Originally Published in Vox
Aaron Rupar - October 22, 2020
The mask slips.
Though he lied a lot, President Donald Trump generally came across better during Thursday’s second and final presidential debate with Joe Biden than he did during the first, when his constant interruptions and unhinged behavior rendered it unwatchable (and ultimately hurt him in the polls). But one moment revealed the inhumanity at the core of his politics.
On the topic of immigration, Trump defended his administration’s strict immigrant detention policies by claiming that only people with “the lowest IQ” follow the law by showing up for court proceedings.
Perhaps sensing that he was about to say something unfortunate, Trump seemed to catch himself while the words were slipping out of his mouth — but it was too late. Here’s the clip:
Not only is the insinuation that only less intelligent people follow the law corrosive to the rule of law, but the specific claim Trump made is entirely false. As my colleague Nicole Narea detailedwhen Trump made similar claims in January, almost all immigrants show up for hearings, according to a recent study:
The immigration part of the debate in general didn’t go well for Trump. It began with him struggling to downplay new findings from lawyers appointed by a federal judge that the parents of 545 children — who were separated from their parents as a result of his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy — can’t be found.
“These children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels, and they used to use them to get into our country,” Trump claimed, without evidence.
After Biden pointed out that “these 500-plus kids came with parents” and the child separation policy “makes us a laughingstock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation,” Trump replied by trying to pin blame for his administration’s policy on Obama and Biden. But as Dara Lind explained for Vox in 2018, there’s really no comparison.
To be clear, the Obama administration’s record on immigration isn’t necessarily great either — as of last year, Obama still held the record for most deportations. But the Obama/Biden policy was only to separate families when there was a reason to do so. Trump did it broadly and thought it was a deterrent. And as his comments during Thursday’s debate revealed, he’s never been particularly concerned about the human impact.