Nearly two years ago, on July 21, 2016, Donald Trump stood at a lectern in Cleveland and made a solemn vow.
“Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” he said.
To his critics, this line was chilling, even authoritarian, defying the democratic nature of the American system. But to many of Trump’s supporters, it was a heartening moment—a sign that he would not allow himself to be tied up in red tape and mealy-mouthed excuses. There would be none of the vacillating and hand-wringing of the Obama administration. President Trump would not hesitate.
Candidate Trump was clear that he was talking, in large part, about immigration, which had been the central issue of his campaign:
Tonight, I want every American whose demands for immigration security have been denied—and every politician who has denied them—to listen very closely to the words I am about to say. On January 21st of 2017, the day after I take the oath of office, Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced. We are going to be considerate and compassionate to everyone.
Where that politician has gone is anybody’s guess, but he’s not the one who’s in the White House now.
Trump now faces a mushrooming political crisis over his administration’s policy of separating children of unauthorized immigrants from their parents at the border. While Trump has often been confounded by the checks and balances of the courts and the Congress, this is a rare case where Trump alone really can fix it. With a single word, he could reverse the policy, which his administration implemented last month. Instead, however, Trump has spent days railing at Democrats and claiming that they are to blame. Late Monday afternoon, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen stood in the White House briefing room and echoed Trump’s comments in Cleveland—but flipped 180 degrees.