Historians will still be asking in 100 years’ time why public outrage did not do Donald Trump more harm. How come he could keep seeming to offend three-quarters of America yet still end up with half the vote? The answer, I think, is that his opponents kept falling into the same trap: they kept over-reacting. Mildly-objectionable comments and policies were met with full-on Twitter storms, making his opponents end up looking like the ones who were deranged. When you went back and thought about what Trump had actually said he kept coming across, if not reasonable, then as less unreasonable than the voices raging against him. You found yourself asking: it might be a waste of concrete, it might do nothing to deal with the problem of migrants overstaying their visas, but is building a border wall with Mexico really such an outrage when previous presidents have part-built a fence, as have many other countries in the world? Is it really that unreasonable to place a temporary ban on travellers from countries where law and order has broken down and you can’t vet visa applicants? As for ‘grabbing a pussy’, the outrage merely served to remind the public of Bill Clinton’s behaviour in the White House, with which his wife seemed to have little issue.
But surely not even Donald Trump is going to get away with today’s photographs of children in cages at a migration detention centre in Texas. These aren’t terror suspects rounded up in Iraq and Afghanistan and bundled into the legal black hole of Guantanamo – they are kids in nappies. If you have a problem with illegal migrants, round them up and send them back – the wider world is not going to bat an ethical eyelid at that, no matter how much liberals scream or even advance reasoned arguments for a liberal immigration policy. Virtually every country, to a greater or lesser extent has an exclusionary immigration policy which involves forced returns. But to confiscate children and lock them up without their parents? That deserves to be seen for what it is: a cruel and unusual punishment.
That Trump himself is reported to be uncomfortable with the policy and is only using it in an attempt to force the Senate into approving his wall, is not going to make things better. It merely makes Trump seem like a latter-day Pied Piper, but without a good tune.
The irony is that Donald Trump finally seemed to be rising above many of his detractors on North Korea, and was exposing hypocrisy on the part of G7 leaders who claimed to stand up for free trade. Either the child detention policy will be dropped by the end of the week – or it will do the US President serious damage.