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Tomgram: Aviva Chomsky, Deportations "R" Us

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

For the sake of this discussion -- of any discussion of Donald Trump, in fact -- what our language needs is an extreme vetting. Certain words and phrases arriving from dangerous linguistic zones and threatening to upend The Donald's world really should be banned. And I'm not just talking about "Sharia law" or "Syrian refugee." The dangers to his thinking process are endless, even though setting up Cold War-style extreme-vetting tests for words that might emigrate into The Donald's universe with mayhem in mind would take time and effort.

Let me just give you a sense of what might be involved with a single word: "irony." (Think of it, for safety's sake, as the I-word.) We're talking about the man who, having just met with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto , promptly gave a 7,000 word, 10-point stemwinder of a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, on what to do about "illegal immigration." It began with him magnanimously hailing "the great contributions of Mexican-American citizens to our two countries, my love for the people of Mexico, and the leadership and friendship between Mexico and the United States." And then moved on to point one: "We will build a great wall along the southern border. And Mexico will pay for the wall. One hundred percent. They don't know it yet, but they're going to pay for it." (The suckers!) And oh yes, somewhere in there -- I forget which point it was -- he suggested deporting Hillary Clinton for, like an illegal immigrant who has committed crimes in this country, "evading justice."

Lurking terroristically in the vicinity of the speech threatening violence, however, was that I-word. After all, it was given by the man who personally chose to hire undocumented Polish workers to tear down the building that was replaced by Trump Tower. He reportedly worked them "in 12-hour shifts with inadequate safety equipment at subpar wages that their contractor paid sporadically, if at all." One of the points in his Phoenix speech, by the way, was that illegal immigrants of the sort he hired are taking away good American jobs. (They aren't.) But -- shhh, no I-word allowed -- he himself made a point of hiring "guest workers," mainly from Romania, for his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida; hundreds of them, in fact, while, according to the New York Times, hiring only 17 local residents from among the hundreds who applied.

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A second word in need of a Trumpian vetting is "contradiction," but don't get me started on that, especially since yet another reason for extreme vetting is laid out today by TomDispatch regular Aviva Chomsky. She makes clear just how dangerous it might be if a phrase like "American history" were allowed to enter the immigration debate right now. It might terrorize us all with a vision of an urge, deep in the country's make-up, to create an all-white America. Tom

Is Trump an Aberration?
The Dark History of the "Nation of Immigrants"
By Aviva Chomsky

Liberal Americans like to think of Donald Trump as an aberration and believe that his idea of building a great wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent immigrants from entering the country goes against American values. After all, as Hillary Clinton says, "We are a nation of immigrants." In certain ways, in terms of the grim history of this country, they couldn't be more wrong.

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Donald Trump may differ from other contemporary politicians in so openly stating his antipathy to immigrants of a certain sort. (He's actually urged the opening of the country to more European immigrants.) Democrats like Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton sound so much less hateful and so much more tolerant. But the policies Trump is advocating, including that well-publicized wall and mass deportations, are really nothing new. They are the very policies initiated by Bill Clinton in the 1990s and -- from border militarization to mass deportations -- enthusiastically promoted by Barack Obama. The president is, in fact, responsible for raising such deportations to levels previously unknown in American history.

And were you to take a long look back into that very history, you would find that Trump's open appeal to white fears of a future non-white majority, and his support of immigration policies aimed at racial whitening, are really nothing new either. The policies he's promoting are, in an eerie way, a logical continuation of centuries of policymaking that sought to create a country of white people.

The first step in that process was to deport the indigenous population starting in the 1600s. Later, deportation policies started to focus on Mexicans -- seen by many whites as practically indistinguishable from Indians. Except, white settlers found, Mexicans were more willing to work as wage laborers. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, Mexicans have been treated as disposable workers. As Europeans were invited to immigrate here permanently and become citizens, Mexican workers were invited into the country to work -- but not to become citizens.

The particular legal rationales have changed over time, but the system has been surprisingly durable. Prior to the 1960s, deportation was based openly on discrimination against Mexicans on the basis of their supposed race or nationality. It was only with the civil rights advances of the 1960s that such discrimination became untenable -- and new immigration restrictions created a fresh legal rationale for treating Mexican workers as deportable. Having redefined them as "illegal" or "undocumented," nativists could now clamor for deportation without seeming openly racist.

Creating a Country for White People

A closer look at American history makes the notion that "we are a nation of immigrants" instantly darker than its proponents imagine. As a start, what could the very idea of a "nation of immigrants" mean in a land that was already home to a large native population when European immigrants started to colonize it? From its first moments, American history has, in fact, been a history of deportation. The initial deportees from the British colonies and the American nation were, of course, Native Americans, removed from their villages, farms, and hunting grounds through legalized and extra-legal force everywhere that white immigrants wanted to settle.

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The deportations that began in the 1600s continued at least until the end of the nineteenth century. In other words, to celebrate the country's "immigrant" origins also means celebrating the settler colonialism and native displacement that made the United States that nation of immigrants -- and this has important implications for immigrants today, many of whom are indigenous people from Mexico and Central America.

Conflicts between immigrants and Natives were central to the colonial histories of both North and South America, and to the American Revolution. In the Proclamation of 1763, the British attempted to mitigate such conflicts by banning colonist (that is, immigrant) encroachment on native lands west of the Appalachian Divide. The British Crown even restricted immigration itself in another fruitless attempt to balance native and settler interests. These prohibitions were among the major grievances that led to the American Revolution.

Among the list of "injuries and usurpations" carried out by the King that were denounced in the Declaration of Independence, there was the fact that he had "endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands." In addition, he had, it claimed, "excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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