Simon Williamson

Stop feigning Trump surprise

2016-05-11 09:00

Simon Williamson

In January of 2012, Mitt Romney, the favorite to become the Republican’s presidential candidate, told a debate moderator that on immigration, he was for “self-deportation”. Romney dressed up that policy in pretty words, but it ultimately was easily interpretable as making immigrants so miserable and desperate they would return to the country they fled.

Is that the same as referring to Mexican immigrants as rapists, as Donald Trump did, which, along with an escalator ride, became the defining slogan of his campaign launch? Not explicitly, but inside both of these men’s statements is an utter debasement of the humanity of Hispanic immigrants who are here in the US. The enthusiastic reception of both of these men’s comments by the people who ultimately chose both nominees is a clear line between both of them.

While Republicans have clearly defined wings when it comes to the issue of immigration: those who are “build the wall, deport 11-million people” all the time (such as Trump), and those who are “build the wall, deport 11-million people” in campaign season (like Senator John McCain), the party hasn’t spared Hispanic immigrants from being chastised as something that is not people. While there are many other immigrants in the US, Hispanic immigrants are the high profile drum that Republicans like to beat.

Herman Cain, a high-profile, if vapid, candidate in the 2012 cycle, said at a debate he was going to build a massive electric fence on the Mexico border with a sign in Spanish that said “this will kill you”. Steve King, a representative from Iowa, said that for every valedictorian immigrant in the nation “there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

This is not debating immigration policy. This is refusal to treat Hispanic people like people, or even acknowledge them as sentient beings.

However could this anti-immigrant sentiment result in such a racist presidential candidate?

The flames that were fanned four years ago don’t just burn out when the cameras of the presidential cycle wear off. If you keep stoking a fire, it actually grows. Republicans have been repeating this inhumaneness ad nauseum for so long, that Trump’s candidacy should be no surprise at all.

Texas, a conservative state by virtually any metric you can think of, has always had a fairly decent relationship with its high population of immigrants. It is one of the few states in the union that sees decent Republican vote share from Hispanic residents, and, if you recall, George W Bush won (debatably) over 40% of Hispanic voters in 2000 – certainly more than any Republican since then.

Texas governor Rick Perry was laughed off stage and hounded by other candidates in 2012 for daring to allow in-state university tuition rates for the children of immigrants to his state, a sensible policy if you want an educated populace, but also a stick to beat an opposition candidate with in a show of presidential one-upmanship. There was no debate about in-state tuition and its effects, and the discussion devolved into its natural form whereby people are called “illegals”. Hardly a deal-breaking term at face-value, but consider whether you would like to be named thusly.

There are sensible ways to argue about immigration. One can advocate for a closed border without promising to make people as miserable as possible so they are forced back to the places they spent massive amounts of money fleeing. One can be against immigration reform without calling immigrants drug-smugglers, or plans for a made-up fence that will kill them.

But if you are going to speak about people as if they are something the cat killed and delivered, and compete with others to say the most outrageous things, and then win by aiming to make immigrants as miserable as possible, then how on earth can it be a surprise that Trump is your candidate, when he’s really just gone one step further than the last few guys, down precisely the same road, and won among exactly the same voters?

- Simon Williamson is a former journalist for News24 and Daily Maverick. He is now studying his Masters in Political Science at the University of Georgia, and worked a Democratic Senate race in 2014. He tweets whenever he is in a bad mood at @simonwillo.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    donald trump  |  us  |  us elections 2016


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