In a foreign policy speech, Donald Trump proposed creating “a new ideological test for admission to the United States” to assess immigrants’ support for American values, based on his interpretation of what those values are. It might seem incredible that a man married to an immigrant would suggest such a thing – but only if one ignores that Trump’s entire platform is geared toward stoking an uprising of the extreme right.
We must view this latest intolerably offensive proposal within the context that my colleague Peter Daou has laid out in three parts – that Trump is not strictly running a presidential campaign at all, but “purposely working to lead an uprising of the extreme right, to be a ‘heroic’ figurehead for white nationalism, to create an atmosphere of violence, intimidation and nullification.”
Trump is no longer running to be president (if he ever was), but to be a historical figure with a legend bigger than even the U.S. presidency can confer. He is not seeking fame, but infamy. And losing the U.S. presidency would cast him as a martyr to a far right, white nationalist movement, whose members greet with cheers every brick he’s laying in the foundation of this martyrdom – rigged elections, a corrupt establishment, political correctness run amok.
And to understand the true devilry of this proposal, and the crucial role it plays in further outreach to white nationalists, one must understand the nature of immigration in the United States. Specifically, the history of a racial hierarchy in immigrant preferences.
Many of the people who are known as white today – or, often, “white ethnics,” e.g. Polish and Irish – were not always viewed as white by American Anglo-Saxon elites. Over time, the definition of “white” has flattened to incorporate a number of white peoples into a broader definition of white.
“White” has never defined so much by what people designated “white” have in common, but in contradistinction to everyone whom white powerbrokers want to deny privileges conferred by the label. Which is why a group like Italian immigrants could be viewed as not white at one point in the nation’s history and white now.
At this point in our history, for example, Muslim immigrants tend to be reflexively viewed as non-white, despite there being many Muslims who identify as white. They are defined not by their self-identification, nor by their race, but by their religion. By perceptions of how they deviate from the dominant white U.S. culture.
Race is largely an artificial social construct, yet it has enormous implications – including within the context of immigration.
The very language of immigration we use reflects the racial hierarchy embedded with our views of immigration and immigrants: My husband, an immigrant from Scotland, is often called an “ex-pat,” rather than an “immigrant.” As if “immigrant” itself conveys something dirty.
In between the disparate uses and meanings of “immigrant” and “ex-pat” (expatriate) falls everything that underlines the racism, classism, and xenophobia of the immigration debate in America.
White, (relatively) wealthy, and English-speaking immigrants are ex-pats, with intramural rugby leagues and dues-drawing pub clubs and summer festivals set to the distant trill of bagpipes. Non-white, poor, and non-natively English-speaking immigrants are just immigrants.
This wedge creates an artificial distinction where none should be: I am married to a white man who is regarded as an ex-pat, and I have worked at an ESL school in Chicago for adult legal immigrants, where the students are about 90% Latinx – and every last one of them are regarded as immigrants.
It is important to understand how this sinister distinction functions in order to fully grasp the implications of Trump’s proposal – and how it acts in service to a white nationalist agenda.
He wants to create a “purity test” – which, not incidentally, many U.S. citizens could not pass – in order to further privilege white, Western immigrants while further marginalizing “nonwhite” (even if by virtue of their religion) immigrants.
The outlines of the proposal are designed to seem benign (especially outside of a critical analysis of who, exactly, would be setting the parameters), but let us not imagine that, in actual practice, the ideological test would not be applied specifically to decrease nonwhite immigration.
Trump’s supporters are keenly aware of this; his anti-immigration posture toward nonwhites is one of the explicit reasons they support him. Almost exactly one year ago, a Buzzfeed article quoted Jared Taylor, who runs the site American Resistance:
“Why should whites want to be a minority?” he said. “Answer me that question. Why should we want to celebrate diversity when celebrating diversity means celebrating our dwindling numbers and influence? And to the extent that Trump succeeds in putting the brakes on immigration, he will also be succeeding at reducing the speed with which whites are reduced to a minority.”
“The immigration plan,” wrote the article’s authors Andrew Kaczynski and Christopher Massie, “is a particular winner with the white nationalists.” They also quoted Rocky J. Suhayda, chair of the American Nazi Party, who praised Trump’s immigration positions and exclaimed: “Americans of ALL races are FED UP with this ILLEGAL ALIEN INVASION.”
And to the point that these sorts of proposals speak to Trump’s vision of something even bigger than the presidency, Stormfront radio co-host Don Advo believes that, irrespective of whether Trump wins, his campaign will “give people the ability to come openly out of the shadows and really work very hard for something that will have a lasting effect. This anger, this fire, is not going to go away. It’s not going to go away at all.”
It is within this newly-empowered long-term movement of white nationalism that Trump’s “ideological test” for immigrants must be viewed. This is not just another “stupid” idea from a man running an “incompetent” campaign. It is instead another terrifying dog whistle to his white nationalist supporters that they can count on him to carry their mantle.
If you don’t believe me, consider the fact that Trump is himself married to an immigrant. He clearly doesn’t have a problem with that, and neither do his supporters.
That’s because it’s not about immigration at all. Not really. It’s about white nationalism, white supremacy, and the maintenance of white privilege.
Trump’s white immigrant wife is “one of the good ones,” just like my white immigrant husband is often said to be.
But that does not bring my husband and me consolation, because, while we are well aware of his (our) white privilege, we do not want it. We do not want the undeserved privilege of his being an “ex-pat” or not “that kind” of immigrant. We firmly resist being used in this despicable game of racial hierarchy, which reflects a broader white nationalist view that extends to people of color born in this country.
Donald Trump is dangerous. His views are dangerous. His supporters are dangerous. And we must reject this proposal full-throatedly – along with everything it represents.