Some things don’t dissolve in a cup of platitudes.
Donald Trump earned plaudits last night for giving a speech that was “presidential,” meaning one that adhered to standard norms of political bullshit and struck a “softer tone.” The fact that the political press corps would have such a measured reaction to the speech just proves how far our sense of respectability has moved in the age of Trump.
Here is a portion of that speech: “We must support the victims of crime. I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims. The office is called Voice, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests.”
Take away the members of congress and the TV cameras and the presidential trappings, and this is a proposal that could be coming from a Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard hollering at his compatriots by a burning cross. The president of the United States of America has just proposed to create a special government office dedicated exclusively to victims of crime by immigrants. It goes without saying that this measure is purely political. Our entire justice system is a “resource” for crime victims, and immigrants commit crime at lower rates than U.S. citizens. Anyone who asserts that there is any rational reason for the creation of this office is not worth talking to. The reason for this proposal is that racism is politically convenient. Having an enemy makes it easier to unify your base. Having an enemy who is powerless makes it easier to scapegoat them. Having an enemy who looks different or speaks a different language makes it easier to view them as less than human. Immigrants, unfortunately, fit the bill. You can call this “xenophobia” or “anti-immigrant fervor” if you want to be pedantic, but racism is the word that best captures the common understanding of what is being done here. It is also the word that carries the power appropriate to the danger it describes. Nobody believes that they, personally, are racist, but almost everyone understands that bald discrimination against an entire class of people is what racism is. That is what this is, also.
Among the implicit assumptions in Trump’s proposal: 1) There is so much crime being committed by immigrants against Americans that it calls for a special government office to deal with it; 2) There is something unique about crimes committed by immigrants that necessitates the creation of a special office; and, perhaps most importantly, 3) The creation of a racist, politically motivated government office to smear and persecute immigrants will be popular with the American people. The first two points are false. The last, we’ll see.
Everyone knows the old “First they came for the [x], and I did not speak out” poem. But clearly we don’t know it well enough to heed what it says. The Nazis are the cartoon villains of modern history, and we are literally walking in their footsteps again. Look at what our national discourse has been reduced to. Here I am writing an essay pointing out that racism is bad. This is kindergarten material. We should not have to have these conversations. Our national media’s instinct to normalize whatever is happening among the politically powerful is so strong that they are now writing stories giving positive reviews to a speech in which the president just proposed one of the most baldly racist official government actions that I can remember. The fact that he stuck to the teleprompter does not balance this out. The fact that he did not insult the media as much as usual does not balance this out. The fact that a widow cried does not balance this out. This sort of determined, poisonous persecution of a minority group is not just one more factor to be weighed for its public relations value. Nothing balances this out. Go ask an immigrant how presidential Donald Trump seemed last night.
This is bad. What is wrong with us?