El Paso, Texas on Monday night marked the real start of the 2020 presidential campaign: Two dueling rallies with two contrasting messages that will force Americans to finally chose whether to embrace a changing county or fear it.
Even though former Rep. Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, D-Texas, has yet to formally announce his intent to run for the Democratic nomination, the local March for Truth he headlined like a rock star was a direct dig at President Trump’s MAGA extravaganza happening down the road in El Paso. O’Rourke, whose narrow loss to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, last year was perhaps the most success a statewide Texas Democrat could expect at this particular political moment, was on his home turf and defended his community in both English and Spanish, essentially telling the nation that we can be better.
Trump, meanwhile, kept to his standard lies about El Paso and borders and criminal immigrants. Even though much of what he said about the Texas city was blatantly false — just ask El Paso’s current Democratic Congresswoman and the city’s Republican mayor — Trump seemingly feels that, as long as bunch of supporters scream in approval, that's all the proof of his veracity that anyone needs.
"I've been hearing a lot of things, 'Oh the wall didn't make that much of a difference.' You know where it made a big difference? Right here in El Paso," Trump said at the El Paso County Coliseum "And I don't care if a mayor is a Republican or a Democrat, they're full of crap when they say it hasn't made a big difference."
Get the think newsletter.
There's plenty of evidence, however, that the effects on crime in El Paso have been marginal, and that increased border security in the city had simply shifted the locations that people attempt to make entry.
The truth, however, contradicts is what Trumpistas believe and what Trump has explicitly told them: That anyone who is from the Global South is just a cartel rapist terrorist ready to kill thousands of Americans. They will never be convinced otherwise.
There was nothing at Monday night's MAGA rally that Americans haven't seen before: Trump's made similar xenophobic remarks at the State of the Union, during a nationally-televised speech and in his first campaign speech ever in 2015 and, sadly, because this is America, he will always have an audience.
Enter O’Rourke, who took the game to Trump in El Paso, while the rest of the country’s official Democratic presidential candidates watched from afar. The message from the city’s former Congressman was as different from Trump’s as it was sincere.
“We are making a stand for truth against lies and hate and ignorance and intolerance. We are going to show the country who we are. We're going to make a stand to ensure that we live up to our promise, to our potential, to our purpose as a country," O’Rourke said. "We will not take advantage of [immigrants]. We will not send them back to certain death. We will not believe that walls can or should keep them out. Instead, we welcome them with open arms.”
The message O’Rourke shared was clear: El Paso is actually a bridge to Mexico and Central America. It doesn't need more walls because immigrants are not a threat to this country. Immigrants from the region are essential to the future of this country — and how we, as a nation, respond to the latest humanitarian crisis caused, in part, by our interventionist policies of the last decades will be a testament of how we will prosper in the 21st century.
O’Rourke’s hopeful compassion all but canceled out Trump’s insightful fear-mongering.
Yet it remains to be seen if other Democrats — especially those in D.C. right now — will take O’Rourke’s lead. As these two rallies were happening in El Paso, news of a bipartisan deal to avoid another shutdown, including money for barriers and ICE detention beds, broke.
The compromise deal was more Trump-like than O’Rourke-like: It made no mention of expanding protections to DACA recipients, or saving Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants from places like Honduras and El Salvador. Legislation to allow children whose parents brought them here without documentation to remain and work legally wasn't part of the arrangement; neither was pathway to citizenship for the millions of people who have been living and working here for decades. It's as if Democrats on the Hill decided to let Republicans lead with immigration enforcement, for fear that they will be viewed as “soft” on immigration.And nobody can really guess if Trump will agree to this latest deal.
That safe move flies in the face of the vision of American that O’Rourke gave Monday night. His vision had urgency and a purpose. it offered a clear alternative to Trump’s Fear of a Brown America. Whether O’Rourke will run or not is less of a question now: He just gave Democrats a 2020 playbook to challenge Trump on what will be the election issue of this cycle.
But whether anyone other than him will use it, or whether Democrats will essentially concede on border enforcement (thereby negating the development of rational policies for the immigrants who are and will continue to come here), are the only remaining questions.