Remember back around the new year when border agents appeared to be profiling dozens of Iranian-born Americans at the crossing up in Blaine — but then insisted, in categorical terms, that they weren’t?
“Social media posts that CBP [Customs and Border Protection] is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry into the U.S. because of their country of origin are false,” the agency declared at the time.
Well no shock here, but someone inside the Seattle office of the CBP now is saying that of course it was ethnic profiling all along.
“Was there an Immigration reason for detaining them? No,” says an email from a local agent who works the Blaine border. “Was there a Customs reason for detaining them? No. Was the sole reason we detained and questioned them due to their national origin? Yes.”
I mention all this not because it’s surprising that the Trump administration was profiling at the border. One can imagine some amount of profiling has always gone on up there, and with Trump, eyeing people suspiciously because they’re of a particular heritage or religion is right in his wheelhouse. (He did once propose barring all Muslims from the country.) What the border agency was doing probably wouldn’t have been broadly controversial if they’d just spun it.
No I bring it up because of that sweeping up-is-down denial, in which they insisted it just wasn’t happening at all (a denial it is sticking to today). It’s a defining feature of the Trump era — the public refutation of objective reality, followed by stonewalling and obstruction, followed by, worst of all, mute public acceptance.
The same phenomenon is happening in the ongoing impeachment trial.
The problem with the trial isn’t that Trump will be acquitted — that’s been clear from the beginning. It’s that it’s apparently going to go down without any grappling by Republican officials with what really happened.
I’ve long thought that the last refuge for Republicans would be to say “yes he tried to shake down Ukraine, yes it was wrong, but no it isn’t worth throwing him from office.” The old “yes he’s guilty, but the punishment is too harsh” defense was exactly the one followed by Democrats in the last presidential impeachment, of Bill Clinton in 1999.
But that’s not what’s happening here. Despite how obvious it is that Trump did it, GOP officials continue to simply pretend he didn’t. It’s like the CBP: denying what is right in front of our noses.
Trump is not only bragging that his dealings with Ukraine were “perfect,” but he’s obstructing any congressional oversight or investigation (even though his actions were perfect, which doesn’t make a ton of sense). The U.S. Senate now appears to be saying: That’s all fine.
This is why, as the trial goes on, I’ve become more focused on the fate of the second article of impeachment, about obstructing Congress, than the first, which involves Ukraine. As I said above it’s understandable to me how the Ukraine misadventure can be rationalized away. But if the Senate shrugs at a president openly flouting all attempts at oversight, then look out below. Orwellian behavior like that exhibited by the border agency in Blaine will be given a sort of nationwide blessing, from the top on down.
It’s already happening, as administration officials increasingly are refusing to testify before Congress about matters from tariffs to foreign policy. People will certainly disagree whether Trump deserves to be removed from office. But someone — hello Senate Republicans? — ought to at least stand up and say that this total denial of reality and norms is not OK.
So I was a little bit heartened to see a new Pew Research survey this past week that found that even a third of GOP voters believe Trump probably acted illegally. And nearly half — 47 percent — think he acted unethically. This is the Trump base saying that. They overwhelmingly said he should stay in office (by 86% to 12%). But, crucially, they seem open to acknowledging that he did something wrong.
Admitting that one simple thing, it doesn’t seem like much. But now it feels like the fate of our creaky democracy depends on it.