There’s a popular saying attributed to the late New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan that in discussion of public policy, people are entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. The 2016 presidential race, dominated by New York real estate billionaire Donald Trump, now the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, suggests that now, more than ever, we need a corollary to Moynihan’s adage.
Maybe something like: Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but not to their own logic.
Trump, who has driven much of the enthusiasm for his candidacy by stoking fear of immigrants, gave an interview to The Green Line over the weekend. That’s a podcast hosted by two Border Patrol agents, Shawn Moran and Thane Gallagher, and supported by the National Border Patrol Council, the union supporting US Border Patrol personnel. The union, which has never endorsed a presidential candidate before, has officially backed Trump, who has promised to build a wall on the Mexican border and to crack down on illegal immigrants.
In the interview, he also -- again -- ripped into proposals that the US ought to allow refugees of Syria’s brutal civil war to enter the country and suggested that likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is in favor of unchecked immigration of Syrian refugees.
“She wants the Syrians to pour into the country -- we don’t know if they’re Syrians, by the way. We have no idea who they are because much of it is undocumented. A lot of these people don’t have any documents. Wait until you see the problems we’ll have with that.”
(To be clear, the federal government’s program for vetting refugees -- while imperfect -- takes more than year and is far more demanding than any of the European countries whose policies Trump went on to criticize.)
When one of the hosts of the program asked him if he believed it would take another attack on the scale of 9/11 to change what he (and Trump) view as a too lax attitude toward border security, Trump heartily agreed.
“Bad things will happen - a lot of bad things will happen. There will be attacks that you wouldn’t believe. There will be attacks by the people that are right now that are coming into our country, because I have no doubt in my mind.”
But hang on. Saying, “Bad things will happen….because I have no doubt in my mind” is logically equivalent to saying “Unicorns exist because I really, really believe in unicorns.”
It’s not a grown-up’s argument. And it doesn’t get better when it’s paired with a billionaire’s understanding of how the world works for the great unwashed.
“I mean you look at it, they have cell phones,” he said of the refugees. “So they don’t have money, they don’t have anything. They have cell phones. Who pays their monthly charges, right? They have cell phones with the flags, the ISIS flags on them. And then we’re supposed to say, ‘Isn’t this wonderful that we’re taking them in?’”
Putting aside the absurd idea that undercover ISIS agents would show up at the border with phones adorned with ISIS flags, Trump seems unaware that huge (even yuuuge) segments of the population have cell phones that don’t require monthly payments. Poor people have phones, too. They just frequently fund them a few dollars at a time with prepaid cards.
The hosts didn’t challenge him, but that’s no surprise. In this election, facts are becoming as rare as unicorns.