At a meeting of Republican California lawmakers at the White House on Wednesday, May 16th, Donald Trump delivered his latest virulently racist and anti-immigrant statement, saying of immigrants crossing the southern border: “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.” Condemnation has been quick and widespread, and Trump’s allies have been been equally quick to clarify that he only meant members of MS-13, a street gang. The White House subsequently released a fascistic clarification a few days later, doubling-down on Trump’s anti-immigrant sentiments.
Trump’s vile comments confirm, if his praise of murdering fascists in Charlottesville was not enough, that he openly panders to growing fascist elements in the United States, and seeks to intensify racial and ethnic hatred against immigrant communities. Trump came to power with Nativist promises to remove “bad hombres,” build an ineffectual wall, and escalate ICE terror campaigns that continue to separate families, and these latest comments underline the integral place stoking anti-immigrant hatred had, has, and will have in Trump’s political platform. While Trump and his supporters hide behind the age-old dog-whistle of immigrant criminality, his far-right followers use such rhetoric to build their legitimacy and continue their murderous campaign to construct a fascist movement in the United States to target immigrants, people of color, women, LGBTQ+ communities, communists, and countless others.
But critics of Trump’s essential place in the rise of American fascism need to be wary of the moderate claim that such comments are incongruous or out of place in the political history and present of the United States. Already, several prominent liberals have compared his comments to the rhetoric of Nazi Germany, Rwanda, and the Confederacy, but one needn’t go back to the Civil War or across the Atlantic to find a precedent for Trump’s heinous attacks on immigrants. The claim that immigrant communities bring organized crime with them, and not that organized crime emerges from isolated and impoverished communities, is as American as bootstraps mythology and the disruption of democratic elections. Nativist attacks on immigrants in the 19th and early 20th century routinely rendered recent immigrants as harbingers of “Anarchy, Socialism, the Mafia and such kindred evils!” Moderates in congress objected to the passing of the 13th amendment (abolishing slavery) on grounds that newly-freed slaves would turn to crime. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act similarly claimed that Chinese immigrants “endangered the good order of certain localities.” Chester Arthur, the reform-minded president at the time of the act’s passing, vetoed it on the grounds that exploitable Chinese labor was “the key to national wealth and influence.” More recently, the “war on drugs” from Nixon to the present criminalizes communities of color under the auspices of “law and order,” and this remains a main avenue through which ICE and police disproportionately attack immigrant communities.
Anti-Trump moderates have to render Trump’s vile anti-immigrant comments as foreign to normative American politics to obfuscate the essential place racism has in American power, and further obscure their immediate complicity with this process during the Obama presidency. Deportation rates in Trump’s first year and a half in office currently lag behind the rate at the height of the Obama presidency in 2011-12, and even behind Obama’s last year in office. ICE detainers, the process through which ICE imprisons immigrants without due process, similarly peaked under the Obama presidency. Immigration policing is directly under the control of the executive branch, and responsibility for the millions of people arrested without due process and deported without a word to their families and friends cannot be put on a Republican congress. If Trump eclipses previous deportation rates, it will be with policing bodies and policies established under a democratic president and near super majority in congress during his first term. Trump’s language on Wednesday is a clear appeal to his fascist base, but for immigrant communities who have been living in fear of ICE raids for over a decade, it is hardly a departure.
None of this information excuses Trump’s hateful and fascistic rhetoric, or diminishes the likelihood that deportation rates will increase drastically as Trump continues to pander to his white supremacist base, but only underlines the interconnected and foundational relationship between anti-immigrant policies, the state apparatuses used to victimize immigrant communities, and both major political parties in the US. Trump’s words should anger us not because they are new or different, but because they reflect the centuries-entrenched racism at the heart of American capitalism that comes increasingly to the surface as the crises of that system deepen. Throughout our national history, the American political establishment has vacillated between the deadly rhetoric of exclusion, racism, and Nativism, and mass deportations conducted with justifications and modest objections. The urgency with which we must continue to build a movement that uncompromisingly defends immigrant rights, advocates for the dismantling of ICE, and for community control of police departments grows with each contemptible comment from the White House, and with each moderate excuse for record deportation rates. While Trump’s comments are much in line with American history and our present moment in which hate crime rates are spiking, they needn’t be a part of our future. In 2018, the only animals in American society are those who victimize and separate families to pander to their fascist allies, and those who value a human life only as far as it profits them.