President Donald Trump has spent time recently attacking socialists, which makes it all the more peculiar how closely his recent moves on immigration and health care echo Vladimir Lenin.
Not in their specifics, of course. The Bolshevik leader would have favored greater government control of health care, and in 1913 he delighted in that era’s equivalent of Latin American immigration to the United States: “American capitalism is tearing millions of workers of backward Eastern Europe out of their semi-feudal conditions and is putting them in the ranks of the advanced, international army of the proletariat.”
But Trump and Lenin share a strategic instinct. Lenin reportedly said, “The worse, the better”—meaning that conditions that were more miserable for the people were likely to help his political aims. Trump’s approach to immigration and health care, both in the past few days and throughout his presidency, evince a similar understanding of power. My colleague Adam Serwer has argued that the cruelty of many of Trump’s policies is the point. In some cases, however, the point may be making things worse to his benefit.
Last week, the president announced plans to end assistance to the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. “No money goes there anymore,” Trump said Friday. “We’re giving them tremendous aid. We stopped payment.” The move affects about $450 million, according to The New York Times, including money to support law-enforcement efforts against gangs. The actual cash is a minimal amount—a little less than 8 percent of the $5.7 billion Trump demanded for his border wall when he shut down the government in December, and less than 2 percent of the $25 billion the administration estimates the wall would cost overall.