This is a terrifying time in American history. While the US has always been an imperial power that has thrived on land theft and slavery domestically and exploitation and plunder globally, the general (white) population views it as a country that has historically been put upon. According to this view, the US is a shining city on a hill that is constantly under attack internally from subversive elements posing as social reformers and externally from multilateral institutions and NGOs posing as peace makers. The reality is that both of these internal and external “enemies” have generally been utterly benign or even helpful to the US imperial project. Many domestic social reformers have been utterly co-opted by elements of the US ruling class such as George Soros’ Open Society Institute and numerous other multi-billion dollar foundations. Internationally, the UN has served to legitimize US imperialism from the Korean War to the Persian Gulf War.
In the US, the chauvinist white right does not see it this way. Their perception of the US and the world it resides in is almost the polar opposite of reality. For example, the IMF has sometimes been viewed by this crowd as a project of international do-gooders which sends hard earned US tax dollars to hostile Third World nations, sometimes as part of a shadowy scheme to enact global socialism. The reality of the IMF’s role in impoverishing the Third World and enriching the First World through extortionate debt policies and neo-liberal structural adjustment is never acknowledged. So it is today, that American oligarch and presidential candidate Donald Trump derides NAFTA as a kind of handout to Mexicom rather than the exploitative arrangement between the ruling classes of the US and Mexico that it is.
Let us be perfectly clear about this: Trump does not give a fig about combating the worst ravages of neo-liberal globalism. He is a First World chauvinist who wants us to scapegoat NAFTA’s refugees rather than NAFTA itself. His popularity is a testament to the power of both liberal propaganda portraying the US as a benevolent force in the world and right-wing hate-mongering. The American right’s position is that the US should say “no more Mr. Nice Guy” and embrace ultra-nationalism without apology. Trump also views the Iraq War as a mistake, but mostly because we did not overtly seize its oilm.
The view is that everything would be much better if the US would stop being so damn generous. Obviously, this takes liberal assumptions about the US being generous at face value. This is why liberals share some of the blame for the rise of Trump and his brand of nationalism. They have helped to create a false narrative in which America only wants what’s best for the world and only creates suffering through unintentional blunders (usually only when a Republican is in office).
Let us take a look at Trump’s immigration proposalm (if it can even be called that). He calls on Mexico to pay for a massive barrier on its border with the US to stop the flow of unauthorized immigrants. This willingly ignores the fact that Mexico is already doing a lot of the heavy-lifting in stopping the flow of desperate refugees northwardsm, at great cost to itself and the humanitarian needs of those it detains. It also assumes that Obama has been willingly slacking off on detaining and deporting immigrants, which on its face is totally laughable.
Perhaps even more ominously, Trump calls for an end to birthright citizenship. Put together with his recent statementm that all undocumented immigrants and their (potentially US-born) children “have to go,” one can reasonably describe Trump’s proposal as an incitement to ethnic cleansing. Deporting all undocumented immigrants is bad enough. Americans don’t realize that many of them came to the US under desperate circumstances created by US imperialism and have endured massive amounts of exploitation and mistreatment as a direct result of their undocumented status. Many of them contributed greatly to America’s wealth and at the very least deserve a path to citizenship if not some form of reparation for underpaid wages. US policies towards Mexico and Central America are at the root of much of the unauthorized immigration into the US so it clearly has a moral responsibility to take into account the well-being the refugees it created.
Trump’s policies go even further than this. It would lead to a scenario in which people who were born in America and worked and lived in America for their entire existence would face detention and deportation. There is a clear example of this type of policy in the Dominican Republic at this very moment. In the DR, a 2013 court ruling “denied children of Haitian migrants their birth certificates, identity documents, and stripped them of their nationalitym.” Over the past couple months, the DR has engaged in a massive campaign of deportationsm of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent which has resulted in a predictable humanitarian crisism. Some US commentators have labeled this (correctly) a form of ethnic cleansingm. If the US were to start detaining and deporting US-born residents as “illegal immigrants” on a massive scale similar to what the DR is doing right now, or what the US itself did in the 1950sm, it should also be described as ethnic cleansing. What other phrase would be more accurate?
I’m sure some will tell me that using a phrase associated with some of the worst crimes against humanity in history to describe a “mere immigration enforcement” operation is beyond the pale. But what is actually beyond the pale is that Trump’s proposal for ethnic cleansing is so popular among the US population. It is an abomination that 6,000 human beings have suffered agonizing deaths while attempting to get into the US over the past two decades. Compounding this injury is the insult that the US is perceived as “coddling” undocumented immigrants when the opposite is the truth. A liberal reluctance to describe the Vietnam War as a campaign of mass murderm has opened space for right-wing revisionists to proclaim that the US military was too “soft” in that war and that the rules of engagement somehow hampered an easy victory. Let us not have the same hesitation. Ethnic cleansing is not a matter of “reasonable policy debate,” it is a war crime and should be discussed as such.