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Andrew Leber

To overcome the present crisis, build a diverse future

Trump's racist comments at high-level talks have not been denied by the White House [AFP]

Date of publication: 12 January, 2018

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Comment: The appalling racism of Trump and his enablers means this has become a contest over what we want our country to be, writes Andrew Leber.
Where to even begin? Yet again, the president of the United States has reminded us that he is willing to bluntly voice the racist views that get tossed around much of America - mainly White America - in private.

The president reportedly grew angry that some lawmakers raised the issue of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) being stripped from Salvadorians, Haitians, Syrians and others granted temporary refuge in the United States after disaster struck their homelands. Why not have more immigrants from Norway? the President suggested. "Why do we need more Haitians, take them out."

To be blunt, at this point the lines are pretty clearly drawn between people that will understand this as "why not more white people?" and people who will dive into the apologetics with reference to per-capita GDP and workforce skill levels in Haiti and Norway.

Between the people who celebrate the immigrant-fuelled diversity of the contemporary United States, and those who wait for "safe spaces" to talk to all-white audiences about how black Americans' "culture" is holding them back, or how Muslim-Americans are hiding their true intentions until they can impose Sharia law on the American legal system.

There's not a white American who hasn't heard such talk, and rare is the white American liberal who has tried to confront such views head-on among friends and family rather than trying to change the subject with a pained expression on their face.

The racism of Donald Trump is firmly rooted in an American history of xenophobia, oppression and racial hierarchy

For the current president of the United States, of course, all places are safe spaces - why should he worry what people think, when dog-whistle rhetoric against Muslims, Mexicans, Black Americans, pick-an-ethnic group, only helped whip up more support in a drive towards the highest office in the land? 

Even then, it was shocking that the president's latest annoyance with immigration from "sh*thole countries" came not from the typical palace rumour mill, but amid high-level talks for a pending immigration agreement, and were not denied by the White House. Written words feel like a feeble response knowing that many will nod their heads in private, aided and abetted by smug sycophants like Tucker Carlson.

Read more: Trump rants against immigration from 'sh*thole' countries

Sure, we can pile on the citations about how even immigrants reaching America's shores from sub-Saharan Africa tend to be more highly educated than native-born citizens. We can remind people of the fact that anti-German and anti-Irish sentiment helped drive the campaign to ban alcohol across the entire country, and that even Norwegian-Americans were once seen as suspicious outsiders in the Unites States. 


We can remind people that an Iraqi immigrant - Farouk al-Kasim - helped set up Norway's lucrative oil industry.

Yet at some point, the statistics and the sidestepping and the appeals to history fall short.

The racism of Donald Trump and the apologetics of his enablers are as firmly rooted in an American history of xenophobia, oppression, racial hierarchy, and turning a blind eye towards clear injustices as his critics' are in an American history of constructing and defending the most diverse society in the world; working to erase inequalities of class, race, and gender; and fighting to ensure that the lofty principles given as written justification for US independence actually reflect a grain of truth.

Instead, this is a contest over what we want our country to be: A place that holds out its alleged principles as an aspiration for all and membership in the ranks of our society as an attainable opportunity for some, or a bunker nation in which people are forgiven for thinking that the purity of one's pedigree matters more than the quality of one's company.

It is a contest that will not end with the departure of President Trump, whether he leaves in three years or seven.

Liberal Americans and their European peers have enjoyed decades in which their commitment to diverse societies was made relatively easy by ruling elites willing to maintain a degree of open immigration as a cross-party consensus - hence our ability to find clips of President Reagan saying things that would get him drummed out of the GOP today.

From here on out, maintaining and meeting that commitment is a challenge that will require much work: Political engagement to keep xenophobia from being further codified into American law, social engagement to blunt the suspicion of nonwhite foreigners no doubt lurking among millions of Americans. Good luck.

Andrew Leber is a PhD student in the department of government at Harvard University.

Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLeber

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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