The Anti Immigration Playbook and the Conflation Game

There are two paragraphs from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website which are becoming more relevant by the day, perhaps by the hour:

One crucial factor in creating a cohesive group is to define who is excluded from membership. Nazi propagandists contributed to the regime’s policies by publicly identifying groups for exclusion, inciting hatred or cultivating indifference, and justifying their pariah status to the populace. Nazi propaganda played a crucial role in selling the myth of the “national community” to Germans who longed for unity, national pride and greatness, and a break with the rigid social stratification of the past.

But a second, more sinister aspect of the Nazi myth was that not all Germans were welcome in the new community. Propaganda helped to define who would be excluded from the new society and justified measures against the “outsiders”: Jews, Sinti and Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, political dissidents, and Germans viewed as genetically inferior and harmful to “national health” (people with mental illness and intellectual or physical disabilities, epileptics, congenitally deaf and blind persons, chronic alcoholics, drug users, and others).

Let’s take a look at the first paragraph a bit more closely.  The current administration is out to create a “cohesive group” more commonly called “the Base.”  Additionally there are groups to be excluded.  Specifically, immigrants from south and central America and African Americans are rhetorically placed outside the categorization of ‘real Americans.’   In the shorter version — they aren’t white.

Greg Sargent’s analysis nails it:

“Whether he’s talking about Latino immigrants or kneeling African American football players, President Trump has a consistent way of disguising his racism, bigotry and dehumanization while dog-whistling it out to those voters who he believes may thrill to it.

The game is always that Trump fluidly conflates one set of individuals who constitute a less sympathetic target — one he ostensibly goes after, and one that is harder to defend — with the broader group he’s actually trying to belittle or dehumanize but cannot do so overtly.”

And there’s one more point from Sargent’s analysis which should be highlighted:

Dehumanizing rhetoric works in exactly this way: It slaps the dehumanizing slur on the least sympathetic subgroup and then conflates that subgroup with the larger group that is the real target, then piously feigns innocence of any intention to tag the slur on the larger group. The dead giveaway here, as Sanchez also noted, is that this is a selectively applied technique: When Trump attacks criminals who don’t belong to the out-group he’s scapegoating, no such conflation is in evidence.

Trump has given his game away. If it is acceptable to play the Conflation Game then the foundation is laid for policies that separate asylum seeking parents from their children, for yawns and diversions when the subject is raised about some 1500 missing children separated from their parents, for using DACA recipients as bargaining pawn to build an unnecessary and outrageously expensive “wall.”  It’s acceptable because these human beings are “animals.”  Or, as the Nazi’s said of the Jews some 80 years ago, they’re “vermin.”

Now, Democrats aren’t real Americans because “they are protecting the MS 13 thugs” [cnn] — the conflation expands.  The immigrants are conflated with the worst subset of the entire group, and supporters of the vast majority of the group are conflated with the worst subset of the initial group.  It’s a semantic game of smear and divide.  Worse still, it is entirely intentional, and it is entirely exclusionist.

How easy it is to expand this classification of those to be excluded from Trump’s “cohesive group,”  from brown skinned immigrants. to African Americans, to Democrats, to members of the LBGTQ community, to those with serious congenital issues, to labor union activists, to political activists, to … anyone Dear Leader perceives as a threat to his “cohesive group?”

So we move from paragraph one in which the “cohesive group” is defined and division is incited to paragraph two from the Holocaust Memorial in which the “cohesive group” is refined and more groups are excluded.  It’s seamless, it’s intentional, and it’s predicated on syllogistic idiocy:  MS 13 members are immigrants; MS 13 members are criminals; therefore all immigrants are criminals.   I could as easily argue: Donald Trump has (allegedly) hair on his head. Squirrels have hair on their heads (although they don’t need the elaborate comb-over.) Therefore, Donald J. Trump is a squirrel.

In the real world the US is a nation of immigrants.  If it isn’t let’s be done with the St. Patrick’s Day festivities and all those fun Oktoberfest events with the good craft beer.  Let’s do without the joys of Polish and Greek weddings.  Let’s do without the Cinco de Mayo parties. Let’s do without the bagels and lox from the Kosher delis? (I’ll take on anyone to stay in range of a good deli!)  Let’s do without the Chinese New Year celebrations; fireworks, dancers, dragons, and the cute little kids marching?  Let’s do without the African American inspired jazz from New Orleans?  We could be done with all the “non-core-group” items appropriated, revised, re-formed, and remade into American culture — and we could render ourselves into one great giant crashing bore.

In the real world we have benefited from the efforts of immigrants, from the intellectual genius of Albert Einstein to the anonymous farm laborer in Florida.  From the entrepreneurial Google founder Sergey Brin to the anonymous hotel housekeeper in Las Vegas.  We could do without them, I suppose, but we wouldn’t be nearly as prosperous and inventive as we are with them.

It’s time to remember the real Reagan, the President Ronald Reagan who said farewell to his time in office with a speech including the following bits of wisdom:

I’ve been thinking a bit at that window. I’ve been reflecting on what the past 8 years have meant and mean. And the image that comes to mind like a refrain is a nautical one—a small story about a big ship, and a refugee, and a sailor. It was back in the early eighties, at the height of the boat people. And the sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway, which was patrolling the South China Sea. The sailor, like most American servicemen, was young, smart, and fiercely observant. The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat. And crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America. The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship and safety. As the refugees made their way through the choppy seas, one spied the sailor on deck, and stood up, and called out to him. He yelled, “Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man.”

And then there’s the more famous portion of it:

I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.

And as we should always continue to see it.

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