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November 18, 2018

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Do facts matter in the age of Trump?

I ask this question because the “bully pulpit” of the White House has become ground zero for persuasion by alternative facts. The alleged “migrant invasion” is the latest example. As has been noted recently, when the president makes it up as he goes along, the White House communications team and the bureaucracy go into action to turn nonsense into truth.

President Donald Trump has claimed that a pending “invasion” from Central American migrants is a national emergency that demands sending armed troops to the border to stop an “invasion” of terrorists, people from the Middle East, MS-13 gang members and others who will take American jobs and threaten the safety of law-abiding citizens.

The only thing true is that there is a caravan of people who want to enter the United States. Trump’s method of governing is best described by the late journalist H.L. Mencken, who observed that, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

The facts tell a much different story, one that cries out for compassion. Most of those who are in the caravan, perhaps all, are seeking asylum. There are now 7,000 — many on foot — who are 1,000 miles from our southern border.

International law and U.S. immigration law both provide a process for dealing with people who claim asylum. To avoid expedited deportation back to their home country, asylum seekers must prove that their lives and liberty are at risk and that they have credible fear for their safety.

If they won’t be granted asylum, isn’t it likely that they will attempt to cross the border illegally? While that is always a possibility, the number of illegal immigrants entering the United States has not been increasing. According to adjustice.org, unauthorized immigration is at its lowest level since 1972. The only increase in arrivals are unaccompanied children fleeing gang violence and drug cartels in Central America. And the number of illegal immigrants is slightly lower than in 2009 and those in the workforce have also not increased.

Those who claim that the caravan includes terrorists and the like are contradicted by a State Department report: “At year’s end, there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico … or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”

Claims to the contrary are the hobgoblins of Mencken’s reference — and flat-out lies. The secretary of state recently stated that it is not true that a record number of migrants have arrived at the U.S.-Mexican border. So far this year, the U.S. Border Patrol has arrested 397,000 migrants, which is fewer than the early 2000s.

Yes, we have an immigration problem, and it is a bipartisan problem that has been recognized for decades. Instead of addressing it in a bipartisan manner, it has been used as a political football (and a political scare tactic), especially by Trump. Political sniping has become a substitute for governing, which has exacerbated the anger that now pervades our nation.

The Washington Post recently observed, “This is Trump’s Reichstag fire. Not in the sense that Trump is Hitler, but rather in the more general way this term is sometimes used: Trump is perverting imagery of a real event to create a false narrative about what is happening and why; to justify his chosen response to it; and to manipulate public opinion toward other ends.”

While this might be a harsh condemnation, it demonstrates an important point. The short-term political gain achieved by stoking fears comes at a very high cost. We are reacting to imaginary hobgoblins instead of addressing the serious problems of the national debt, entitlement reform, strengthening our alliances to counter threats from China and Russia, immigration, and the almost total breakdown of civil discourse. Unless a way is soon found to change our national dynamics, we will forfeit forever the title of being freedom’s beacon — if we have not done so already.

Bill O’Keefe is the founder of Solutions Consulting in Midlothian, Va. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.