This controversy already feels like it played out ages ago, but fewer than two weeks have passed since we were all yelling at each other about whether President Trump was right to refer to members of MS-13 as 'animals' in response to a law enforcement officer's question during an immigration roundtable. That national 'debate' was largely triggered, I might add, by multiple media outlets' garbage journalism, which initially and wrongly framed Trump's comments as directed at illegal immigrants more broadly -- or at least did not make crystal clear that the president was specifically targeting a brutal criminal gang with his epithet. Some news organizations corrected their misleading or false work, while others doubled down with a version of the old 'fake but accurate' chestnut, in an effort to shift blame onto Trump.
Do I wish the president had been more explicit and specific on this point in the moment? Yes. Does he have a history of racially or religiously-charged equivocations and provocations that likely informed his critics' reflexively uncharitable -- and inaccurate, in this case -- interpretation of what he said? Again, yes. Do either of those factors excuse the blend of media laziness and bias that led to the blowing of this story? Not for a second. This was, as Katie rightly labeled it on day one, fake news. Even after most Trump detractors finally conceded the point that 'animals' was directed at MS-13, we were then treated to a fight over whether or not it was "dehumanizing" or unjust to brand any human beings with a derogatory "animals" label. Now that the dust has settled a bit on that conversation, the American people have weighed in:
A majority of Americans in a new poll believe it’s fair to characterize members of the MS-13 gang as “animals,” according to the survey taken after President Trump faced controversy for remarks during an immigration meeting. Fifty-six percent of American adults in the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll said referring to members of the gang as “animals” is fair, compared to 44 percent who said the characterization was unfair. A slimmer majority, 52 percent, added that comments that “dehumanize” members of MS-13 are acceptable.
A top aide to Mitch McConnell reads the above headline and snarks:
You needed a poll to figure that out? https://t.co/XKhqPQbsEj— STEW ?????? ?? (@StewSays) May 25, 2018
Exactly. One wonders if the Left will ever be able to, well, resist marching into Trump's culture war traps, wherein they discover that most Americans aren't willing to support anthem kneeling, or aren't eager to intone about the fundamental humanity of cold-blooded killers, simply to oppose Trump. Candidly, I don't much care for dehumanizing language, even when employed against the worst of the worst in the human race. Others have commented that it's a fundemantal truth of Christianity that every single person is made in God's image, no matter how much of a moral reprobate he becomes. This is true. That said, my outrage meter can't quite get revved up over somebody applying the "animals" descriptor to a merciless gang whose slogan is "rape, control, kill." And, appallingly, that's not an empty slogan, either. A few months ago, we brought you a Washington Post story about MS-13's growing menace in a Long Island, New York community:
Kayla, a basketball player from a Puerto Rican family, had first clashed with MS-13 two years earlier at Brentwood’s Freshman Center, where gang members spat on her, stole or broke her things and taunted her, according to her mother’s lawsuit. Things escalated in summer school, when an MS-13 member threatened her with a knife, then continued to attend Brentwood High, the lawsuit says. “She used to tell me, ‘Ma, they are taking over the school. It’s like they’re everywhere,’ ” said Evelyn Rodriguez, who has become the face of MS-13 victims...After a confrontation at Brentwood, federal prosecutors say, MS-13 put a “greenlight” — or kill order — on Kayla, and members made a “throat slicing gesture” toward her at school, the lawsuit says. A week later, she was walking home one evening with Nisa, a basketball teammate one day shy of her 16th birthday, when MS-13 members spotted them and attacked with a machete and baseball bats, according to prosecutors. The girls were beaten to death. “They failed my daughter,” Rodriguez said of school officials.
Those types of horrors are commonplace with MS-13, which leaves a trail of bloody beheadings, torture and terror in its wake wherever it goes:
Police in suburban Washington, D.C. say they've made an arrest in the brutal gang-linked killing of a man found stabbed to death in September in a Maryland park. The victim's body was found in a grave Sept. 5 in Wheaton Regional Park, according to Montgomery County Police. Court documents obtained by the Washington Post say the victim had been lured to the park, possibly in the early spring, by as many as 10 gang members and then stabbed more than 100 times. The body had been decapitated, dismembered, and "his heart had been excised from his chest and thrown into the grave," the paper reports.
Is calling the perpetrators of these acts 'animals' really going too far? Or has everything become about Trump or anti-Trump tribalism? Granted, it's fair to point out that the crimes of MS-13 represent a tiny fraction of the illegal immigrant community (and that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, though that may not be true of illegal immigrants). It's also legitimate to warn against conflating MS-13 savagery with immigration in general, which is fear-mongering demagoguery. But it does seem as though the Left's calls for context and perspective can be rather...selective:
MS-13 is responsible for 207 murders since 2012.— John Pfaff (@JohnFPfaff) May 21, 2018
Between 2012 and 2016, there were over 76,000 murders in the US.
That means MS-13 is responsible for less than 0.3% of all US murders during that time.
The dog whistle deafens. https://t.co/wWqIvIJVQq pic.twitter.com/O6Dsu6K3VT
If school shootings (which are down significantly from 1990's highs) represent an epidemic that demands urgent policy action -- and it's not just the David Hogg's of the world insisting on preposterous steps to that end -- why should MS-13's grave crimes be downplayed? Why, it's almost as if punishing or condemning a large group of people based on the worst acts of a select few is terribly unfair. Also, if we really wanted to play the identity politics-addicted Left's game, we could note that MS-13's bloodshed disproportionately impacts people of color and the immigrant community, so attempting to minimize its impact is an affront to social justice. Or maybe we should address serious threats without overblowing them or sowing needless fear. I'll leave you with the following tweet sent by an Obama alum, within days of the Left's mass scolding about "dehumanization." There are always exceptions, you see:
Trump called MS-13 "animals"? How dare he insult God's children in such dehumanizing language? Now let's go crush that "piece of garbage" Ted Cruz.