Trump's "soft" ethnic cleansing: Immigrants as human garbage

Trump calls immigrants "the worst of the worst" — and that's no aberration. It's part of a large and evil strategy

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published December 21, 2017 5:00AM (EST)

 (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Donald Trump believes that immigrants (read: nonwhites and Muslims) are human garbage. Proving that point, Trump gave a speech to FBI graduates in Virginia last Friday, where he said this:

You think the [foreign] country is giving us their best people? No. . . . What kind of a system is that? They come in by a lottery. They give us their worst people, they put them in a bin. But in his hand when he’s picking them is really the worst of the worst. "Congratulations, you’re going to the United States, OK."

There was no outpouring of outrage or shock at these words from the American news media or the public. Trump's comments were instead met with a mix of silence and quiet rumbles of discontent. Evil is now normalized. This is how authoritarianism thrives.

Fascists use racism, nativism and ethnocentrism to win and maintain power. Trump has learned that lesson well. To cite the title of Brian Klaas' recent book on the threat Trump poses to democracy, he is the "despot's accomplice." His most recent claims that immigrants are trash who will despoil (white) America is just the latest chapter in a hate-filled epic from a man who has suggested a national registry for Muslims, wants to bar people from entire regions and countries from the United States, has proposed publicly posting the names and pictures of "illegal immigrants" who commit crimes (as the Nazis did with alleged Jewish criminals in Germany), and believes that an entire ethnic group comes to America in order to rape and kill (white) women.

Trump's screeds against people in other countries who dream of making a better life in America are a violation of the country's national creed and mythology about being an inclusive and welcoming country of immigrants. He is perhaps the first modern president to hold such values in open disdain and contempt.

Trump's comments about immigrants are, of course, grotesque lies. Immigrants have helped to drive America's economic productivity. Immigrants have also helped keep America competitive while other countries with more restrictive policies, such as Japan, have become culturally and economically stagnant. Immigrants also help America become a more cosmopolitan society, contributing human capital in ways that make the country more dynamic.

Unfortunately, Trump's racism and nativism are widespread in America in 2017. The Republican Party, its leaders and its voters largely share his views. Trump's racism and nativism are also strategic. Republican and other right-wing voters are extremely hostile to Muslims, as well as immigrants from Latin America. In addition, the Republican Party's base of white voters is deeply afraid of losing both its real and perceived social dominance over nonwhites.

To that end, Trumpism relies on a form of fake populism and racial nationalism that is inseparable from white supremacy. This toxic mix won Trump the White House. In combination with voter suppression, gerrymandering and perhaps covert help from a hostile foreign power, it may also allow Trump and the Republican Party to maintain control in the 2020 elections.

Trump's repeated claims that Muslims and nonwhite immigrants are disposable human refuse provide one more reminder that in America the question is no longer about whether Trump is a fascist or whether it "can happen here." The real question is in what ways American fascism has taken hold under Trump, his party and his supporters, and what can be done to resist or reverse it.

Trump has deep contempt for democratic norms and values and evidently does not believe in freedom of the press. He views himself as above the law and places personal loyalty to him above loyalty to the Constitution or to American democracy. He is a malignant narcissist and serial liar who used racism to win and maintain power and has unapologetically given aid and comfort to neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Those who deny that Trump is a petit-fascist authoritarian often argue that he has not yet engaged in ethnic cleansing. This objection is imprecise and naive. There need not be prison camps for the logic of ethnic cleansing and racial authoritarianism to apply. Fascism has already begun to adapt itself to fit into American society.

To that end, Donald Trump is using a form of "soft" ethnic cleansing to accomplish his racist, authoritarian goals.

Trump's promise to "make America great again" is at once a threat and a plan to ensure that white people will remain the dominant political, economic and social group in the United States -- by any means necessary. Trump's brain trust has been transparent about this goal.

Stephen Miller, Trump's policy adviser, echoes much of the thinking advocated by the infamous white supremacist Richard Spencer. Miller has outlined a policy that would drastically limit access to the United States by reversing a 1965 immigration law that loosened restrictions on immigration from nonwhite countries.

Michael Anton, a senior national security adviser to Trump (and author of the infamous "Flight 93 manifesto") believes that America and Western Europe ("Western Civilization") are under siege by nonwhites, Muslims and other "foreigners."

Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon, although now outside the administration, remains Trump's closest political adviser and the person most responsible for articulating and shaping the president's nativist and racist "ethno-nationalist" worldview. It is no coincidence that Bannon has expressed admiration for books such as "The Camp of the Saints," which celebrate genocidal violence by whites against people of color.

Trump's "soft" ethnic cleansing is enacted on real people and causes them misery, suffering, and yes, even death.

Trump's decision to overturn the provisions of DACA has not yet played out its final act. But it could mean that nearly a million people who came to America as children -- the vast majority of them productive and law-abiding citizens -- will be forcibly removed from the country if they do not "self-deport."

Trump's administration has drastically lowered the number of refugees who will be allowed into the United States. This includes women and children who are trying to escape political violence or death in their home countries. Trump is also forcing refugees and other immigrants who are in the United States because of natural disasters and famine -- such as those from Haiti -- to leave the country.

It is no coincidence that Trump's efforts to restrict immigration will have a disproportionate impact on people from nonwhite countries.

Trump's election and the rise of the petit-fascist movement he represents has created a malignant reality in America where time seems to be running backward into a right-wing dream world that is a nightmare for anyone who is not white, male, Christian, heterosexual and rich.

What year is it really?

The Republican Party has passed a "tax reform" bill that is a Malthusian and social-Darwinist effort to kill off the "useless eaters" by returning America to the Gilded Age of the 19th century.

Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists are resurgent. Inspired by Donald Trump, they have committed many recent acts of murder, assault and other crimes of violence.

Republican candidates and their voters openly support the treasonous Confederacy, suggest that America was better off when black people were owned as human property, and long to take civil rights and freedoms away from women, racial minorities and LGBT people.

The Republican Party and Donald Trump are enforcing a 21st-century version of Jim Crow where, through a set of ingenious measures, black and brown people are not permitted to vote.

Christian fascists are enacting laws at all levels of government aimed at creating a right-wing theocracy, overturning the Constitution and ending separation of church and state.

Donald Trump, the Republican Party, the right-wing media and their public vomit forth slogans such as "Make America Great Again" and "America First" as though they were at an anti-Semitic, pro-Hitler rally led by Charles Lindbergh in the 1930s -- with echoes of the eugenics movement of the 1900s and the Know-Nothings of the mid-19th century.

Trump's repeated claims that Muslim and nonwhite immigrants are human garbage is also a callback to an earlier era. As he and other conservatives often do, Trump is channeling early 20th-century "race scientist" Madison Grant, author of a bestseller entitled "The Passing of the Great Race."

Like Donald Trump and other modern-day nationalists, Grant also thought that immigrants were an inherently undesirable form of human pollution:

The result of unlimited immigration is showing plainly in the rapid decline in the birth rate of native Americans because the poorer classes of Colonial stock, where they still exist, will not bring children into the world to compete in the labor market with the Slovak, the Italian, the Syrian and the Jew. The native American is too proud to mix socially with them and is gradually withdrawing from the scene, abandoning to these aliens the land which he conquered and developed. The man of the old stock is being crowded out of many country districts by these foreigners just as he is today being literally driven off the streets of New York City by the swarms of Polish Jews. These immigrants adopt the language of the native American, they wear his clothes, they steal his name and they are beginning to take his women, but they seldom adopt his religion or understand his ideals and while he is being elbowed out of his own home the American looks calmly abroad and urges on others the suicidal ethics which are exterminating his own race. . . .

As to what the future mixture will be it is evident that in large sections of the country the native American will entirely disappear. He will not intermarry with inferior races and he cannot compete in the sweat shop and in the street trench with the newcomers. Large cities from the days of Rome, Alexandria, and Byzantium have always been gathering points of diverse races, but New York is becoming a cloaca gentium which will produce many amazing racial hybrids and some ethnic horrors that will be beyond the powers of future anthropologists to unravel.

One thing is certain: in any such mixture, the surviving traits will be determined by competition between the lowest and most primitive elements and the specialized traits of Nordic man; his stature, his light colored eyes, his fair skin and light colored hair, his straight nose and his splendid fighting and moral qualities, will have little part in the resultant mixture.

The rise of fascism in America under Donald Trump and the Republican Party has been described as "boiling the frog." Here, the frog is being cooked one degree at a time and is unaware of its inevitable doom because death comes so gradually. This is how democracy dies in America. The unconscionable is gradually normalized and civic evil is imagined as an odd outlier, rather than an indication of just how sick American democracy and tens of millions of American citizens really are.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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