THE FULL RETURN OF RACISM
Classmate Nick Silverman accompanied Stephen Miller to a week-long seminar at the Boys State, a civic youth organization created in 1935 by the conservative American Legion in reaction to the Young Pioneers of the U.S. Communist Party: “But even here, among his seemingly ideological allies, he was ostracized.” (Incidentally, anti-immigration Sen. Chuck Grassley and the sinister former vice-president Dick Cheney, are Boys State alumni, and Bill Clinton too!)
Yet Miller is far from being the only one to display fierce anti-immigrant sentiments. We are talking about politicies – or even Trumpism – but in reality it is simply a good old mixture of racism, intolerance, selfishness, prejudice, narcissism, and lack of compassion and empathy on the part of a public maintained in ignorance.
Already in the 1970s, vigilantes – often embittered veterans of the Vietnam or Gulf War, or neo-Nazis and nativists – were shooting at Mexicans, including residents, in the border area. In 1977, the Ku Klux Klan set up a patrol along the border with the active and constant support of federal border agents. Hundreds of dead bodies were found grossly buried. They were already practicing the separation of families. And pure and simple cruelty. In the same period, police officers at the McAllen, TX border crossing used to drink beer at night watching a video of their interrogations in which they beat and insulted Mexicans.
Trump’s arrival in 2016 brought about a renewal. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Feb. 20 annual report, the number of hate groups is at its highest level in 20 years, climbing to 1,020 from just 784 in 2015. For its part, the FBI recorded 7,775 hate crimes in 2017, against 6,121 in 2016. The biggest increase is noted in the white nationalist organizations, which are worried that the whites will not be the majority population in the U.S. after 2044.
The historical anti-immigrant attitude is not confined to mere individuals or Republicans. In 2006, under George W. Bush, the Secure Fence Act, which provided for 1,120 kilometers of border fence, was voted by the current leader of the Democratic Senate minority, Chuck Schumer, and Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The latter said in 2013, as President, in his State of the Union address: “Real reform requires strong border security, including putting more boots on the Southern border than at any time in our history and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.” And let us not forget that under his presidency, deportations reached historic highs with 435,498 in 2013 for a total of 2.5 million for his eight years in power, compared to 2.1 million … 1892 to 1997, i.e. over 105 years.
Border camps: Children took toilet paper and laid it on the floor, because it’s one barrier between them and the cement floor
It is also under Obama, in 2011, that trials began against border patrols that locked illegal immigrants in camps qualified by Latin American immigrants as “hieleras” (fridges) because they were so cold. Jennifer Podkul of the Women’s Refugee Commission reports in 2014: “I’ve talked to children who took the toilet paper they got and laid it on the floor and laid down on that, because it’s one barrier between them and the cement floor.”
“Many of these agents were Latinos, like us, but they were people without morals,” Rafael Martinez told the London Guardian reporter in 2018, his voice choking with tears. “There we were, caged up like animals, and they were laughing at us.” The aim was both to punish them and deter others from coming, people who were fleeing violence and misery at home and had just made a traumatic trip hoping to find asylum in the U.S..
Especially since the World Trade Center attack on Sep. 11, 2001, “The global war on terror and the war on migrants are one and the same,” says New York journalist Brendan O’Connor. But already in 1996, Bill Clinton had repeated the refrain in his State of the Union address: “This administration has taken a strong stand to stiffen the protection of our borders. We are increasing border controls by 50 percent.”
As for William Barr, the Attorney General who has recently succeeded Jeff Sessions, just three months after being appointed to the same position under George H.W. Bush in October 1991, he announced a heavily armored steel fence on the border south of San Diego. “The deterrent effect of tens of billions of dollars in investments in Barr’s approach to immigration control never materialized,” said Professor Wayne Cornelius, an expert on the mass politics of immigration at the University of California, San Diego, who criticized Barr’s proposal as “both inflammatory and ineffective.”
We have already mentioned anti-immigrant policies dating back to the 19th century against the Irish immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine, during which “the British government acted with the same combination of inhumanity and incompetence as the Trump administration.” Ironically, their descendants are the current government’s fiercely anti-immigrant officials: Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist and mentor of Stephen Miller, vice-president Mike Pence, advisor Kellyanne Conway, former director of communications Sean Spicer, and Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director and chief of staff. And we should not forget John Kelly, the former Department of Homeland Security secretary who claimed that Latinos cannot assimilate because “They don’t speak English; obviously that’s a big thing.” His own Italian grand-father (he was Irish on his father side) “never spoke a word of English and made his living peddling a fruit cart in East Boston.”
