It can be hard to tell how Donald Trump thinks. The man switches directions with all the forethought of a cat chasing a flashlight spot.
For days, Trump’s top campaign aides seemed to be making pronouncements based on what they hoped he’d say about immigration in Phoenix on Wednesday night, not out of any real knowledge of his plans. He then proceeded to make anyone who had said anything about what he'd do — including himself — look foolish.
In talking about immigrants, he offered everyone a Windexed view of his blackened soul and the morally bankrupt way he thinks about people.
“While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people,” Trump began, “this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out of the system than they will ever pay in.”
Countless studies show illegal immigration creates a net benefit for the American economy, and, unlike Trump (at least in some years), illegal immigrants pay taxes without the benefits of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social safety net programs. Arizonans have seen those dynamics at work in their home state.
“Economists of opposing political views agree [Arizona’s] economy took a hit when large numbers of illegal immigrants left for Mexico and other border states, following a broad crackdown,” The Wall Street Journal’s Bob Davis wrote earlier this year.
But put all that aside.
Concentrate on Trump’s effort to dehumanize undocumented immigrants. Focus on what he’s really saying: They are a lower class of people. Think about the implications of his lack of humanity. Does anyone really think he limits his view of himself as superior to just that class of people? He's revealed his lack of dignity and his sense of superiority over all who have less than his considerable wealth and power. Always keep in mind all the times he’s referred to people who don’t look like him, act like him or make money like him in dehumanizing terms.
“Look at my African-American over here,” he said at one rally. Remember when he called for the execution of the Central Park Five — long before they were exonerated? Notice the way he uses the definite article “the” before speaking of minorities: “The blacks.” He makes such little effort to distinguish between Muslims and terrorists that one would think he believes there’s only one circle on the Venn diagram.
Throughout world history — and sadly, our own history — the first step in persecuting minorities is to strip people of their humanity based on immutable traits: race, ethnicity, national origin and sexual orientation. And, while people can have religious conversions, such deeply held beliefs have also been used to subject American citizens and residents to injustice and outright abuse.
To justify his belief in his own addled sense of superiority, Trump often picks on these traits to demonstrate that he and his followers are better than other people. But the truth is Trump has mostly demonstrated, with the way he lies so easily and with such little guile to his supporters, that he believes he is beyond reproach and that everyone else is beneath him — even the people he signed on to help him win the presidency.
Make no mistake, his rhetoric has changed. He now makes simple and meaningless nods to the idea that Latino illegal immigrants are different from legal Latino immigrants and Latinos who are natural-born citizens — many, he now says, are good people — and that we should ban entry to the U.S. from Muslim-majority countries, not just prohibit Muslims from coming in because of their beliefs.
It would be one thing if Trump held these views locked high above Manhattan in his eponymous and symbolically telling tower. But he’s running for president of the United States, to be the leader of the free world. He says he wants to prevent persecution around the globe, but he’s a purveyor of persecution. How can America lead on human rights if its elected president spends most of his time trying to strip people of their humanity?
Compare the way he talks about the powerless to the way Hillary Clinton did when she stood up in Beijing 20 years ago and declared that “women’s rights are human rights” and more recently in Geneva, when she offered the same safe harbor for gay and lesbian people. What she was saying in those instances is that the United States will treat the rights of the disenfranchised as human rights both in terms of sentiment and the law. It was a warning to other countries that they better treat their citizens and residents with dignity and justice or face consequences from the U.S. and the international community.
In this election, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out who believes in humanity and who is subhuman.
There are a lot of reasons to vote for or against a presidential candidate — and his or her views on justice, equality and human dignity are only a few of them — but they should weigh heavily on anyone who believes that all men and women are created equal. Trump is not one of them.
Roll Call columnist Jonathan Allen is co-author of the New York Times-bestselling Clinton biography “HRC” and has covered Congress, the White House and elections over the past 15 years.