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The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

FP Interrupted

Remember when we were all obsessed with the Russians and elections? #GoodTimes. Instead, as we go into Tuesday’s midterm elections in the U.S., we’re focused on “immigration” — a mask for race.

How things have changed. On this day 25 years ago, in the White House Rose Garden, then President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that made Martin Luther King, Jr.’s January birthday a federal holiday. Today’s occupant of the White House this week has called to end “birthright” citizenship. That would make anyone born in the United States to non-citizens ineligible for U.S. citizenship.

Does this latest pronouncement surprise us? No. Since taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Trump has made it a point to resurrect and encourage white supremacy — and lash out at “the other.” When he announced his run for office, he called Mexicans rapists. On the campaign trail, he made a point about “building a wall.” In his first week in office, he called for banning Muslims. He questioned why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, and other African countries, which he referred to as “shithole countries,” rather than places like Norway. He lashed out at Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and has called the European Union a U.S. “foe.” In the summer of 2017, he defended men shouting “Jews won’t replace us” in Charlottesville.

It’s no coincidence then that Cesar Sayoc mailed pipe bombs to George Soros, Barack Obama, and others who have spoken out against Trump. Last weekend, Robert Bowers posted on the neo-Nazi site Gab that he couldn’t sit by while the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HAIS) “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.” He was “going in.” He brought four guns to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where a community was celebrating a baby’s bris. He killed 11 people, including Rose Malinger, 97, who survived the Holocaust.

Yet again, we point out that America, once a haven that stood as a symbol and, indeed, embodiment of freedom, justice, and human rights, has somehow become a bastion of fear and suspect of “the other.” Just weeks ago, we wrote about how that has emboldened thugs around the world. Read: Mohammad bin Salman in Saudi Arabia.

Who and what America is matters. It helped shape the post-1945 world order that emphasized the rule of law, dignity, and human rights (even if it didn’t always abide by it). Indeed, America’s very value, it’s “superpower,” came in large part from defending democracy and justice. It also came from openness.

America’s richness, as Elmira told the administrators of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport after they questioned her U.S. citizenship in 2003, telling her that “Bayrasli” was not an “American name,” is not derived on a single race. “America’s richness lies in its diversity,” she wrote. America’s “greatness” comes from the millions from every corner of the world that emigrated to the U.S. and contributed to American ingenuity and innovation. Kraft, Pfizer, Intel, eBay, Google, Tesla, Yahoo, Chobani, and Apple are just a few of the many companies founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. Bayrasli is just as American as Omidyar, Brin, Jobs, and Van Buren (a U.S. president, not an entrepreneur, but hey it drives home the point, especially since Van Buren’s family came from the Netherlands.)

So if immigrants make America richer, what explains Trump’s venom?

The United States is moving away from being a white majority, in a world where the Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Brazilians, and Mexicans are gaining more power. This makes the likes of Trump and others who embrace white privilege scared shitless. And this makes America and its domestic and foreign policy one based on fear.

Franklin Roosevelt famously said “the only thing he had to fear is fear itself.” He was right. Fear preys on our worst instincts and biases. It is by its very definition connected to the negative. Negative has become a go-to political tactic for Trump and the GOP. Trouble is, it’s a losing proposition.

Read the rest of today’s FP Interrupted Newsletter here.

This essay was reprinted with permission from FP Interrupted.  Please sign up for their excellent newsletter by clicking the button below.

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