The Republican convention has broken norms and undoubtedly laws in using the White House as a set and the powers of the presidency as a prop to help keep Donald Trump in the top job. By using as-seen-on-TV American governance to present Trump as a functional president, the RNC resembles a Trump-themed infomercial that would make Ron “Set it, and forget it!” Popeil proud. On Tuesday night, Trump issued a pardon and made a “surprise appearance” at the naturalization ceremony of five new American citizens. The use of the diverse array of faces as a political tool by this profoundly anti-immigrant president is unseemly for a million reasons, but adding to the greasy unease of it all is that the participants did not appear to know or sign off on their citizenship being used as part of the RNC.
The Wall Street Journal spoke to two of the women—Sudha Narayanan of India and Neimat Awadelseid from Sudan—who took part in the ceremony, and both said they did not know the footage was going to be used in as part of the convention. Awadelseid, a substitute teacher, told the WSJ she did recall signing a media release form. Neither said they objected to having their solemn moment shared by the president, and each expressed excitement that the presentation was celebrated in the White House. The New York Times reported Ghanaian chef Salih Abdul Samad was also unaware that the ceremony would be a part of the convention. The other participants in the ceremony were 46-year-old Rima Gedeon from Lebanon, who works at a preschool, and 32-year-old Bolivian construction worker Robert Alcocer.
It’s not unusual for the president to, on special occasions, preside over a select few naturalization ceremonies. It’s also not unusual for presidents to ask individuals to participate in public events, like the State of the Union or a presidential appearance or even the convention. But it’s an opt-in situation. There likely aren’t a lot of immigrants waiting to opt in to endorse an administration that has eliminated the protections and pathways to American citizenship for others like them. That’s likely why the Trump administration pulled together the event that, it says, was taped on Tuesday afternoon. But wait, there’s more! A White House spokeswoman gave this surefire lie of a justification for not getting approval, telling the Times, after the White House publicly posted footage of the ceremony its website a few hours earlier, “the president’s re-election campaign had simply decided to use it … ”