Applying ’merit” on migrants, but never to himself
My father calls it “people power.” Growing up, I’d hear: “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.”
True enough. Relationships make the world go around.
It worked for Donald Trump, who has mastered the art of failing upward and getting ahead not because of what he knows about most subjects (which isn’t much) but because he knows the right people.
Throughout his education and career — both of which were no doubt fueled by personal relationships and family connections — Trump has always treated “merit” like just another annoying word that had nothing to do with him.
Now, all that has changed. Well, it hasn’t changed for him. He’s still the same unscrupulous con man he always has been.
What I mean is that Trump has rediscovered the value of merit for immigrants who try to come legally to the United States.
Last week, after arguing for the last four years that the problem was caused by those who break the rules and come illegally, he took aim at those who play by the rules. Trump wants to stop emphasizing family reunification because it gives some people an unfair advantage.
“They’re admitted solely because they have a relative in the United States,” Trump said from the White House. “And it doesn’t really matter who that relative is.”
Instead, Trump insists, we ought to admit people based on “merit.” Yet his definition of merit is as sketchy as he is. It’s based not only on advanced education and specialized skills, but also on English proficiency for what are often non-English speakers and the ability to pass a U.S. civics test before ever stepping on U.S. soil.
That’s a sneaky way to keep out impoverished, undereducated and low-skilled people who hail from what the commander in chief calls “(expletive)hole” countries.
Trump believes in merit for people who have not been as fortunate as him. Merit is for suckers, folks who didn’t get all the breaks.
The president got a giant head-start in life thanks to what appear to have been, according to multiple investigations by journalists, a series of hefty personal loans from his father, Fred, to help his son start a Manhattan real-estate empire. Trump claims that the help he got from his father was limited to a “very small loan in 1975.”
Last year, the New York Times reported that Fred Trump had actually lent his son at least $60.7 million to start the business, a sum worth about $140 million today.
Trump traded on his father’s name and connections throughout his career. In total, the Times found, through one manner or another, Fred gave his son a staggering amount of financial assistance — more than $413 million in today’s dollars.
Because success need not be merited when it can be inherited.
Trump paid it forward by helping his own children. Donald Jr. and Ivanka likely benefited from legacy admissions when they attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, their father’s alma mater. Donald Jr. and Eric run the family business.
Now that Trump is in the White House, he has a new way to give goodies to people he knows. Last week, he granted a pardon to his old friend, the former media mogul Conrad Black. Convicted in 2007 of fraud and obstruction of justice for illegally pocketing funds that should have gone to stockholders, Black was released in 2012 and deported to Canada. From there, Black wrote a fawning biography of Trump. He also wrote newspaper columns, including one about Trump in 2015 that was so syrupy it prompted the then-presidential candidate to tweet: “What an honor to read your piece. As one of the truly great intellects & my friend, I won’t forget!”
Trump didn’t forget. In a world where what matters is who you know, Black is lucky to know Trump.
Too bad the same can’t be said for thousands of brown-skinned immigrants from Central America who are running for their lives. In fact, these desperate souls may have just one thing going for them: family here in the United States.
But Trump now says using family as a hook is unfair. He wants to “promote equality and opportunity for all” and make sure legal immigrants “come in through merit and skill.”
So Donald Trump woke up one morning and decided it’s not right to get ahead based on who you know or who you’re related to?
This administration’s immigration policies were already so wrong. Now they’re surreal.