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On 14 July, US President Donald Trump sent out a series of menacing tweets directed at the freshman cohort of progressive House Democrats: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilham Omar and Ayanna Pressley. Utilizing his characteristic right-wing bully tactics, he accused them of hating the US and Israel and implored them to “go home,” in spite of the fact that all four of them are US citizens. The tweets have been met with strong backlash in the media and even from erstwhile allies on the international stage including UK prime minister Theresa May. The fact that Trump is a bigot hardly constitutes news, but when shone through the prism of things we already know about him the tweets provide the most decisive proof yet that Trump is at heart a dyed-in-the-wool white supremacist.
Take, for instance, Trump’s own personal background. After all, he can hardly trace his entire lineage back to the landing of the Mayflower. His mother was neither born nor grew up in the States – unlike three of the four progressive congress members he attacked. She immigrated to the US from Scotland as a young adult in the 1930s and gained US citizenship in 1942 – presumably in large part because she married a US citizen, Fred Trump. But Trump’s father hardly could have traced his ancestry back to the Mayflower either. Both of Fred Trump’s parents were immigrants from the Kingdom of Bavaria, which is in modern-day Germany. So, Donald Trump himself is only first-generation US-born on his mother’s side and second-generation on his father’s.
His love life paints a similar picture. His current wife, Melania Knavs, is originally from Slovenia – one of the countries that emerged from the former Yugoslavia. She immigrated to the US in the mid-1990s and became a naturalized US citizen in 2006. Trump’s first wife, Ivana Zelníčková, comes from the Czech Republic and became a naturalized US citizen in 1988. There is a trend emerging here: like Trump’s parents and grandparents, both came to the US from Europe. So, Trump seems to have no problem with immigration – just so long as it is European immigration.
Another interesting contrast is between Trump himself and one of the four progressive congress members he was directing his abuse toward. Unlike the other three, Ayanna Pressley is not of immigrant background but rather African-American. Keeping in mind that the first African slaves were brought to North American shores in 1619 and that the US congress ended the country’s involvement in the slave trade in 1808, it is certain that Pressley’s ancestors were in North America decades if not centuries before Trump’s were. According to a strictly nativist anti-immigration viewpoint, in which people’s right to be somewhere is based on ancestral longevity, she would have more of a right to live in the US than Trump. So clearly, what is important for Trump is not protecting the people who have been here longer, but rather purely skin color. The openly neo-Nazi publisher of The Daily Stormer website, Andrew Anglin, picked up on this fact and commented on it approvingly. “This is not some half-assed anti-immigrant white nationalism. Trump is literally telling American blacks to go back to Africa,” he wrote with glee.
An event that took place in January of this year similarly reveals how Trump subscribes to the view that the US should be for white people and white people only. In a meeting with members of congress, Trump asked why the US should want people to immigrate here from “shithole” countries such as Haiti and those located in Africa. He then asked why more people from countries like Norway don’t immigrant to the US. Here again, he is demonstrating that he is not against immigration in general, but rather against non-white immigration specifically.
Trump’s stance on Latin Americans is also highly revealing. He frequently condemns immigration from Central America such as the migrant caravan – even stating that he can see circumstances in which he would authorize US troops to fire live ammunition at people trying to cross the border. Likewise, he has staunchly opposed immigration from Mexico. In addition to his promise to build a wall along the US’s southern border, he has described Mexicans as “criminals” who “bring drugs and crime” to the US. During his campaign in 2016, he said that a federal judge who was presiding over a case against Trump University could not be impartial because he is “Mexican” – though the judge in question does have Mexican heritage, he was, in fact, born in the US. But both before being elected and since, Trump has courted the Cuban-American exile community in Florida and cozied up to its representatives such as Senator Marco Rubio.
There’s a simple explanation for this seeming contradiction: the Cubans that have come to the US are overwhelmingly of purely European ancestry whereas Central American and Mexican migrants tend to be mixed race. This is due in large part to the fact that in Central America and Mexico there was extensive inter-marriage between European settlers and Mesoamerican indigenous peoples during the colonial period whereas in Cuba the island’s indigenous population was largely wiped out by Columbus and subsequent waves of European conquest (there are many African-descent Cubans, albeit, but they tend to stay put in Cuba). It also has to do with the socio-economic profile of migrants from the respective regions. Because Mexico and most Central American nations have highly unequal capitalist societies, most of the people fleeing are from the poorer social sectors, members of which (like the rest of Latin America) are disproportionately indigenous or mixed race. Cuba, on the other hand, has a more equal socialist society, so the people who leave for the US – and especially those who left decades ago – tend to be from the previously existing bourgeoisie, which (again, like the rest of Latin America) is generally of European ancestry. In short, Cubans are considered white but Central American and Mexicans are not, which explains their hugely divergent treatment by Trump.
But make no mistake, as tempting as it might be to think so, this is not a case of Trump simply being too stupid to see his own inherent hypocrisy. Rather, Trump’s position makes perfect sense in the context of his view of what the US is and ought to be. The country was undoubtedly white supremacist in its foundation and continued to be for well over a century – and arguably even to this very day in some respects. The US constitution originally gave the vote and other civil rights only to white male property owners and considered Native Americans and other non-whites to be subhuman – three-fifths of a person in the case of African slaves. But whereas in a 21st Century context most mainstream politicians – and, indeed, all morally normal people – consider this to have been a bad thing and something that ought to be corrected for, Trump clearly thinks the opposite and instead sees attempts at correction as wrong and worthy of resistance and reversal. There is no better example to illustrate this than Trump’s own statements about US history. In May of last year, he spoke jubilantly about how “our ancestors tamed a continent” and that therefore “we are not going to apologize for America.” This glorying in the European conquest of North America, along with the implicit dismissal of even the slightest suggestion that this process might have contained some element of injustice, is an archetypal white supremacist narrative that stretches back to the nation’s founding. He might as well have said “we white people conquered a continent” and that therefore “we white people are not going to apologize it, even though doing so inherently entailed ethnic-cleansing and enslavement of non-whites on a massive scale.”
In light of this, the term progressive perfectly characterizes what Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Omar and Pressley stand for. They represent progress toward a better country that moves further away from the white supremacist ideas on which it was founded. Trump, on the other hand, represents regress back to a time when these ideas held greater sway.