By Henry Kamens for Veterans Today and New Eastern Outlook, Moscow
One thing that is most predicated about the American political landscape is the pack-of-lies that flows before elections, especially under the Trump administration. We have heard so many recently that most have even stopped trying to separate the truths and half truths from the lies which have snowed under the political process.
Russiagate, the alleged meddling in the 2016 elections, is just for starters. Whether it is allegations of WMDs in Iran or North Korea, or the ills of fake news, spies-for-hire, the agendas of CNN or the real agenda of the Washington Post, there is always an allegation, always a rebuttal, and so much noise is made we no longer want to engage with whether any of it is accurate or not.
We have become what Peter Finch warned we would become in his famous rant in Network –people who just want to stay in our smaller and smaller worlds with our steel-belted radials, hoping everyone will feed us news, however they want and leave us alone.
Much of what is reported has truth. But what are we to believe anymore? If someone tells us outright lies and spices them up with a measure of truth, does that justify the lie?
Casualties of Democracy
Politics is not about right or wrong any more but blatant lies. Many of these just come naturally, the rest as part of the subterfuge. As Soviet citizens discovered, the way to interpret the news is not to listen what is said, but to understand why it is being said.
At present immigration is being made into a huge topic in the US. The US was founded and built by immigrants, so why are they suddenly news? Because this is the standard trick rolled out when a government feels it is in deep trouble. The very nature of democracy makes immigrants the easiest target when you are too afraid to alienate everyone else.
Every policy and every political statement affects someone. Even if 99% of people are better off as a result of them, there are always some who lose out. Politics is all about choosing who you can afford to hurt to help your chosen constituency, and how you can then explain that.
This is why the poor, those who can exert the smallest influence on the economy, are always blamed for economic problems. Cutting welfare doesn’t help any country generate more income. But if you attack those who created the problem, they have the resources to get rid of you for doing it, via manipulating opinion, standing as candidates or more direct means.
But eventually, if you offend too many different minority interests, too often, they outnumber the people who support you. Then your own supporters start siding with them, because they can see the damage your policies are doing, even if they are profiting from them themselves. Tony Blair was elected in the UK in 1997 with a huge landslide because he was offering very similar policies to the ousted Conservatives, pleasing the same people, but also promising to include those who had been willfully excluded by 18 years of Conservative policy.
So if you lose votes every time you hurt any part of the electorate, who is left to hurt? The ones who can’t vote. Immigrant can be made to equal terrorist, or criminal, or welfare cheat, because if you call them names they can’t vote you out if they don’t like it.
By a strange coincidence, this accusation also absolves the rest of the electorate of blame, and principally the members of the government. If they achieve something, it was because they exerted their power. If they fail, it is because they are powerless public servants swamped by this tidal wave of foreign badness.
Every US President expects to make enemies. Donald J. Trump alienated more people prior to being elected than any president in living memory, and has continued that trend on a daily basis in office. The essential characteristic of his administration is that it lies, cheats, offends and abuses large numbers of Americans, whatever achievements he may have to his name.
Trump was immigrant bashing before he was elected, and attracted many disenfranchised supporters by telling them that if these nasty immigrants are dealt with, they will regain power over their lives. He has made walked the same walk since, with his blanket entry bans on people from certain countries and continued insistence he will build a border wall.
But apparently even this is not enough. Trump is doing his level best to distract attention by making immigration the sole focus of public policy. He has run out of people to offend, or time to keep their anger at bay.
Like Mikheil Saakashvili, former Georgian president and fugitive from justice, shooting rockets at his own people, Trump is threatening to murder immigrants at the border if they keep rocking America’s boat, by which he actually means his own.
The very topic of immigrants has now become the touchstone of US politics. But unfortunately even Trump’s opponents are getting in on the act, thinking they are helping the immigrants, when in fact they are merely helping him by fuelling further debate.
