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Column: Take care entering Trump's mind

Our subject today is Donald Trump's mind.

Not the speculation about whether he's losing his marbles. That was during our Fire and Fury period last week.

Now we're thinking about that lovely bipartisan meeting the president hosted Tuesday with members of Congress about immigration. Everybody was impressed by how concerned Trump seemed to be about all the young Dreamers suddenly facing possible deportation.

"I came out feeling the president had made it very clear he wants this resolved ASAP," said Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House Democratic whip.

The only problem is that Trump seems to be committed to two totally contradictory ideas on what to do. Is he being your typical pol? Your typical loony person? Something in between? Let's revisit.

Right now the real immigration crisis is about the 800,000 young people who were brought here illegally as children and given protection under the Obama administration.

Trump hates calling them Dreamers, so he refers to them as "the DACA population," after the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protected them. Until he terminated it.

They could be in danger of deportation beginning in March. The Tuesday Trump was very disturbed about this situation. Really, you'd hardly have known that he was the one who created it. He called for "a bill of love" to make things right.

The fix is actually pretty easy. There's a bipartisan bill floating around the House right now that would protect the Dreamers from deportation and add more money for technology to guard the border. Then later on, if it's feeling ambitious, Congress could tackle a big immigration reform. That would include a path to citizenship for many of the illegal immigrants here now and some sops to conservatives, like restrictions on their ability to bring in relatives.

And yeah, maybe some wall equivalent. We don't need to discuss that now. The Dreamers are an immediate crisis. But even if you thought building a monstrous multibillion-dollar barrier along the border was a good idea, it's not something that's going to happen anytime soon.

Here is the current vision in the president's mind:

"We don't need a wall where you have rivers and mountains and everything else protecting it," he told that congressional meeting. "But we do need a wall for a fairly good portion. We also — as you know, it was passed in 2006 — an essentially similar thing which — a fence, a very substantial fence was passed. But unfortunately, I don't know, they never got it done. But they need it."

So, okay.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., proposed doing "a clean DACA bill now" followed by a major immigration reform later. Trump thought that was a great idea. "We're going to do DACA," he announced, "and then we can start immediately on the phase two, which would be comprehensive."

So easy, so bipartisan, so … bill of love.

"We're on the same page," Trump told the gathering.

Then Wednesday the president shouted "No! No! No!" when asked if he'd be open to any deal on the immediately endangered Dreamers that didn't also involve his Mexican wall.

This was at an appearance with the poor prime minister of Norway, who had to look sympathetic when Trump managed to find ways — in a rather short news conference — to brag about the U.S. trade surplus with her country, say "no collusion" seven times, brag about winning the Electoral College and attack Hillary Clinton. ("But Hillary was not for a strong military, and Hillary, my opponent, was for windmills. …") Plus torpedo the DACA plan.

So Trump, who told those Congress members he would "take the heat" for anything they wanted to do to save the Dreamers, threw up a wall. How do we explain all this?

(A) Situational ethics.

(B) Extreme dementia.

(C) Just another day.

Here's an answer. There are several incarnations of the president, from the Somewhat Normal Republican Trump (SNORT) to the Nearly Unhinged Trump (NUT). The one we saw at the bipartisan meeting was the Reasonable Chatty Trump, whose pleasant disposition makes up for the fact that the initials don't spell anything.

The Reasonable version can sit through a fairly long gathering nodding, agreeing, making the occasional joke and appearing to be an excellent listener. When he's actually not paying any attention at all.

What do you think was actually on Trump's mind when Feinstein asked that question?

(A) Picturing Steve Bannon curled up in the fetal position, crying under his bed.

(B) Imagining the networks swooning over his warmhearted concern for those … DACA persons.

(C) Just cheeseburgers.

Your guess is as good as mine. But the great part of this tactic is that everybody walks away feeling they've made a real impression. Until it becomes clear that nothing ever sinks in.

© 2018 New York Times

Column: Take care entering Trump's mind 01/11/18 [Last modified: Thursday, January 11, 2018 6:28pm]
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