Here’s what’s insidious about this: Throughout his presidential campaign and since, Trump has regularly blended talk about all immigrants with specific attacks on immigrants who committed serious crimes — particularly those who belong to the murderous MS-13. Even assuming that Trump was, in fact, limiting himself to MS-13 in his reply to Mims, he has spent years creating rhetorical links between the foreign-born as a whole (especially those here illegally) and the bloodshed perpetrated by the few.
By playing fast and loose with language, Trump avails himself of escape hatches, as he did last week, and can then go on to cast his critics as defenders of criminality.
No one wants to be put in a position of seeming to say anything good about gang members. Yet Trump’s strategy of dehumanization must be resisted across the board. We cannot shy away from what history teaches. Pronouncing whole categories of people as subhuman numbs a nation’s moral sense and, in extreme but, unfortunately, too many cases, becomes a rationale for collective cruelty.