“The nearly 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States are already citizens,” former Vice President Joe Biden has recently claimed. Biden also decried a system where immigrant students receive advanced degrees and then have to leave the country before they can use them.
Even the Washington Post is getting in on the immigrant debate, at least in its commentaries, with articles about how Donald Trump is both fueling and fanning the fires.
Trump is playing this the usual way. Sometimes he appears to touch on other topics, but invariably these are other issues close to the hearts of white supremacists, who are obsessed with Jews and others of dubious backgrounds—basically anyone different and more intelligent than they are. He may pretend he is talking about different issues, but he is immigrant bashing in another form.
Call it xenophobia, anti-Semitism or just hatred of others. It is only too obvious that the essence of Trump’s political strategy, as we saw in the midterm elections and are seeing beyond, is “ginning up hysteria about immigration” because he has nothing else left.
Considering where most Americans actually come from, and what they did (and still do) to the Native American population, this strategy should not help him in the least. But it is working beyond all expectations. It resembles a page from the playbook of the Nazi master propagandist, the very non-Aryan Joseph Goebbels, who famously insisted that if you tell a lie enough times it becomes the truth.
Psychologists call this the “illusion of truth” effect. As described in a BBC report, people tend to rate items they’ve seen before as more likely to be true, regardless of whether they are true or not, seemingly for the sole reason that they are more familiar.
Let’s not forget it all started with Build the Wall on the US Border with Mexico, trying to impose restrictions on children of illegal immigrants, i.e., Dreamers, DACA, and other restrictions on visas.
If you trust the polls, the majority of Americans are with Trump on immigration issues. But whose polls do you trust, and why trust ANY political polls, especially after the last US presidential election?
Boiling Pot or Melting Pot
Naturally immigrants are all being thrown into one giant “boiling pot” in an attempt to cast the great “melting pot” of another time into the history books. An article from 2015 describes his approach to the truth with great insight and accuracy, and how his use of racist statements and outright covers much territory: mocking blacks, Hispanics, Muslims andpeople with disabilities.
Trump’s bigoted rhetoric, coupled with an actual admission that he doesn’t botherchecking facts,combine in a [perfect storm] to give the US a president lacking intellectual capacity and emotional control, acting like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum.”
Trump makes it sound as if the vast majority of immigrants are welfare cheats, drug dealers and hardcore criminals. It does not end there. By executive order, Trump wants to end birthright citizenship for the children of immigrants. He fails to mention that that would require a change to the 14th Amendment, and would also require the states to agree, as a person is both a citizen of the country and their state.
Unfortunately Trump is demonstrating what many Republicans fiercely deny – that white nationalist rhetoric on immigration feeds the core of their party. Hyping up the language of “invasion,” of infectious diseases, of the need for violent retribution, has clearly emboldened white supremacists and other xenophobes.
The Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, which resulted in migrant children being separated from their families after crossing the border, did not do any substantial harm to the president’s reputation, despite the fact the vast majority of members of his own party are descended from people who crossed those very same borders as immigrants.
All this not only reminds us of the rhetoric of Goebbels, who claimed Jews would destroy German culture, but how the US president takes such rhetoric to a new level. Replace the words in some of Goebbels’s speeches, such as Jew, with immigrant, and you get something very close to what Trump is saying in public now.
It is almost as if Trump believes his own theoretic and blatant lies – or rather, he has to.
Instead of the traditional Jewish conspiracy we have an immigrant conspiracy, which naturally could not be possible without the support of the Democratic Party and liberals and others of ill repute.
It is as if all effort is being made to show immigrants (like Trump and his ancestors) as something inherently anti-cultural, anti-American. But it is often forgotten that where such measures inevitably lead is to developing a police state of the kind relied on by totalitarian regimes.
Trump has said several times he thinks the US should have a president for life, in a country built on the opposite principle. Even if bashing immigrants doesn’t mean that to most Americans, it does to him, and that is why this policy will continue for as long as he thinks he has a chance of becoming that person, or needs to believe this is his way out.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.