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Trump’s unexpected moment of solidarity with border immigrants

A mixed week ended with a clenched-fist salute of solidarity with the very people he has vilified in speech after speech

On an overcast Thursday afternoon in Texas, standing on the last few feet on American soil, Donald Trump gazed across the murky water of the Rio Grande and saw through the wire fence a group of immigrants looking back at him from the other side of the water and from Mexico. A few of them shouted his name across the water. Trump! Trump! Fame is fame.

Instinctively, Trump raised his arm in salute and offered a clenched fist of solidarity at the very people he has vilified in speech after speech. “They like Trump,” he said to his companions and then he half turned, pleased, to where the camera was filming and marvelled, “Can you believe that?” He turned once more to look across at the small gathering who belong to the vast number of migrants willing to pay cartels money for the right to risk their lives on a treacherous border crossing for the blurry promise of making it through the gauntlet of the US asylum process so that they can embark upon an ill-defined better life: some version of the American Dream.

Trump has reached that stage of international ubiquity that even in outline he is instantly recognisable; the bouffant styling, the broad sloping shoulders and trademark dark suit: he has become a moving emblem for himself. For almost half a century, he has represented a specific sort of American success, excessive and gold-plated and an empire built as a sort of tribute to himself. He was born into privilege, inherited a carnal desire for more, of everything, all the time and a brash energy to match and here he is, at 77, the most unlikely presidency in the history of politics already behind him and hell-bent on reclaiming the White House this year.

The scale and privilege and power of Trump’s life is surely as unfathomable to the migrants whose aimless day was enlivened by an in-the-flesh sighting of a real-life American president as the circumstances of their own lives – the unrelenting day-to-day challenges of making it through and the extraordinary pressure of dealing with extreme poverty – is to him.


That brief exchange was an unforgettable moment because in an age of choreographed performance, it was unscripted. It simply happened. For a split second, Trump forgot that the group of people across the water belonged to the vast army of migrants he has portrayed in speech after speech as potential murderers and miscreants, released from prisons and psychiatric institutions. The language he uses is designed to stoke fear and his vision is nightmarish and never qualified by an acknowledgment of the desperate human stories behind the mass border crossings.

He would return to that familiar theme a few minutes later in his remarks at Eagle Pass, castigating the Biden administration for undoing the border securities established during his presidency and listing the details of a series of horrific crimes committed by migrants over the past few years.

This was Trump at the close of a week when his presence and actions completely dictated and shaped developments in America’s highest offices.

On Tuesday, he won his sixth straight primary in Michigan.

On Wednesday, the decision by the supreme court to hear the arguments of Trump’s legal team – that his status as president should grant him immunity from prosecution on the charges of inciting the January 6th riots and trying to overturn the 2020 election – completely overshadowed the news that Mitch McConnell, the octogenarian Republican speaker of the House, would step away from that role in November.

The implications of that supreme court decision, rendering a pre-November trial highly unlikely – and prompting prosecutor Jack Smith to propose a July trial date – was enough to move several Democratic public figures to suggest that the highest legal chamber in the United States was complicit in facilitating Trump’s desire to delay what is the most serious of the many legal charges he faces.

On the same day, a separate court in New York denied Trump’s request to pause payment on the $454 million (€420 million) judgment against him for fraud.

The evening closed with a Trump avowal to appeal the decision by an Illinois judge to exclude him from the state’s primary ballot for breach of the 14th amendment because of his role on January 6th. That appeal was lodged on Thursday, the same day as Trump, leaving another week of jaw-dropping developments in his wake, raised a triumphant fist across a riverbank on the edge of Texas as though he hadn’t a care in the world.