet, just read his tweets.
“The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!” President Trump posted Wednesday on his favorite social media venue after his administration’s top intelligence chiefs briefed a Senate committee one day earlier. He later added: “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”
Some may look at that, as well as Mr. Trump’s nonsensical claims about immigration this week (and more about that in a moment), and say, isn’t this the guy who famously can’t bring himself to read a briefing paper let alone a book, who has no expertise whatsoever in foreign policy, who has been continuously proven wrong on all sorts of claims about basic world history — from his recent observation that wheels are older than walls (they aren’t — by millennia) to his pronouncement a month ago that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan over terrorism (not quite). What does he know about intelligence gathering and threat assessments? Ah, but that would be the wrong question.
The real question is: Who knows what Trump supporters want to hear from their populist, nationalist leader? That would be the guy in the Oval Office. He knows what his most ardent admirers like best, and it certainly isn’t hearing that experts (Deep State!) have expertise, or that the Iran accords were working to keep that nation from developing a nuclear capability, or that the president’s grip-and-grin with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un (the writer of a “great letter” and worthy of another face-to-face) hasn’t denuclearized the peninsula.
And most of all, Mr. Trump knows his political base loves to be egged on about the threat posed by Central Americans fleeing violence in their native countries and looking for a decent life in the U.S. That’s why he can — in classic Alternative Fact of the Week fashion — just make up numbers to scare his folks as he did in tweets on Sunday. How many “non-citizens” voted in Texas? That would be 58,000. How many “illegal aliens” are there in the United States? That would be 25,772,342 (not 25,772,341 or 25,772,343). How much are they costing? Last Friday alone it was $603,331,392.
Now, if you are looking at those numbers and thinking,”where the heck did those very specific figures come from?”— congratulations, you are rational human being. Those totals are, of course, clearly either made up from whole cloth or, at best, vastly overstated. Most estimates of the undocumented put the figure in the neighborhood of 11 million to 12 million, including those produced by Mr. Trump’s own DHS. Cost estimates vary widely, but even the most pessimistic — from the Federation for American Immigration Reform — pegs the cost much lower than (or about half) the president’s estimate of $220 billion annually. So what’s the source? Administration officials have offered no explanation, and that includes Mick Mulvaney, Mr. Trump’s acting chief of staff.
It’s like the old saying, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” If you’re going to make a number up, be specific. It’s a strategy President Trump has employed before. Why does he believe 58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas? First, that was a number obtained from all elections conducted in Texas since 1996, not just the last one, and secondly, it was about names on the voter rolls being “flagged” because they were recommended for further investigation, not because there is proof that these voters were non-citizens.
But, of course, Trump tweets have never been known for their good sourcing or accuracy. Rather, they are famous for being outrageous. So he hits the mark again. His rants will find their way into the Twitter feeds of his followers who are only too happy to be stirred into hating immigrants and building walls where they are neither needed nor wanted. Mr. Trump may not be able to recall that it was the British, not soldiers of Canada (a country that did not yet exist) who burned down the White House in the War of 1812, but he sure knows how to coax anger and hatred out of his Make American Great Again faithful a whole lot better than Dan Coats ever will.