Sunday, 12 March 2017

Trump’s Ideologues 3: Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller on Immigration

Trump’s Ideologues 3:  Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller on Immigration
Stephen K. Bannon is acknowledged as the chief ideologue in Trump’s inner circle even if, as FiveThirtyEight has detailed, there maybe as many as eight potential power centres within the Trump administration and they all have different perspectives and (in part competing) agendas.  But as his chief advisor (and, significantly, an outsider to the Washington establishment) Bannon is the most important of the ideologues at this moment.  His young and aggressive protégé, Stephen Miller, is also an ideologue, but Miller’s views parallel Bannon’s so it makes sense to look at them together.  (To put another way familiar to historians: If Bannon were Robiespierre then Miller would be St. Just.) 
Looking at his overall worldview, it is apparent that Bannon seeks to influence Trump under four broad headings: restricting immigration, Islamaphobia, economic nationalism, and the destruction of the political establishment.  Although all four headings are related in Bannon and Miller’s worldview, I’ll be devoting a separate blog post to each heading, ending with how they all fit together.  This first post will set out the place of restricting immigration to the United States since this has been a priority acted on during Trump’s first 50 days.
 Their shared vision on immigration was evident in Trump’s Inaugural Address, which as The Wall Street Journal detailed, Bannon and Miller principally wrote.  It was a singularly dark view of “American carnage” with cities wracked by “the crime and the gangs and the drugs,” the economy ravaged by the offshoring of jobs, and borders overrun by foreigners.  As was pointed out by numerous commentators at the time, in actual fact violent crime has been significantly declining for 25 years (and even with a small rise in 2015 they are still below those of the early1990s); the number of undocumented immigrants has fallen slightly in the last decade, and these newcomers are less likely to commit violent crimes than people who were born here.  And evidence from labor economists indicates immigration continues to boost American productivity and does not work to significantly diminish wages.
But portraying America as in some kind of dystopian death spiral provides a justification for the kind of policies that will advance Bannon and Miller’s agenda. And it wasn’t just talk.  The first-week executive order was presented as an emergency measure needed to protect the country from terrorists, but actually ended up barring immigrants coming here to visit, study or work from seven countries (now, in the re-issued order, from six countries) that have not been a source of terrorist attacks in the United States since Sept. 11.  Another order refers to immigrants who “pose a risk to public safety” and then makes millions of the undocumented people in the country a priority for deportation.  A further order created the new VOICE program which insidiously (and against the prevailing evidence) sets out to further demonize immigrants by suggesting that high crime rates are somehow connected to immigration rates.  Finally, despite its ridiculous cost (the $25+ billion that will have to be cut from other, useful, programs), the contracts for the proposed border wall is now being tendered, with or (as seems certain) without Mexico paying for it.  The wall’s symbolism is far more important than its value as a real barrier or deterrent to illegal border crossing: it signifies a promise kept to Trump’s base of a future of hardened borders and much tighter immigration controls.

 Bannon and Miller (and their close ally on immigration issues, Attorney General Jeff Sessions) have thus been quick off the mark to move on their immigration views.  What are the bases of their collective vision, and what are their ultimate goals?
On the surface, the immigration issue for Bannon and Miller (and Sessions) seems to be about reviving the economy and protecting “American” jobs.  But their views are far more radical than just eliminating illegal immigration and deporting the undocumented.  In March 2016, as reported in the Washington Post, Bannon and Miller discussed the immigration issue on SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Daily.  The crux of their conversation wasn’t illegal immigration but rather that legal immigration had “overwhelmed the country”.  The two recent drivers of this legal immigration had been the “oligarchs” of Silicon Valley and the Washington elite.  
On the radio program Bannon derided the use of the H-1B work visa, which he claimed, had resulted in a squeezing out of the native-born American from all the good tech jobs in the US.  Moreover, the children of these immigrants (and other foreigners) were now robbing “Americans” of the best jobs, aided and abetted by Washington’s educational policies (like the emphasis on STEM – Science, technology, engineering and math): “And now you got all the engineering schools full of people from South Asia and East Asia.  And it’s not that I have any problem with those folks learning, but they are coming here to take these jobs.”  Bannon then referenced a report from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) indicating that 20% of the current US population were immigrants, exclaiming “is that not a massive problem?... Is that not the beating heart of this problem?”  (Here is an excellent, well-researched article on the eugenicist origins and racist goals of the CIS, a far-right institute that has churned-out doctored “studies” that portray an America under siege from immigrants).
In response to these questions Miller provided a dubious history of American immigration patterns, asserting that “immigration is supposed to be interrupted with periods of assimilation and integration” as seen in the decline in total number of immigrants after 1920.  But, he continued, “from 1970 to today the foreign-born population has quadrupled, more than quadrupled, from less than 10 million to more than 40 million plus the kids that are from the CIS report.”  Bannon’s response to this was “It’s scary. It’s scary.”

