Editorial Board

Scapegoater in Chief

Tuesday night was Trump at his best, and Trump at his best is still a demagogue.

He stoops to conquer.

Photograph: Bloomberg

“I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims,” President Donald Trump said in his address to Congress Tuesday night. He was referring to a very specific kind of victim -- those harmed by undocumented immigrants. And his comments show that, current conventional wisdom notwithstanding, President Trump is not so different from candidate Trump.

Trump argued that American deaths at the hands of undocumented immigrants -- who commit violent crime at a lower rate than U.S.-born citizens -- have been ignored by the news media and “silenced by special interests.” Yet the murder of Kathryn Steinle by an immigrant in San Francisco in 2015, which Trump cited repeatedly in his campaign, generated national news coverage. Other deaths receive the regional news coverage that murders generally produce.

What’s unusual is not the news media’s level of interest in violent death, which is typically high. What’s unusual is the president of the United States using a nationally televised speech to engage in stereotyping in order to advance a divisive political agenda.

There were more than 15,000 murders in 2015 -- a steep drop from the early 1990s, but still plenty. The purpose of establishing a special office within the Department of Homeland Security to highlight a tiny percentage of those crimes has nothing to do with concern for the victims. What about the vast majority of victims killed by non-immigrants? The only conceivable purpose for the new office is to generate propaganda and channel hate against immigrants.

Scapegoating is hardly unknown in the history of the U.S.. But presidents, especially in recent history, have generally refrained from stooping so low. Trump has proved incapable of resisting.

    --Editors: Francis Wilkinson, Katy Roberts.

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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