Matt Cameron had just walked in the door of his East Boston home Tuesday night, and he was already fired up.
“If this wasn’t a new phone I’d probably throw it at the TV,” he said. Cameron, an immigration lawyer, had just come from visiting a client at an ICE detention facility — always stressful — and now he was settling in to watch President Trump’s prime-time address with a mixture of wry amusement and existential dread.
Cameron has developed a bit of a following online for his snarky, hilarious critiques of US immigration policy. On his Medium blog, Deport Nation, Cameron has provided handy guides “to win every facebook argument” about family separation. He’s currently running a serious-but-still-funny essay contest for Trump supporters who can put a cogent, factual argument for spending billions of dollars on a border wall into writing.
Sometimes, Cameron’s kind of ridicule is a more effective counter to ridiculousness than dull recitations of statistics. “Nobody cares about facts, logic, and reason,” Cameron said. “But you can fight back in a way that conveys facts, logic, and reason.”
Cameron has more facts than most: While a lot of us have vacillated between irritated and irate over the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration policies and tactics, Cameron has lived it. He recently returned from a working trip to Tijuana — a sort of Doctors Without Borders for immigration lawyers — where thousands of asylum-seekers are waiting at America’s doorstep in a growing humanitarian crisis. One Honduran teenager Cameron helped get into a Tijuana youth shelter as he waited for his chance at asylum proceedings already has been killed.
Cameron had prepared for Trump’s address by listening to recordings of those old FDR radio appearances. Some people disliked Roosevelt, of course, but something was different then.
“You’re still sitting around listening to the president and thinking, ‘Well, that’s what the president has to say,” Cameron said. These days? Decoding every presidential utterance requires an army of professional fact-checkers.
Sometimes even that isn’t enough to cut through the blizzard of baloney. So I asked Cameron if we could do something a little different: Let me be a fly on the couch while he watched and live-snarked the president’s talk Tuesday night.
Fact checks are fine and good; this called for a reality check.
“Think of it as one of FDR’s Fireside Chats,” Cameron wrote on Facebook, “except the thing that is on fire is the US government and he’s not so much chatting as lying nonstop.”
Cameron was prepared for anything Tuesday night . . . except for what actually happened, which was Trump leading with some extremely out-of-character concern for the plight of African- and Hispanic-Americans and migrant women and children.
“It’s classic concern-trolling,” Cameron said, referring to the very legal and very cool practice of pretending to care about something (or someone) that all your actual deeds suggest you couldn’t care less about.
“So far we’re concern-trolling for African-Americans, Latinos, women, and children. . . . All of which he has an established record of caring for every day,” Cameron said, rolling his eyes.
“‘A crisis of the heart?’ He must have gotten some advice on that. He had to borrow one,” Cameron mused.
Even for someone as immersed in the world of immigration policy as Cameron, the trip to Tijuana — the side of the border on which there’s a real crisis, not one manufactured back in Washington — was eye-opening. Especially the young man who’d given him an opportunity to feel hopeful.
“There was that feeling of, ‘Here’s the one person we really helped,’” Cameron said, “and then nine days later he’s killed in the street. We’re forcing these people to wait in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. That’s going to get a lot of people killed.”
As Trump’s speech turned darker, Cameron became incredulous.
“This is really what he’s going to do for 10 minutes? He’s going to go this low?” Cameron wondered aloud, as Trump rattled off a handful of truly horrific crimes committed by people in the country illegally.
“We’re doing American carnage,” Cameron said, a callback to the dark, almost dystopian phrase in Trump’s inaugural address two years ago. “I really didn’t think he was actually going to go there with that narrative again.”
As the litany of horrors continued, Cameron offered a rueful laugh. “I’m not downplaying these crimes, these are horrible. But they happen in this country constantly and it’s usually white guys.”
Finally, the 10 minutes expired. Cameron looked shell-shocked.
“That is the most anti-immigration speech ever given by an American president,” Cameron said. “He’s making no distinction between asylum-seekers, undocumented people, people who commit crimes.
“It’s easy to laugh at, but it’s very sad. I’m very sad.”Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.