Stoking Xenophobia

The blatant stoking of irrational fear as campaign politics.

In what now feels like old news, Trump has spent a lot of time in front of large campaign rallies trying to scare them over the caravan of migrants moving toward the US through Mexico. I must confess to being more than uncomfortable with a politician using rallies to get crowds worked up to fear foreigners with darker skin.

We can distill his overall message in this tweet:

The problems here are legion. Let me address three obvious problems.

First, “unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in.”  This is absurd, but also a clear attempt at fomenting fear.  This is a long-term trope that dates back to not long after 9/11 (I wrote about the general issue in a 2010 post and cited a similar claim about ISIS by Representative Duncan Hunter back in 2014. There are probably more in the OTB archive and surely some older ones from PoliBlog).  There is a theory that many have on the right that because Middle Easterners are of darker hue that it would be clever if they would integrate into Mexican society and then use our porous border to sneak across.  This couple fears of Islamic terrorism with fear of immigrants in general.  It, of course, sets aside the fact that it would be easier to just fly into the US (as per the 9/11 hijackers) or recruit residents than to walk across the southern border (especially if the walking starts in Central America!).  For that matter, if the goal is sneaking across the border, it would likely be easier to come across the northern border.

Still, this is a double-whammy of fear of brown-skinned people.

And never mind that Trump had no evidence to back the claim.

President Donald Trump told reporters assembled in the Oval Office on Tuesday that he has “very good information” that there are “Middle Easterners” in the caravan, but admitted he has “no proof.”

“There’s no proof of anything. There’s no proof of anything. But there could very well be,” Trump said.

Well, then.

Second, the caravan, whatever it may be, does not constitute a “National Emergency.”

The caravan is currently in southern Mexico.  At its current rate of travel it will take weeks to reach Brownsville or months to reach Tijuana.  Even if the group was armed and dangerous, calling such a slow-moving group a “national emergency” is absurd.  When one takes into account that these are basically refugees and that the group is made up of a range of persons, including large numbers of women and children, then utterly ridiculous nature of the claim is clear.

And yet, I would note, during a week in which major political figures and media outlets were receiving mail bombs, the Secretary of Homeland Security was down at the border sitting for an interview with Fox News because of the “threat” of this caravan.

Third, in regards to the laws:  he does know which party controls congress at the moment, and has the whole time he has been in office, yes?

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Gustopher says:

    I must confess to being more than uncomfortable with a politician using rallies to get crowds worked up to fear foreigners with darker skin.

    Are you xenophobophobic?

    There is an evil in humanity that the Republicans are tapping into, and I don’t think it ends well. Have we had any historical examples of a country edging up towards an official policy of racism and then backing off gently?

    I think the best we can hope for is only a little horribleness.

  2. Gustopher says:

    I do think the caravan is an actual, important issue — a minor issue for the US, but an extremely important one for the Western Hemisphere.

    We need to stabilize the countries of Central America, or we will continue to see this steady stream of people fleeing a mixture of economic conditions and violence.

    And, for our friends across the aisle who are worried about America’s culture changing to rapidly, I would say that if we help them over there, maybe they won’t come over here.

  3. Ben Wolf says:

    In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

  4. de stijl says:

    I remember when folks when folks Barack gave Michelle a “terrorist fist bump” and that somehow became a thing. And then Common of all people was castigated as some thug after he was invited to the Whitehouse. Common!

    The desire to Other amongst the Right is a strong impulse.

  5. mattbernius says:

    @Ben Wolf:
    Ahrent is definitely required reading these days (I also vote for “The Human Condition”).