Tag Archives: America

Mother of Exiles

**NOTE** I wrote this approximately one year ago. I sent it out to two or three of the usual MSM outlets, where it was summarily ignored, and then moved on to other writings. I figured it would just go in my metaphorical trunk, where half-finished and unpublished manuscripts sleep in silence. In the wake of today’s Supreme Court ruling upholding one of Trump’s travel bans, though, I thought I’d post it here, in its original form (I’m not even sure the original links work). Perhaps there is relevance here; perhaps not. Make of it what you will.


As the Predator-in-Chief, Donald J. Trump, took the oath of office, whitehouse.gov pages for climate change, LGBTQ issues, healthcare, and civil rights vanished, as did Spanish-language content. In the coming weeks and months, Americans of conscience will resist any attempt to roll back or eliminate laws and rights that protect all people, not just the members of the white rich nativist conservative (allegedly) Christian ableist heteropatriarchy. Others will uncritically accept the Predator’s vision.

Recently, one of my old friends, caught in the grip of a patriotism that seemed closer to jingoism or nationalism, conflated my anti-Trump stance with anti-Americanism. This is, of course, an old argument, and a highly problematic one, as measured, thoughtful, researched criticism of one’s nation is much more patriotic than blind devotion. I refused to recount all my reasons and evidence for resisting the Predator’s positions and values—reasons and evidence that I have stated and defended for the better part of two years—but I did summarize a few of the positions that I find unconscionable, including his characterizations of the Mexican people.

“He didn’t call all Mexicans rapists and murderers,” said my friend. “Show me where he did that.”

“Look at his speeches,” I said, “and do your own research, from multiple sources.”

It’s true that Trump did not characterize every Mexican immigrant as a rapist or murderer. But it’s also true that he purposefully, strategically downplayed their humanity. His racist and distorted attacks on Mexicans, and Hispanic people in general, outweigh his disingenuous praise. Parsing all of these comments would take more time and space than I have available here, but an examination of the Predator’s inflammatory comment about rapists and murderers might be useful, especially when juxtaposed with self-serving, thinly veiled advertisements for his own products.

Back in June of 2015, Trump said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Like George W. Bush before him, the Predator-in-Chief lacks linguistic sophistication. His use of “bigly” still staggers me. In the above quote, “they’re” is confusing. At first, “they” refers to Mexico, a place—an “it,” or, if you accept traditional gender assignations of objects and places, a “she.” Later, though, “they” refers to immigrants. Sometimes, he uses both in the same sentence; they send people with problems, and they bring those problems to us. Trump seems to conflate the entire country of Mexico with “people that have lots of problems,” and those same people are next characterized as drug-runners and/or mules, criminals, and rapists. He uses Othering language, establishing a victimized us and an evil, corrupt them.

To some people, that might seem like splitting a grammatical hair, so let’s look at his presentation of these ideas.

The quote begins with the idea that Mexico “sends” people across the border, as if the land has a mind of its own and wants to stick it to Americans. This anthropomorphic characterization of a geographical locale seems nonsensical unless Trump is speaking of the Mexican government, which would suggest a series of offices where mustache-twirling bureaucrats interview citizens and assign “bad hombres” to cross the border en masse. Nothing is impossible, I suppose, but one would think such an organized and wide-ranging assault on American stability from a border country might attract the intelligence community’s attention.

Next, look at how Trump organizes his ideas—the generalized “people that have lots of problems,” followed by a general list of what those problems allegedly are, drugs and rape and the much vaguer “crime,” which could mean anything. He states all of this as if it were fact, and he provides no specific support for his assertions. Like so many things he says, he wants us to believe these statements are true because he made them. Only after he spends five sentences denouncing immigrants from Mexico does he tack on the qualification, which is notable not only for its lack of development but for his admitting that their goodness is hypothetical. Trump seems to be saying, “Factually, immigrant criminals rape and run drugs, but because I am so magnanimous, I am willing to assume that some of them don’t.” Gosh, isn’t he nice?

In short, Trump did not say that all Mexicans are rapists or criminals, but he emphasized criminal traits when describing them, a rhetorical strategy meant to make his audience fear immigrants and support whatever Fascist strategy might keep them out or deport them. Even his “I love Hispanics” taco-bowl tweet, so ridiculous and self-aggrandizing, reduces an entire culture to servers of food for rich white men.

To combat this influx of marauding chefs, Trump continues to insist on a border wall. What does he plan to do about the existing barriers or the enormous stretches of land along the Rio Grande—drain the river? Which Goldman Sachs executive will get that job?

Trump wants to make Mexico pay for this wall, but he can’t even manage to pay his own contractors. To be fair, he has said that he would be fine with having a big door in that wall for legal immigration, but then why not just embrace President Obama’s call for an easier path to citizenship? How does Trump factor in the ever-expanding Border Patrol, and why doesn’t he mention that illegal border crossings have already been declining for years? (See the “Unauthorized Immigrants” section here.) Why doesn’t he say much more about the good, desperate people who come to America, which still casts itself as the Biblical/Winthropian “city on a hill,” seeking a better life? Has the light of the world burned out?

Why hasn’t he spent much time discussing unauthorized immigration from other countries, across other borders, including victims of sex trafficking? Why the focus on Mexico, Hispanics, “bad hombres”?

Something is going on here beyond a concern for national security or economics—perhaps blatant racism or a cynical appeal to his base’s xenophobia.

In any case, as of this writing, whitehouse.gov’s new, and rather spare, “Issues” page lists nothing about immigration reform. Instead, the Predator-in-Chief has given us something called (rather problematically, from a grammar perspective) an “America First Foreign Policy.” It’s a blustery statement, vaguely threatening to nations that have the temerity to put their own concerns above America’s. You can read Trump’s pre-election positions on immigration here. As for details about the wall, or immigrants who have lived in America most of their lives without citizenship, well, it’s all anybody’s guess. We can, however, glean more about his conscience, or lack thereof, from his recent executive order banning immigrants, especially Muslims, from certain African and Middle Eastern countries. Trump’s abandonment of those in dire need, such as Syrian refugees, and his anti-Hispanic, nationalist, exceptionalist rhetoric echoes Nazi Germany’s demonization of Jews and the contemporaneous call for a national identity predicated, to a great extent, on destroying this Demonic Other.

Near the Statue of Liberty, a plaque bears Emma Lazarus’s famous poem, “The New Colossus.” This sonnet names America the “Mother of Exiles.” Though this romanticized view of the country glosses over our blood-soaked bedrock of Native American genocide and displacement, we cannot ignore that, even before its Declaration of Independence, America as a nation has always consisted of immigrants and their descendants. Yet the Predator-in-Chief rejects our national valuation of embracing those in need. He uses language and imagery that dehumanize the desperate and the destitute. He wants to turn off the lamp and shut the golden door.

We all need to ask ourselves if we can live with that.