Menu

How Trump Uses Fear Of Immigrants To Stoke Civil War

Issue 249

Nicholas Powers Aug 8

In Minnesota, officers smashed a car window and dragged the undocumented worker out. The ICE raids to deport some 2,000 migrants had begun. Armed agents with dogs searched migrant neighborhoods. But activists gave out Know Your Rights leaflets hand to hand and on social media and people knew to keep doors closed.

They live in terror. It is easy to vanish in America. If you don’t have “papers.” If you have an accent. If you work off the books. Any day at your job, ICE can show up. Any morning, the door can be banged on by officers. Half asleep, you can be seized and in a quick dizzy blur, shoved across the border.

Terror is a political tool. The Trump Administration creates a domino effect by attacking undocumented migrants to send messages to other groups. The raids ease conservative white anxiety about losing their place in America by “purging” the nation. They also teach moderate citizens to obey their fear and look away. And Trump uses deportation rhetoric against Democrats of color to delegitimize elections. After the dominos fall, the Right can pick them up to build an impenetrable Fortress America.

The Race Whisperer

The Right’s terror began when Obama won. As we danced in the streets, Republicans bought guns. Some were afraid of new laws. Some were afraid black criminals would run wild like in Bush Sr.’s Willie Horton ad. Some thought the Democrats would let U.N. soldiers patrol America.

A wall — not a physical but a cultural one — had crashed down. Conservatives looked around and realized how diverse the United States was and shuddered. Political scientists have published a mountain of books and reports on white racial grievance. Take your pick from Cornell Belcher’s Black Man in the White House, American Carnage by Tim Alberta, Identity Crisis by John Sides, Michael Tesler and Lynn Vavreck or Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild. They traced the rising toxic brew of rage and fear that was suppressed during the Obama years by liberal triumphalism. No one gave it voice until that special man came along and put his brand on it.

“He says what I’m thinking,” said Susan Delemus, a fanatic Trump supporter, on CNN. He was her race whisperer. Saturday Night Live alum and talk show host, Seth Meyers said Trump isn’t telepathic but his need for approval gives him a hunting dog’s power to sniff out red meat for Red America. During rehearsal for a 2004 skit called “Trump’s House of Wings,” he called it dumb but the audience liked it so Trump danced and grinned. Meyers said, “When ‘Build the wall’ or ‘Lock her up’ became catchphrases, I realized, ‘Oh, that’s the same brain that was convinced that ‘Trump’s House of Wings’ was a winner […] the only thing is that the audience likes it.”

Trump is a bottom feeder of mass psychology. He effectively transferred Red State America’s terror of obsolescence into a revenge fantasy against Blue State America, even if it was the wealthy who they worship that betrayed them. So Trump says he’ll build a wall. His audiences love it. America’s breach would be sealed. Now Trump promises more walls to trap migrants and voters and Democrats in a state of terror. The dominos fall.

Distract & Conquer

A hand slowly peels the curtain back and scans the street. No agents. No dogs. No ICE trucks. The migrant worker opens the door and quickly, quietly goes to work.

The nationwide, large-scale ICE raids that Trump threatened in mid-July did not hit. Supposedly, plans were scaled back as Trump’s televised bragging tipped off his many undocumented targets. It was a smaller, slower rollout over the week and at the discretion of ICE field offices. The 2,000 immigrants targeted were spared for now but live in the shadow of ICE officers, who await their orders.

The walls close in with each new threat of mass deportation. It is not just migrants living in fear. Friends are afraid. Bosses and co-workers are afraid. Lovers and spouses are afraid. Children are afraid. Deportation sends terror through the web of relationships that hold neighborhoods together.

Was terror the goal in the first place? The lackluster follow-through calls into question the very reason for ICE raids. Presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said on ABC, “If you wanted to go after security risks […] why alert them and say you’re doing this on a Sunday and do it two weekends in a row? Why, because you want to make news, right? It’s not about having people who are security risks deported, it’s about scaring everyone in the country.”

Every ICE raid, threatened or real, goes beyond targeted migrants to make a surveillance state in our everyday lives seem normal. Border agents have set up checkpoints with in 100 miles of the border. And not just on the U.S.–Mexican border. ICE set up checkpoints in Maine and New Hampshire. ICE boarded Greyhound buses to search for migrants. ICE can search vehicles without a warrant. We see occasional cell videos of resistance but most travelers are intimidated and hand over their identification or just want to get on with their day.

Every time a citizen doesn’t question authority and gives their ID, they learn to fear the state. They are scared of getting detained and if black, of being shot. They learn not to ask questions. They may even get angry at migrants, believing that if they had followed the rules none of this inconvenience would exist.

Love it or Leave It

Every step of the way, people resist. In Nashville, Tenn., ICE surrounded an immigrant man and his son as they pulled into park. Panicked, he messaged activists and neighbors who came, circled his van, gave him food, water and gas so he could stay inside as ICE officers loomed. The stand-off lasted for hours. ICE left without an arrest.

With every domino that falls, activists and everyday people rush into the streets or go to the homes where migrants are threatened by Trump’s purge. They video. They interlock arms in a chain. They text and call and chant. They represent the majority of America that looks at the newcomer, the stranger, and sees themselves.

One of their neighbors, Felishadae Young came to help and later said, “It put a lot of fear in me, because it could be me, it could be my family. It could be anybody. It could be your neighbors, just like it was my neighbor today,” adding, “It changed a lot about how I feel about this country.”