Regardless of the accuracy of the numbers (all taken from CIS), it needs to be pointed out that the reason for the decline in immigration numbers after 1920 was due to overtly racist restrictions imposed by nativist sentiments flowing through in the US government in the interwar years.  But Bannon no doubt sees in the supposed cyclical pattern of immigrant entry and assimilation as supporting a larger cyclical view of American history that he also holds (more on that in a future post).  But the main take-away from this exchange should be that large-scale immigration itself is seen by Bannon and Miller as “scary”.  As I detailed in the case of Michael Anton it is the demographic shift caused by recent immigration that is the “crisis” – a political crisis for Anton’s racism; a “civilizational” crisis for Bannon and Miller’s brand of racism.

This is because for Bannon and Miller it is the origin of the recent wave of immigrants, that is predominantly non-European, that is most problematic.  And although Bannon (former head of Breitbart that he is) resolutely denies he is a white supremacist or a white nationalist, his own statements and the documentary film projects he has written and produced (if not always brought to the screen – see the next blog post on his Islamaphobia for a discussion of these) belies such assertions.

In October 2015 he referred to the movement of Syrian refugees as “almost a Camp of the Saints-type invasion into Central and then Western and Northern Europe.”
In January 2016 he termed the West’s immigration issues as “this kind of global Camp of the Saints.”  And he said later that January: “It’s really an invasion. I call it the Camp of the Saints.”
“When we first started talking about this a year ago,” he said in April 2016, “we called it the Camp of the Saints. ... I mean, this is Camp of the Saints, isn’t it?”

So, what are all these references to the Camp of the Saints?

The Camp of the Saints is a 1973 novel by French author Jean Raspail.  As is well detailed by Paul Blumenthal and JM Rieger the book is a cult favourite among the far right.  It is a racist screed that has been frequently re-published by far-right groups in the US. 
The Camp of the Saints explores the consequences of allowing the landing in France of 800,000 Indians in a makeshift armada, characterized by Raspail as a plague.  Europe’s politicians and religious leaders, including a liberal pope from Latin America, debate amongst themselves about what to do about the impending arrival, while the rest of the non-white population around the world wait, ready to help overthrow white Western society. The French government decides to repel the armada by force, but the soldiers battle among themselves as the Indians stream on shore, overwhelming and killing the left-wing radicals there to welcome them.  The poor people of the earth then literally overrun Western civilization.  Chinese people engulf Russia; the heir to the British throne is made to marry a Pakistani; African-Americans force themselves into the power centres of American life.  Only the white characters in the book are truly depicted as human, the non-white peoples are viciously depicted through collective racial stereotypes.  Ultimately, the novel portrays the white Christian world on the brink of destruction, because non-white people are more fertile and more numerous and because the West has lost its sense of its own cultural and racial superiority.  
Breitbart has run many articles referencing the novel.  When, in September 2015, Pope Francis suggested to a joint session of Congress that the U.S. should admit more refugees, Breitbart’s Julia Hahn now an aide to Bannon in the White House, directly compared Francis’s call to Raspail’s liberal Latin American pope.  And Bannon also referenced the novel when he said in April 2016 that the Syrian refugee crisis “didn’t just happen by happenstance.  These are not war refugees.  It’s something much more insidious going on.”
The connection between this general disdain for non-white immigration by Bannon (and Miller) and their more specific Islamaphobia will the be topic of the next “Trump’s ideologues” post. 

Update:  New York Times on Republican representative Steve King and his similar comments on the problems of immigration.