Demonizing the ‘other’

Published 11:06 am Friday, September 4, 2015

Donald Trump has energized the conversation about immigration so much so that it presently makes him often appear as a one issue candidate. Trump’s position is straightforward; illegal immigrants have broken our laws and they must all, without exception, be expelled from American soil. Once expelled, according to Trump, the “good ones” will be invited to re-apply to return to the U.S. And, in being expelled, Trump promises their expulsion will be managed compassionately.

This plan has met with a good deal of acceptance which has helped Trump rise in presidential polling to the top among Republican candidates. Supporters identify Trump as a truth speaker who ignores the nuances of politics to address Immigration in its bare truths.

And the bare truths as espoused by Trump include that Mexico has been “sending” to the U.S. its rapists and murderers and criminals, whose numbers among the illegal immigrants are significant and must therefore be addressed.

The Trump use of Mexican immigrants as dangerous people taking our jobs, raping our wives and daughters, and criminalizing our streets, is hardly a new tactic in American politics. In fact it is one of the age old practices of using the latest immigrants to stereotype and describe as a threat to the jobs and wages of those next lowest on the economic ladder.

In the 1850’s Irish immigration was the issue to motivate some Americans to demonize Irish immigrants. The arguments were, surprisingly now, that the Irish were not really “white,” that they were taking jobs from black Americans, that the Irish refused to learn our language and accept our culture. They were seen by many as violent and prone to poverty and ignorance. Sound familiar?

The same stereotyping identified German immigrants as beer drinkers, Chinese immigrants as squinty-eyed foreigners and African-Americans as cartoonish buffoons. None of the uses of stereotyping are new in American politics.

Not all Americans accepted the stereotypes then, nor now. As our history has recorded, immigrants have always played a role in the growth and development of our nation, a positive role broadening our culture and enriching our creativity.

But those supporting Trump’s definition of Mexican immigrants argue that these immigrants are different because they came illegally, while earlier immigrants followed the rules of becoming American. We will never know the truth of that claim because our borders were far less secure in the earlier age of immigration so how many came through Canada or Mexico can never be known.

Illegal or not, it would be dishonest to deny that our Mexican Immigrants did have a “deal” to come to America. The deal was there were jobs, no questions asked, no Green cards required. Jobs in farming, jobs in hotels and restaurants, jobs Americans did not want and would not fill. Now that contract is denied and those who hired the illegals are claiming no responsibility.

Is there a problem with the Trump argument demonizing the Mexican immigrants, beyond the truth of its historical use and intention to motivate some Americans to stereotype the current Immigrants?

Yes, the problem is that once we de-humanize the Other, then we can justify any treatment. We can bomb civilians, torture prisoners, turn away helpless children, basically justify any behavior because we no longer see these people as like us.

We can send home families that have lived in America for 30 years with children who have known no other home; families who work here, contribute, save, plan, imagine a future, because they are not like us, they are different.

The Trump Plan, they are just not like us.