Donald Trump played to nativist and racist fears in the 2016 campaign by focusing heavily on illegal immigration: “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will make Mexico pay for that wall.”
On Wednesday, Trump, GOP senators reintroduced a bill to slash legal immigration levels (this is a modified version of a bill submitted in February that went nowhere):
Trump appeared with Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.) at the White House to unveil a modified version of a bill the senators first introduced in February to create a “merit-based” immigration system that would put a greater emphasis on the job skills of foreigners over their ties to family in the United States.
The legislation seeks to reduce the annual distribution of green cards awarding permanent legal residence to just over 500,000 from more than 1 million.
The bill also gives a preference to those who speak English.
The bill faces dim prospects in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow majority and would have difficulty reaching 60 votes to fend off a filibuster. But the president’s event came as the White House sought to move past a major political defeat on repealing the Affordable Care Act by pivoting to issues that resonate with Trump’s core supporters.
White House alt-right advisor Stephen Miller attended the White House press briefing with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to explain and defend the bill, and wound up being the story with his outrageous behavior.
As Nancy LeTourneau explains at the Political Animal blog:
It was the way Miller defended it that fuels Trump’s culture wars. Here is how introduced the need to cut in half the number of green cards issued:
As a result of [current] policy, we’ve seen significant reductions in wages for blue collar workers, massive displacement of African American and Hispanic workers, as well as displacement of immigrant workers from previous years who often times compete directly against new arrivals who are paid even less. So its a policy that has actually exacerbated wealth inequality in the country in a pretty significant way. So you’ve seen over time, as a result of this historic flow of unskilled immigration, a shift in wealth from the working class to wealthier corporations and businesses and its been very unfair for American workers, especially for immigrant workers, African American workers and Hispanic workers and blue collar workers in general across the country.
At the same time, it’s cost taxpayers enormously because roughly half of immigrant-headed households in the United States receive some type of welfare benefit.
Do you see what he did there? He just argued that it is immigrants who are causing wealth inequality in this country—especially for people of color. Of course it has nothing to do with corporate greed and/or systemic racism. It’s all the fault of those immigrants. Not only that…those immigrants are coming here to mooch off our welfare system. That makes immigrants the big bad “them” who are coming to this country to hurt “us,” which is exactly the argument Joshua Green wrote that Miller and Bannon have been determined to make.
During press questioning, Miller berated reporters including an exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta in which Miller purported to give him a history lesson, explaining that the poem on the Statue of Liberty (The New Colossus) doesn’t matter because it was “added later” to the statue.
First of all, the poem was donated by Emma Lazarus to fund the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:
Fundraising for the statue had begun in 1882. The committee organized a large number of money-raising events. As part of one such effort, an auction of art and manuscripts, poet Emma Lazarus was asked to donate an original work. She initially declined, stating she could not write a poem about a statue. At the time, she was also involved in aiding refugees to New York who had fled anti-Semitic pogroms in eastern Europe. These refugees were forced to live in conditions that the wealthy Lazarus had never experienced. She saw a way to express her empathy for these refugees in terms of the statue. The resulting sonnet, “The New Colossus” (1883), including the iconic lines “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, is uniquely identified with the Statue of Liberty…
“In 1903, a bronze tablet that bears the text of Emma Lazarus’s sonnet, ‘The New Colossus’ (1883), was presented by friends of the poet. Until the 1986 renovation, it was mounted inside the pedestal; today it resides in the Statue of Liberty Museum, in the base.”
Secondly, the mainstream media completely ignored the nativist extremism on display from Stephen Miller. Nancy LeTourneau explains what the cable news jockeys failed to report. Stephen Miller’s Dog Whistles to White Nationalists:
During his appearance at the White House press conference on Wednesday to defend Trump’s support for reforming legal immigration, Stephen Miller threw out a couple of dog whistles to his friends on the alt-right. They came during a rather heated exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta.
