On Wednesday afternoon, in the ramp-up to the midterm election, the president of the United States posted a video to his Twitter feed: a political attack ad focused on Luis Bracamontes, the “illegal immigrant,” as the ad calls him, who was convicted of murdering two deputies in Sacramento, California, in 2014. “Democrats let him into our country,” the ad’s text reads—the line is false—while footage of Bracamontes plays in the background. As the convict sits in a courtroom, laughing, apparently admitting to murdering the two cops and vowing to “kill more,” crashing drumbeats heighten the tension that spreads over the sound-bitten story. The ad’s video then cuts away from a single person to a crowd of them, traveling to a time in the unspecified present, to footage of people—members, by implication, of the caravan that the president has been keeping in the forefront of the American consciousness—who yell, who run, who push through gates, doing nothing wrong save for endorsing the president’s preferred characterization of those he insists on seeing as other: as a threat. As an invasion. As an infestation.
It is painfully clear what Donald Trump, under the auspices of the American presidency, was doing with the ad. He was attempting, in the heady handful of days before the crucial midterm elections, to question the motives of an entire population of people: the dirty politics of the swift boat, expanded into a swift fleet. Here, in a 53-second, Twitter-aired ad spot that has, as of this writing, garnered 5.1 million views, is a culmination of the promise Trump tacitly made when, in 2015, announcing the commencement of a presidential candidacy that had already been fueled by racist lies, he descended the escalator at his gilded tower and accused Mexicans writ large of being rapists and criminals. Not just racism, but swaggering racism. Racism that has been assured that it can voice itself, in the marbled atrium and out in the open, and face few meaningful consequences save for a victory in a presidential election.