Donald Trump’s Theory of Everything

No matter the question, his answer is “illegal immigrants.”

Donald Trump making a speech
Hannah Beier / Bloomberg / Getty

At Thursday’s debate, while Joe Biden struggled to put a sentence together, Donald Trump struggled to utter any sentence that wasn’t about illegal immigrants destroying the country.

Harsh rhetoric—and policy—on migrants and the border has long been a pillar of Trump’s political identity, but it used to slot into a much wider range of grievances. On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump railed against free trade, vowed to get revenge on China for ripping America off, and accused corporate executives and Wall Street of enriching themselves unfairly. This time around, however, Trump has all but dropped his other preoccupations in favor of a monocausal theory of every problem America faces, and even some problems it doesn’t: an apocalyptic onslaught of immigrants, welcomed to the country by Biden, who are “killing our people in New York, in California, in every state in the Union, because we don’t have borders anymore.”

Asked about his role in stoking a violent attack on the Capitol on January 6, Trump declared, “And let me tell you about January 6: On January 6, we had a great border, nobody coming through, very few.” How about solving climate change? “What [Biden] is doing is destroying all of our medical programs because the migrants coming in.” Any plans for making childcare more affordable? Biden “wants open borders. He wants our country to either be destroyed or he wants to pick up those people as voters.” What about preserving the solvency of Social Security? “But Social Security, he’s destroying it. Because millions of people are pouring into our country, and they’re putting them onto Social Security; they’re putting them onto Medicare, Medicaid.” Racial inequality? “As sure as you’re sitting there, the fact is that his big kill on the Black people is the millions of people that he’s allowed to come in through the border.”

During a Democratic-primary debate in 2007, a younger, more verbally adroit Biden memorably lampooned Rudy Giuliani, at the time the Republican front-runner, for trying to build an entire political persona around his leadership after the September 11 attack. “Rudy Giuliani—there’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb, and 9/11,” Biden quipped. “I mean, there’s nothing else!”

If Biden were as sharp as he once was, he might have made Trump’s immigrant obsession look foolish and cruel. He might have noted that for all Trump’s talk of violence, violent crime—which surged in 2020 and 2021—has plunged over the past two years and is falling even faster this year, including in cities that have recently taken in large numbers of migrants. (As of last week, the city of Boston had experienced only four murders in all of 2024, compared to 18 by this point last year.) He might have observed that border crossings are down by half since December. And he might have mocked the absurdity of Trump’s claim that migrant workers are draining Social Security, when in fact, by paying Social Security taxes without receiving benefits, they do the exact opposite.

In the event, Biden did not do that. Trump’s dark and bizarre portrait of a nation on the verge of civilizational collapse at the hand of migrant hordes went mostly unchallenged. It remains up to the voters to decide what the greatest threat to their way of life really is.

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