This language issue comes up regularly, being a strong cultural identifier. Miller complained that Latinos at his school spoke Spanish to each other, Kelly mentioned the lack of English as being a big obstacle to assimilation, a patron complained that Spanish was spoken in a Mexican (!) restaurant , and another one in a supermarket, plenty of such instances. This seems to betray both insecurity and ignorance, as few Americans speak a foreign language.
As for Stephen Miller’s ancestors, President Franklin Roosevelt turned away a ship with 900 Jewish refugees from Europe, 250 of whom later died in the Holocaust. At the time, it was anti-Semites who were in control of the U.S. government.
SOCIAL PROGRESS BACKLASH
Miller is just consolidating the historical trend, except that he is in a unique position to drive the U.S. government anti-immigrant policy to a climax. When he joined Trump’s election campaign in 2015, far-right polemicist Ann Coulter tweeted, “I’m in heaven!” This fanatic who pushes Trump even further to the right has already a favorite candidate for the future, Julia Hahn: “I want her to be president as soon as she’s old enough,” since one must be over 35 years old to hold the country’s highest post. Hahn is only 27 years old, but she has already a bank account of between half and a million dollars and $ 1.5 million of shares, including investments in PepsiCo and in the state of Israel , inherited from her parents. The annual cost of her high school was nearly $ 40,000. Similarly, Miller lives in a million-dollar Washington apartment, bought by his parents who, like Trump, are big landowners with, among other things, 2,500 residential units in Los Angeles.
Former classmate Silverman tells us: “Miller is a dangerous person. He wants to shift what America is about. won’t stop.”
Both Miller and Hahn are Californians, of Jewish origin, offspring of wealthy families. “It’s hard to imagine a class of people who benefit more from immigrant and undocumented workers — who clean their homes, mow their lawns, maintain their pools, and cook their meals.” Yet both are fiercely anti-immigrant. Hahn was one of Breitbart’s most virulent journalists against immigration – which is saying something for a far-right media – before her mentor, strategist Steve Bannon, took her to the White House alongside Miller.
Where the two differ, Miller’s former classmate Silverman tells us: “He’s not a Trump shill. He was this way before Trump, before Bannon. He was radicalized way before that.” And he warns us strongly: “Take him seriously and know that he is a dangerous person. He has a dangerous mind and a dangerous way of thinking. He wants to shift what America is about . . . . You’ve got to stay vigilant. He’s not taking days off. If there’s one thing Miller is, and he’s a lot of things, he’s absolutely motivated. This is his entire life. This is everything for him. He’s not going to rest. He won’t rest. He won’t stop.”
As for Hahn, she was not politicized before arriving in Washington from the University of Chicago where she studied philosophy, and particularly discussed “Michel Foucault’s idea that psychoanalysis stigmatizes human sexuality.” Two years later she was deep into nativism. “Her tendency is to fight and fight, often to the extreme,” said conservative writer and former chief of staff for Dan Quayle, William Kristol. “How does someone who raised money for foreign orphans write, a few years later, a screed for Breitbart headlined ‘Muslim Immigration Puts Half a Million U.S. Girls at Risk of Genital Mutilation’?” wonders an old classmate. “It’s weird because she was always very nice, and it’s disappointing when seemingly nice people turn out to be Nazis/Nazi-adjacent.”
Has Hahn (born 1991) turned right by opportunism or proselytism or reaction? Curiously, she comes from a wealthy liberal enclave in western Los Angeles, and so do Andrew Breitbart (1969), the founder of the far-right media that bears his name, Steve Bannon (1953), his co-founder, Alex Marlow (1986), editor-in-chief of Breitbart, and … Stephen Miller (1985). All of California’s politicians are Democrats and Los Angeles has had only one Republican mayor since 1961. Noting that California is the state with the most far-right conspiratorial “Patriot” groups, 81, Peter Maass of The Intercept news website wonders “if an atmosphere of doctrinaire liberalism might produce reactionaries who delight in defying the dogmas that seemed so repressive when they were growing up.”
In any case, Washington is full of ambitious young people, eager to find their place in the field of political power, while not really knowing what their own attitudes toward power are. Former Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says Trump has filled his administration with “riffraff,” while Vox reporter Dara Lind is talking about a “clubhouse full of rookies” among which Jeff Sessions was the “seasoned vet.”
TRUMP’S INFLUENCE EXTENDS
This opportunistic search could explain an equally disconcerting phenomenon: Trump’s ascendancy over a growing number of people beyond his base. Let’s take the example of Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator mentioned earlier, who complained about the impossibility of making progress with immigration bills while Miller was at the White House. At first Graham was against the candidate, throwing several tweets like: “Trump is not a conservative Republican. He’s an opportunist. He’s not fit to be President of the United States,” (Feb 17, 2016) and “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed…….and we will deserve it” (May 3, 2016). And in November 2016 Graham voted for an independent Republican candidate, Evan McMullin.
