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America's Anti-Immigrant "Atmosphere"

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From Consortium News

Beyond the specific language of President Trump's revised travel ban aimed at six predominantly Muslim countries, the executive order creates a climate of hostility toward a much larger number of immigrants, says Indian historian Vijay Prashad.

Following the roll-out of Trump's executive order, I spoke with Professor Prashad, author of more than 15 books and nine anthologies, including most recently The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution and Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.

We also spoke about allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. elections, and what a Trump presidency might mean for US-Israeli-Palestinian policies.

Dennis Bernstein: Let's talk about some of Trump's opening salvos and let's come in through the travel door. You've been doing a lot of traveling lately.

Vijay Prashad: Well, you know, the new travel ban is out and I suppose narrower in its scope than the January 27th order. But it's nonetheless quite significant, in that he has, President Trump has, decided that six countries, not seven -- he's removed Iraq from the list -- must have its citizens be under further scrutiny if they want to come to the United States. And I think what people need to understand is that the actual letter of the travel ban, of the executive order, is less important than the atmosphere that such executive orders create.

The atmosphere of this executive order, for instance, has already created a great deal of sensitivity...shall I put it like that? Sensitivity among people who work for the Customs and Border service, at the border. And we've had, already, dozens of stories of people who come from none of these countries, none of these six named countries, people who are in fact nationals of countries such as Canada, being not only stopped at the border, but turned away.

So, I think it's important to see the language of this particular executive order, not for itself -- it shouldn't be studied just for itself -- but also the kind of atmosphere created. It's almost anti... not only immigrant but xenophobic atmosphere. Hatred of strangers, hatred of different people, that seems to have entered quite publicly into American political discussion.

DB: And, we are, of course, now seeing some of the things that many of us feared in terms of the expanding sweeps, by the Department of Homeland Security, what's taking place at the border. This is something that has changed, if you will, the character, the intensity, of life now at a certain point, in a certain way.

VP: Yes, and you are in California, where there is a preponderance of people who will easily be mistaken, let us say, by federal officials for being immigrants. An attitude has returned to the United States that there is something called "an American." Somebody who is white, somebody who is perhaps, let's even put it in a more narrow way, Dennis, somebody who is Anglo-Saxon, somebody who is, perhaps even narrower, Protestant. And this person has once again emerged as the actual, kind of, muscle of what it means to be an American. And everybody else is, in a sense, has to be considered outside that definition. I think this is very disturbing.

This is after a generation and a half of what was known as multiculturalism, an attempt to expand the concept of "American," to be more inclusive. To allow, for instance, one's imagination to accept that people who migrate to this country have title to it, they're likely to feel comfortable in it. And, I think that the Trump movement, the very cruel populism of the Trump movement, has once more suffocated the idea of "American."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C. during the inauguration of Donald Trump. January 20, 2017.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C. during the inauguration of Donald Trump. January 20, 2017.
(Image by (Flickr U.S. Customs and Border Protection))
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It's taken the idea of "American" by the throat and it has garroted it. And it's said that only a very narrow interpretation should be allowed. So, when one sees pictures of ICE agents at the jet-way as people are getting off domestic planes, asking to check out identification. This smells like this suffocated idea of "American."

And I'm afraid the price for this is on the one side going to be paid, of course, by those who don't look like "Americans," but really the price for this is going to be paid by the United States in general, as people from around the world decide that they are not really looking forward to a holiday in the United States, and as people outside the country think, "I don't want to go study there."

And it's almost as if Donald Trump has had kind of a syllable error. And rather than conduct a war against terrorism, he has decided to conduct a war against tourism. And the effects of that are going to be quite catastrophic.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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