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Making Sense of Trump’s Immigration Policy Through the Lens of Bannon’s Populist Conservatism

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Photo by Mike Licht | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Mike Licht | CC BY 2.0

Donald Trump made it clear during his presidential campaign, and right after assuming the office, that he is serious about making it difficult for Muslims and Latinos to come to, and stay in, the United States. Trump’s statements and actions must be understood in the context of the rise of the populist conservative movement, represented in the Trump administration by his senior advisor Steve Bannon. What we are witnessing in the wake of the Trump presidency is the assertion of the populist conservative agenda, in the US and Europe, which aspires to undo the multiethnic, multiracial, and multi-religious character of contemporary American society.. These frantic efforts to undermine a progressive agenda that started to empower individuals, communities, societies who were not part of the privileged culture is doomed to failure.

This resentment expressed by Far Right and ultra-conservative groups against the leveling of the playfiled is best articulated in the seminal work of Samuel Huntington, the Clash of Civilizations, and more so in his less known work, Who Are We? The Challenge to America National Identity. Huntington expressed, in the later work, his dismay over the changing American identity. He regretted the transformation from the old identity that was based on ethnicity, race, culture, and political ideals, to a new one founded on political and cultural ground alone. He warned particularly against the “hispanization” of the American culture, as well as the denationalization of the elites.

Steve Bannon succeeded in translating Huntington’s ideas of preserving the core identity of the United States and the West, grounded in ethnicity, race, and religion, into an “international populist conservative movement,” an idea he promoted in a speech delivered at a conference hosted by the Human Dignity Institute last November, and was attended by leaders of the far-right movement in Europe. Bannon has worked for years to construct a populist conservative movement, and has nurtured through Breitbart, a news network with a global reach, which he took control of after the sudden death of its founder in 2012. The network purports to bring back America’s golden age, or to use Trump slogan “to make America great again.” Bannon believes that America is fading away because of the “crisis of capitalism,” and he blames this crisis on more fundamental crisis, the “crisis of faith.” The latter is the consequence of the weakening of the Judeo-Christian faith, brought about by the advance of secularism and the growth of the Muslim world.

Given the ideology of Trump chief strategist, it is not difficult to understand the hostility of the Trump administration to immigrants and open society. “Making America great again” requires the restoration of the old Western identity, and for that to happen immigrants must be stopped, particularly those who cannot easily identify with the old culture. Bannon’s ideology shed brighter light on the Executive Order to “Ban Muslims.” The ban was executed despite the fact that there is no evidence that immigrants from these countries have ever being implicated in terrorist attacks. Not even one case of a terrorist attack by immigrants from the seven countries whose citizens, fleeing brutal wars raging at home, have been banned from entering the US.

Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst with the Cato Institute, did a survey of terrorist attacks committed by immigrants from the seven targeted nations by Trump’s executive order and found that the number is zero. He published on Nov. 18, 2015 a paper titled “Syrian Refugees Don’t Pose a Serious Security Threat,” to calm fear created by Far Right groups around Syrian immigrants. In addition, there is already in place an elaborate vetting process for immigrants and visitors arriving from these countries.

So is protecting Americans the real reason for the order to ban visitors from Syria and other Muslim-majority countries listed in the recent Executive Order? It does not need a genius to find the answer. The evidence is provided by Presidential-Candidate Trump during his campaign to seek the office. He promised, in his characteristic bluntness, to bar Muslim immigrants from the US if he was elected. The evidence was also provided by one of his close advisers, Rudy Giuliani, who told the Fox News on Sunday that Trump asked him to help draft an executive order to “ban Muslims”, and so he put together a commission and came up with the infamous order that did the job “legally”.

The drive to stop the flow of history is utterly stupid, and has indeed been tried repeatedly throughout history. The privileged elites have always tried to maintain the status quo and prevent other groups and societies to level the playfield, only to discover that their efforts were subversive, counterproductive, and in vein.

Trump and his supremacist ilk cannot seal the borders or push Americans and immigrants who they don’t like at will. They will sooner or later discover that they are swimming against the flow of history, and that they have chosen the losing side of the march of human civilization

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