It’s especially after playing golf with Trump, in October 2017, that Graham flip-flopped. He defended his appointment of conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and now his border wall. When funding for a high school was questioned to help build the wall, Graham said, “It’s better for the middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border. We’ll get them the school they need, but right now we’ve got a national emergency.” In addition to these schoolchildren being 1,600 kilometers away from the Mexico border, the “opioid addiction” – cited as a national emergency – has its origin in the country itself. New York Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said: “We didn’t develop an opioid epidemic until there was a huge surplus of opioids, which started with pharmaceutical drugs distributed legally,” i.e. U.S. physicians over-prescribing opioids.
It is interesting to note that Graham uses Trump’s argument: “we can’t control the flow of drugs into this country, and all of it’s coming across the border.” But we saw last week that this is false. Both drug traffickers and refugees pass through official points of entry, making a wall linking these points useless. The wall that has become part of Trump has also become an obsession for his followers.
The flip-flop is simply this: Lindsey Graham must be re-elected in 2020 and his state of South Carolina is a Trump-loving state. And 9 out of ten Republican voters support Trump. So, he goes to great lengths: “there is no room in the party for wanting Trump to fail.”
The same goes for Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican majority leader and “the man who surrendered the Senate to Donald Trump,” according to Adam Jentleson, former deputy chief of staff of Sen. Harry Reid, who added that “his defining characteristic has always been his willingness to do anything and sacrifice any principle to amass power for himself.”
“Donald Trump is very important” for McConnell’s re-election, says his advisor Scott Jennings, as the president has a 53% approval rating in his state of Kentucky, one of the country’s highest.
“There is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump party”
We are now at the point where, when Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified before the House on Feb. 27, revealing many shady operations of his boss, the Republican representatives were “more concerned in obstructing the proceedings and calling Cohen’s credibility rather than questioning his claims or learning anything about the president.” That made Democratic Representative James Raskin, who was questioning Cohen, say: “[House Republicans] are not upset because you lied, they’re upset because you’ve stopped lying for the president… Their allegiance lies not to the truth, but to protecting Trump at all costs.”
Trump does not just have Congress in his bag. In his Feb. 5 State of the Union address, Republicans applauded it 115 times – most often standing up, i.e. standing up an average of one and a half times per minute … More than any other president in recent U.S. history, aside from Bill Clinton in 2000 (128 times, Obama 90 times). But looking at his officials, his senators, his representatives, and his guests, one had the impression that they wanted to believe what their president was telling them, and be reassured: America is great and the best!
As usual Trump was delighted to make a speech, and as always, this one was theatrical, hyperbolic, and empty of substance,. “After 24 months of rapid progress, our economy is the envy of the world. Our military is the most powerful on Earth, by far, and America…
America is again winning each and every day.
Members of Congress, the state of our union is strong.”
(Applause, chanting USA !, USA !, USA !, USA!)
Among the applauding crowd was Trump’s chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who, prior to Trump’s election, had called him a “terrible human being,” claiming that in an “ordinary universe” he would be disqualified from office, and described his views on a wall on the US-Mexico border as “absurd and almost childish.” Now, he defends this wall, his hands tied too.
“There is no Republican Party,” said former House Speaker John Boehner as early as May 2018. “There’s a Trump party.” It is all the more surprising that Trump had presented himself as anti-establishment and was fatally repudiated by a large part of Republicans. And now he has an approval rating of 87% in his party, the highest of all presidents but George W. Bush who had 96% after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.
We cannot end the list of “new” Trump supporters without mentioning the main one: Fox News. This one too started badly. Rupert Murdoch, the head of this TV channel and many other publications, himself an immigrant from Australia, had tweeted that Trump was wrong on immigration matters. And his Wall Street Journal had said that it was “a catastrophe for the Republican Party and for the country to have Trump running.” Now, New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer, who has done a long survey on the subject, reports that “almost every night, the [Fox News] hosts that are reaching a huge swath of America are trashing immigrants and scaring people about immigration.” Just as Trump shakes his base with fear, Fox News is “minting money by whipping up fear.”
And virtually every night after his show, Trump is on the phone with Sean Hannity, the most prominent and well-paid and highest-rated opinion host on Fox, and the most far-right, and they coordinate their activities. This very conservative station has naturally become the White House’s mouthpiece under Trump, while all other media are kept out. To better complete the process, Bill Shine, who was Fox News president until 2017, was appointed director of communications at the White House a year later.
(To be continued)