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A Weekend of Trumpian Cruelty: Remember, That’s the Point

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My first reaction to seeing the horrifying photos of desperate immigrants detained in McAllen, Texas, as they were “visited” by Vice President Mike Pence and a posse of GOP senators Friday, was disbelief: Surely the powers that be could have created a Potemkin Pueblo on the border—kids with bunk beds and toys, maybe; adults in a no-frills barracks-style setting, but with cots and clean bedding and toiletries—to create reassuring photo ops for the media traveling along with Pence.

Of course they could have. And there’s a reason they chose not to. As always when puzzling over a Trump administration move, remember the most important adage of the Trump era, coined by The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer: “The cruelty is the point.” The same goes for Trump’s ICE raids, pre-announced for Sunday, which mostly didn’t happen over the weekend but could take place throughout this week. ICE raids obviously work better with an element of surprise; Trump wanted to broadcast his cruelty to his followers, who aren’t likely to pay attention to if, when or where the raids—scheduled for 10 progressive cities—actually happened.

There is no doubt that the images from the McAllen detention center were horrific; the men looked absolutely miserable. The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey was on pool duty for the crew of journalists allowed to tour the facility with Pence, and to be honest, his words were as searing the images: He reported that roughly 384 men were “in caged fences with no cots,” cages “so crowded that it would have been impossible for all of the men to lie on the concrete.” Not only was it “sweltering hot,” Dawsey wrote; “the stench was horrendous.” Some of the men told reporters they’d been there “40 days or longer.”

Later came videos: caged men asking for “agua,” yelling “no shower, no shower,” and saying they’d been locked up for “cuarenta” (40) days; men wearing face masks and pulling clothing up over their noses, presumably to minimize the stench. In one video, Pence ignored the men to talk to a guard, who boasted that they had watchtowers all around the cages to monitor the men and remove anyone “who gets rowdy.” Senator Lindsey Graham, the former self-styled “maverick” who’s become a Trumpian monster, looked into the cages blankly, not interacting with any of the men inside. Pence didn’t either; he turned his back and walked away.

After the photos and videos hit cable news, there were righteous howls from journalists and folks on social media. So Pence channeled his boss and took to Twitter Saturday morning to denounce CNN as “dishonest”—no idea why he singled out CNN, where (full disclosure) I’m a contributor, when the images were everywhere—in a five-tweet defense of conditions at McAllen. Here are the two that were most appalling:

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