Initially, Acosta questioned whether the reforms were in keeping American tradition on immigration—specifically as expressed by The New Colossus poem on the Statue of Liberty. Miller responded by talking about how the poem was added later and was not part of the original statue.
The notion that the sentiments expressed in The New Colossus are not central to the American tradition was shocking to those of us who heard this exchange. But what a lot of people didn’t know is that it is a popular refrain among white nationalists.
David Duke, a vocal Trump supporter and former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan has devoted an entire chapter in one of his books to Emma Lazarus, the author of the poem, and the Statue of Liberty. Duke says Lazarus was “anxious to turn America into a refuge for the castoffs of the world.”…
Stormfront.org, a popular website among white supremacists that boasts the tagline, “Every month is White history month,” has a numerous discussion threads on the topic, including one titled, “Give Me Your Huddled Masses — The Jewess who tried to destroy the US!” Contributors to the forum wrote the poem should be “considered graffiti” and stress that Lazarus’ sonnet is “not part of the original” statue at all.
Richard Spencer, a self-identified leader of the alt-right, tweeted this last January:
Eventually Miller went on a tirade about Acosta and accused him repeatedly of being “cosmopolitan,” as if that was deeply insulting. In my mind, that word describes someone who is a hip city-dweller. But the dictionary defines it as “familiar with and at ease in many different countries and cultures.” Perhaps you can see where this is going with the alt-right. But Jeff Greenfield explains that the word’s history has very deep roots.
One reason why “cosmopolitan” is an unnerving term is that it was the key to an attempt by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to purge the culture of dissident voices. In a 1946 speech, he deplored works in which “the positive Soviet hero is derided and inferior before all things foreign and cosmopolitanism that we all fought against from the time of Lenin, characteristic of the political leftovers, is many times applauded.” It was part of a years long campaigned aimed at writers, theater critics, scientists and others who were connected with “bourgeois Western influences.” Not so incidentally, many of these “cosmopolitans” were Jewish, and official Soviet propaganda for a time devoted significant energy into “unmasking” the Jewish identities of writers who published under pseudonyms.
What makes this history relevant is that, all across Europe, nationalist political figures are still making the same kinds of arguments—usually but not always stripped of blatant anti-Semitism—to constrict the flow of ideas and the boundaries of free political expression. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, has more and more embraced this idea that unpatriotic forces threaten the nation.
Rebekah Entralgo fills us in on how white nationalists in this country have appropriated that history.
The word is frequently used across white nationalist websites and forums like Stormfront, which has its own section on the philosophy page devoted to the idea of “cosmopolitanism.” There, white nationalists espouse dangerous thoughts, including this one: “Confronted with the ruins of their culture, and having been abandoned by the state which purports to represent them, white Americans will have to fall back on their inherited racial and ethnic identities. Only then will the historic American people find the strength to turn the tables on cosmopolitan elites.” This, they claim, is the antithesis to the nationalist, who, above all, puts love of country first.
What we can learn about this is two things. First of all, it is obvious that Stephen Miller, a senior policy advisor in the White House, is seriously steeped in the culture of white nationalism. He parrots their viewpoints and has adopted their language. That isn’t breaking news to most of us, but this level of immersion is deeply disturbing.
Secondly, when it came time to defend the president’s proposed immigration reforms, the White House decided to give that job to Stephen Miller, who not only did so by fanning the culture war flames, he also sent out clear dog whistles to his white nationalist friends that this administration stands with them.
People like Steven Bannon and Stephen Miller are allowed to work in the White House and to make immigration policy. This should offend any right-thinking American. Why not add David Duke and Richard Spencer to the Trump administration while Trump’s at it? Same difference.
If Ret. General John Kelly, Trump’s new chief of staff, really wants to right the chaos in the Trump administration, he should dismiss the nativists Steven Bannon and Stephen Miller. He will not, because Trump caters to his nativist racist base.