It’s couched in fancy language, and he doesn’t mention Donald Trump by name, but President Obama’s message in a new piece written in The Economist is clear: Trump supporters are a bunch of racists descended from intolerant movements of the past.
In a column titled, arrogantly enough, “The Way Ahead,” Obama asserts the current moment “reflects any number of eras in which Americans were told they could restore past glory if they just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.” He adds, “We overcame those fears and we will again.”
The president wants to see himself as the Lincolnesque warrior making a stand against neo-racists who would secretly like nothing better than to reinstall Jim Crow.
What a stunning remark, dripping with contempt for the Americans whom he supposedly represents and who, in many cases, are suffering because of his policies.
Let’s start with the beginning of his phrase, in which he says, “Americans were told.” It’s the paternalism of a liberal speaking, and a particularly condescending one. Poor, stupid, gun and Bible-clinging Americans, who believe what they are told to think.
And look what they are receptive to, a message that they’d achieve “glory” if they could enact their racist fantasies by getting “some group or idea that was threatening America under control.”
Obama’s implication is obvious. Trump supporters are responding to the same call once issued by the leaders of the lynch mob, which got people “under control.”
Obama says that everywhere he goes, people — no intellectually advanced souls such as himself in America and overseas — constantly ask him why America “has suddenly developed a strain of anti-immigrant, anti-innovation protectionism.” Why, they want to know, “have some on the far left and even more on the far right embraced a crude populism that promises a return to a past that is not possible to restore — and that, for most Americans, never existed at all?”
That is, Trump’s legions dream of the good old days, when swarthy immigrants and African-Americans stayed in their places and white working folk clocked out of the factory and returned home to wives named Betty who served them and their 2.1 children roast chicken and potatoes before everyone gathered around the TV to watch Milton Berle.
Actually, what Americans are hoping for is an economy that grows by more than Obama’s 1.5 percent and some decent-paying jobs, instead of the globalization and welfare state expansion that is driving people out of the workforce, stunting wage growth, creating hopelessness, and helping feed an epidemic of heroin use.
But for Obama, the Trump movement is not about the pocketbook or concerns that, with unlimited immigration, a great culture may be changing too rapidly. For him, it’s about hatred of the unfamiliar.
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“Much of this discontent is driven by fears that are not fundamentally economic,” Obama pontificates, proceeding to delineate specific racist movements of which Trump supporters are simply the latest incarnation.
“The anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim, and anti-refugee sentiment expressed by some Americans today echoes nativist lurches of the past — the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Know-Nothings of the mid-1800s, the anti-Asian sentiment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” Obama writes.
Comparing Trump’s movement to the Know Nothing Party, a sometimes violently anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant movement that flourished briefly in the 1850s, is contemptible. Invoking late-19th century discrimination against the “yellow peril” of the immigrant Chinese is equally egregious. Obama is saying that Trump’s millions of backers are a bunch of rank bigots.
The president wants to see himself as the Lincolnesque warrior making a stand against neo-racists who would secretly like nothing better than to reinstall Jim Crow and boot everyone with a tanned or darker complexion out of the country.
But the movement behind Trump has legitimate, rational concerns that an immigration spigot that never closes introduces a foreign culture into America too quickly for assimilation to occur, threatening to adulterate — rather than slowly enhance — an American way of doing things that has succeeding brilliantly and made the entire world a better place.
Turning off the spigot is exactly what America did in the early 20th century, after millions immigrated from Central and Eastern Europe. For decades, immigration came to a halt as the country successfully absorbed alien cultures and fashioned them into a new, but not wholly changed, America.
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The person who actually has a “crude” understanding of social forces is Obama. Blinded by his instinct to vilify his enemies and consumed by the egotistical self-absorption that makes him need to understand himself as a Great Man fighting the forces of evil, Obama misunderstands the sentiment that has arisen in rebellion against his policies.
Trump’s voters are not “anti-immigrant” or “anti-Mexican.” They are against unlimited immigration, a substantial amount of it illegal.
They are not anti-refugee or anti-Muslim, but are concerned that we are allowing into this country too many people whose world outlook is hostile toward the United States and who may bring terrorists with them.
Americans who support Trump are not driven by hate. They are driven by love, the love of a nation and a culture they see slipping away under a president who doesn’t understand the country’s history and, worse, holds large swaths of it in contempt.
Keith Koffler is the editor of the website White House Dossier and the newsletter Cut to the News.