The president of the United States told a blatant lie about Germany on Monday, claiming that the nation’s crime rate — which is at its lowest level in 25 years — has gone “way up” since Europe granted asylum to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the wars in Syria and Iraq.
The lie, posted on Twitter by Donald Trump, was an attempt to justify the exceedingly cruel measures he ordered to deter unauthorized immigration, including the arrest of asylum-seekers at the southern border and the removal of their children for detention in cages.
It was widely debunked and criticized by Germans, like the political scientist Marcel Dirsus.
As Mathieu von Rohr of the German magazine Der Spiegel pointed out, Trump’s false claim about crime in Germany — which is down 5.1 percent overall since last year and 2.4 percent for violent offenses — also misled readers about the continued popularity of Chancellor Angela Merkel, even as she resists calls for a crackdown on asylum-seekers from allied conservatives in the state of Bavaria.
— Mathieu von Rohr (@mathieuvonrohr) June 18, 2018
Jeremy Cliffe, the Berlin bureau chief of The Economist, noted that Trump’s grasp of the politics of immigration in Germany is also shaky. While it is certainly true that Merkel’s party has lost some support to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany, the far-right party is still supported by just 16 percent of the voters in recent polling, and its leader, Alexander Gauland, trails Merkel 50-12 in overall approval.
Undeterred by the facts, Trump followed his false claim with a second tweet, in which he revealed that the lie about Germany was part of a broader effort to cast immigration, at least by nonwhites, as an existential threat to both Europe and the United States.
We don’t want what is happening with immigration in Europe to happen with us!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2018
While it was not clear what, exactly, Trump thinks is happening in Europe — where there has been a sharp decline in migration from the Middle East and Africa since 2015 — he repeated the comment in prepared remarks at the White House later on Monday. “The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility,” he said. “You look at what’s happening in Europe, you look at what’s happening in other places,” Trump added. “We can’t allow that to happen to the United States.”
"Not on my watch": Amid escalating scrutiny over border policy, Pres. Trump says U.S. "will not be a migrant camp, and it will not be a refugee holding facility." https://t.co/mvQYZyuXB7 pic.twitter.com/QWAaBx8M5x
— ABC News (@ABC) June 18, 2018
What is particularly striking is that Trump, like Matteo Salvini, Italy’s far-right interior minister who recently shut his nation’s ports to migrants saved from drowning, is not responding to a real crisis but attempting to manufacture a sense of siege for political advantage at a moment when the number of undocumented immigrants seeking admission has actually declined.
The undocumented population in the U.S. was already declining in 2015 when Trump launched his campaign by railing against an imaginary epidemic of crime caused by Mexicans, and has continued to fall since he became president.
In Europe, the United Nations reports that fewer than 40,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to seek refuge in the first half of this year — just 15,000 of them in Italy — compared to more than 1 million arrivals by sea in 2015.
In Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban focused his entire election campaign on the supposed threat posed to European civilization by Muslim migrants, the police detained just 10,415 people for entering the country without permission last year, and only 1,300 were granted asylum.
As he has in the past, Trump seems to be implying that harsh measures — like those taken recently by his administration and by far-right leaders in Italy and Hungary — were necessary to defend both the physical security of Europe and America, as well as to preserve their white, Christian majorities.
That underlying racist theme was, of course, the very loudly spoken subtext of Trump’s first speech as a candidate for the presidency, when he attacked Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals. It was there too, in his nearly obsessive criticism of Merkel during his campaign, when his speeches were punctuated — again and again and again — by false claims about a nonexistent crime wave destroying Germany, where his grandparents were born.
Just two weeks before Merkel responded to the migrant crisis of 2015 by opening Germany’s borders to refugees, Trump told Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business that the German chancellor was “a fantastic leader — I was with somebody the other day who thinks she’s the greatest leader in the world today, she’s the smartest and the greatest leader in the world today.”
Two months later, Trump told a crowd in Knoxville, Tennessee, that he no longer admired Merkel. “I think what she did to Germany is a disgrace,” he said. He went on to say that giving shelter to Syrians would “destroy all of Europe” and falsely claimed that “they’re having riots in the streets; they’re having crime that they’ve never had before.”
“We talk about immigration, we talk about borders. Do you see what she’s done to Germany?” Trump asked a crowd in New Hampshire two months later, after Merkel was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year instead of him. “The crime is astronomical. It’s not working. They’re having riots now in the street, and the German people are now saying, ‘We’ve had it; we’ve had it.’ We can’t let that happen to us.”
“Germany is a behemoth, an economic behemoth. It’s being destroyed by what Merkel has done there, what she has done to Germany,” Trump told supporters in South Carolina in February 2016. “I have friends from Germany, they’re leaving Germany,” he continued. “These are people who were so proud, a year ago, of being in Germany — German people. They were so proud, they used to brag. I said, ‘Are you still proud?’ Not so proud.”
The culmination of Trump’s attacks on the German leader for her openness to refugees from the Middle East and Africa was a line he trotted out in Ohio in August 2016. “Hillary Clinton wants to be America’s Angela Merkel,” Trump read from a teleprompter, before pausing to allow for boos. “And you know what a disaster this massive immigration has been to Germany and the people of Germany,” he continued. “Crime has risen to levels that no one thought they would ever, ever see. It is a catastrophe.”
Updated: Tuesday, June 19, 5:00 a.m. EDT This column was revised to add statistics about the declining number of undocumented immigrants arriving in Europe and the United States in 2018.