Trump’s Nativism is a Threat to National Security

It has become clear that Trump and his enablers weren’t content to let their mocking of a sexual abuse survivor be their closing argument heading into the midterm elections. To that spectacle, they’ve added this one:

That was the president declaring himself to be a nationalist at a campaign rally for Ted Cruz in Texas on Monday night. In the context of all the lies and conspiracy theories he’s been spreading about the caravan of refugees headed for this country, it is clear that he’s not talking about the kind of patriotism that John Judis recently argued was the good side of nationalism.

Trump’s words in Texas reminded me of Steve Bannon’s call to wear these allegations of racism as a badge of honor.

This president is literally living out the dream that white nationalists like Steve Bannon have been working on for decades now. And it is finding a home with conservatives who have joined in the extremist hysteria.

As an example, Rod Dreher, the senior editor of The American Conservative, has written an article praising Steve Bannon’s favorite book, Camp of Saints, which I wrote about previously. Just as the book fictionalized a horde of invaders threatening Europe, Dreher insists on calling the refugees in this caravan “invaders” and poses questions like this:

What the book asks us today is: How far would we go to defend the sovereignty of our nations from invaders who want to cross our borders not with weapons to conquer, but nevertheless to settle here? If 5,000 armed guerrillas tried to cross the US-Mexico border, there’s no question how the government would respond. But if 5,000 migrants, including women and children, tried to do this, what then? Would a US president ever order troops to open fire — and if so, under what circumstances? When, if ever, would lethal force be morally justified against unarmed invaders?…

The raw logic of Raspail’s novel says that the only way to defend Western civilization from these invaders is to be willing to shed their blood. In the novel, only a few Westerners are willing to do that, and they fail. The rest collapse, spiritually and morally exhausted.

The book is a kind of alt-right pornography, and I found it frequently repulsive to read. Yet looking at that migrant caravan heading north, that “numberless disinherited people of the South” who like a tidal wave, are marching north toward our fortunate country’s wide-gaping frontier — it’s impossible not to think about Raspail’s ugly prophetic work.

That is the most alarming bit of propaganda I’ve read in a long time. It would have us forget that this entire country, other than Native Americans and slaves, was settled by “unarmed invaders” who were drawn to this “fortunate country’s wide-gaping frontier.” But due to Trump’s fear-mongering nationalism, this author is suggesting that we now have to contemplate whether or not we should be willing to shed their blood.

Dreher goes there because he recognizes that Trump’s policies with respect to our southern border aren’t working. He quotes this from an article in the Washington Post:

Trump is pushing for a more muscular response, and he favors sending more U.S. soldiers to the border. About 1,600 National Guard troops are deployed in four states after Trump ordered the move in the spring, according to Homeland Security officials.

But DHS officials say they need more legal and legislative firepower. The vast majority of Central American migrants who reach the border are turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents, claiming a fear of return and a desire to seek asylum. More National Guard troops and the border wall that Trump has proposed would be largely irrelevant, experts have said.

So I guess for Dreher, the only alternative is to take a page from the “prophetic” Camp of Saints and shoot them. He obviously struggles with that idea, but literally doesn’t seem able to contemplate any other solution.

For conservatives who idolize Ronald Reagan, they might recognize how extremist their position on immigration has become by taking a look at how their hero discussed immigrants from Mexico during his debate with George H.W. Bush back in 1980.

For Reagan, the issue of illegal immigration was funneled into the Cold War with the Soviet Union. He notes that high rates of unemployment in Mexico could send the country in the same direction as Cuba. Working with Mexico to maintain our alliance and avoid unrest in that country was therefore in our national security interests.

Trump is taking the opposite approach with his recent threats.

So we have a previous Republican icon who argued for working with our allies when it comes to immigration and a current president who is threatening not only the migrants themselves, but the countries they came from. He houses all of that in the language of nativism as if it was about taking care of our own country, when even Reagan recognized that unstable neighbors put us at risk.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.