border wall
Credit: Tomas Castelazo/Wikimedia Commons

When Donald Trump said that there were “good people on both sides” of the clash over white supremacy in Charlottesville, I suggested that he had crossed a line—the one dividing covert and overt white supremacy.

The majority of white people in this country are prepared to condemn overt white supremacy, but they’re not so sure when it manifests in more covert forms. With the family separation policy being administered by the Trump administration, a pattern is emerging in the more overt forms of racism we are witnessing. Chris Hayes called it a “throughline.”

Rather than assume that the public reaction to the latest outrage about what is happening on our southern border creates a problem for this administration, Nancy Cook reports that they’re just getting started.

Top aides to President Donald Trump are planning additional crackdowns on immigration before the November midterms, despite a growing backlash over the administration’s move to separate migrant children from parents at the border.

Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and a team of officials from the departments of Justice, Labor, Homeland Security and the Office of Management and Budget have been quietly meeting for months to find ways to use executive authority and under-the-radar rule changes to strengthen hard-line U.S. immigration policies, according to interviews with half a dozen current and former administration officials and Republicans close to the White House.

In other words, Stephen Miller and his boss actually think that this is a winning strategy for the administration. McKay Coppins explains that this is basically how Miller operates.

A seasoned conservative troll, Miller told me during our interview that he has often found value in generating what he calls “constructive controversy—with the purpose of enlightenment.” This belief traces back to the snowflake-melting and lib-triggering of his youth. As a conservative teen growing up in Santa Monica, he wrote op-eds comparing his liberal classmates to terrorists and musing that Osama bin Laden would fit in at his high school. In college, he coordinated an “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.” These efforts were not calibrated for persuasion; they were designed to agitate. And now that he’s in the White House, he is deploying similar tactics.

Matthew Yglesias took exception to that characterization of Miller.

I happen to think they’re both right: Miller is a hardcore racist who thinks that agitating the public by implementing racist policies is a winning formula. We heard this kind of thing pretty regularly from Steve Bannon, who said this to Robert Kuttner:

“The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

The primary way to make sense of that kind of thinking is to keep in mind that, in order to be a hardcore racist, you must also be completely devoid of empathy. Since people like Miller, Bannon and Trump have no ability to sense what other people are feeling, they simply project their own emotional processes onto other white people. They think that the majority of Americans are angry, hateful racists who don’t speak up because of political correctness.

The problem is that they’re not completely wrong about that. While the majority of Americans aren’t hardcore racists who consciously hate people of color, there are an awful lot of white people (almost all of us) that have been imbued with a feeling of discomfort about race, combined with a fear about “others” and an ignorance about how the world looks from the eyes of people of color. In other words, our covert white supremacy leads us to be complicit in doing/saying racist things.

That is what the hardcore racists in this administration want to operationalize via agitation. Rather than defend their own inhumane policies, take a look at some of the ways Miller and Trump have framed the issues. Here is Miller talking to the New York Times about the family separation policy:

You have one party that’s in favor of open borders, and you have one party that wants to secure the border. And all day long the American people are going to side with the party that wants to secure the border. And not by a little bit. Not 55–45. 60–40. 70–30. 80–20. I’m talking 90–10 on that.

Here’s what the president tweeted this morning:

If they can tap into the fear of immigrants, while suggesting that those who oppose their inhumane policies are really in favor of open borders and don’t care about crime, they think they’ve found a winning formula. That is why they lie about immigrants constantly. Fear is the ticket that triggers a racist response.

I’m not saying that these tactics will work, but I’m not ready to write them off completely. That’s why it is important to keep getting the facts out there. In their blind racism, Trump and Miller have once again stepped over the line because it is hard to paint infants and toddlers who crossed the border with their parents as somehow dangerous. They’d rather tell us lies about MS-13 and how immigrants are pouring in to “infest” our country, just as Hitler lied about an infestation of Jews.

What I’m describing is the Trump plan the midterm elections, and all of the Trump wannabes are sure to follow suit. In other words, we’re about to learn whether white supremacy is a winning formula for political success in this country. Let’s not make the same mistake we did in 2016 and confuse the issue. We need to be very clear about what is on the ballot this November.

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