Reflections on a Xenophobic Speech

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Anticipating and sitting through President Trump’s address to Congress last night was arduous, to say the least.  There are so many things that can be said about the speech, not the least being how many inaccuracies were mouthed by Trump.  I wish that I could say that was the most disturbing part, but it was not.

Trump’s speech was the most xenophobic speech by a US President that I can remember.  If you took him seriously, barbarians are approaching the gates and it is everyone for themselves.  I actually wish that we could afford to make fun of him and his rhetoric, but there was a deadly seriousness to what was offered.

It was not just that Trump went after immigrants from the global South as the alleged sources of crime.  Nor was it that he reiterated the misinformation that terrorism in the USA is mainly perpetrated by people coming from outside of the USA.  It was the cynical manipulation of the relationship of African Americans and immigrants from the global South that really caught my attention.

First things first.  At no point did Trump mention the Russian mafia.  This is remarkable because they constitute the most feared criminal organization in the USA, an organization that has carried out multiple killings in the USA.  In listening to Trump one would have the impression that crime originates south of the Rio Grande.  It is also remarkable because crime carried out by immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, does not constitute the major source of crime and violence in the USA.

A second point is that President Trump is a bit fast and loose when it comes to discussing terrorism.  The major source of terrorism in the USA since 11 September 2001 has been right-wing, white supremacist individuals and organization rather than Muslim terrorists.  To this we must add that most acts of terror carried out by Muslim terrorists have been the acts of individuals legally in the USA.

Now, however, let’s get to the cynicism.  Trump nuanced the xenophobia through playing up the alleged threat that immigrants from the global South constitute for African Americans.  It was no accident that Trump used examples of alleged criminal activities by immigrants against African Americans.

Just as the Trump administration is working overtime to split up organized labor, last night evidence was displayed of an effort to create a wedge between African Americans and immigrants from the global South, suggesting that such immigrants are our competitors as well as being a threat to our very existence.  This was smooth and well-choreographed, but clearly something that flies in the face of facts and, as such, was quite demagogic.

Immigrants are not closing down factories and other workplaces.  They are not the major sources of crime and violence in African American communities.  The immigrants that Trump wishes us to focus upon are those from the global South, many of who are coming to these shores as a direct result of the economic, political and military policies (and actions) of the USA.  This contrasts with why East Europeans, for instance, would come here.  And the fact that Trump never seems to get around to mentioning European immigrants is not representative of a memory lapse, but rather a calculated effort to focus the attention of non-immigrants on immigrants from the global South as our alleged enemies rather than focusing on the multi-national corporations and the capitalists who run them.

Hopefully we are not foolish enough to be played.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the former President of TransAfrica Forum.  Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com