I know it’s been a hot summer, but the political rhetoric is getting bizarre. For instance, in Florida a candidate in a Republican house contest calls for the creation of internment camps for illegal aliens. We’d keep them until we had “enough to send back,” she said. I’m not quite sure how many is enough to send back, but her expensive proposal is just one of many incidents lately of Americans showing an antipathy to foreigners or things deemed different.
Last week I wrote about “ugly Islamophobia,” including the opposition by some to an Islamic cultural center a few blocks from 9-11’s “ground zero.” The so-called tea party movement and other “movements” on the right embrace a kind of “defend America” or “take back America” attitude that sees threats all around.
The most bizarre is Representative Louie Gohmert’s (R-Tx) claim that Arabs are disguising themselves as Mexicans, coming across the border, and dropping “terror babies” who will grow up and be able to pull off inside jobs against America. It’s a wondrous bit of propaganda because it ties into both anti-immigrant and anti-terror fears, while being able to say the evidence won’t be available for 20 years (these babies have to grow). But it’s so over the top that no one is taking it seriously, and the FBI calls the idea “ridiculous.” (Gohmert claims an FBI agent told him this was a threat, but he wants to be kept anonymous.)
This claim comes just as some called for revoking the part of the 14th amendment that guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the US. Claiming that Mexicans want to use “anchor babies” as a way into the US, they claim that we won’t stop the streaming “horde” of illegals unless we alter our constitution. Just as more reasonable voices in the GOP started to push back against the suggestion, recognizing at the very least that politically such an amendment is DOA and would unleash a debate that would guarantee Hispanic support for Democrats for decades, Gohmert tied it in with terrorism.
Here’s the plot: Arabs will go to Mexico and blend in because they’re also dark skinned. However, while all dark skinned people may look alike to some whites in the US, Mexicans can tell the difference between Mexicans and Arabs. Then supposedly these Arabs will master Spanish and fit right in, heading to the US to do heinous deeds. While no doubt al qaeda types could sneak across borders (some of the 9-11 perpetrators crossed from Canada), the idea large numbers could embed themselves in Mexican society is pretty outlandish.
For Gohmert, though, that’s only the start. Then they’ll have babies in the US who will be raised as apparently Mexican-American. That will mean, of course, they’ll attend school, participate in social life, and enjoy the fronts of being raised in a free, prosperous country. Yet at age 17 when their masters tell them to destroy the Sears Tower in Chicago, they’ll dutifully obey because, well, 17 year olds always do as they’re told. I suspect most 17 year olds would say, “look, dad, terrorism is your bag, you go blow it up, I’ve got a hot date tonight.”
In Colorado a former Republican running for governor as an independent because the GOP is too “soft” on immigration once said if there is another terror act we should “bomb Mecca.” Tancredo’s logic illustrates the core fault in this xenophobic surge. The idea that these people are fundamentally different than us is just wrong. Humans are humans. There are cultural, religious, and physical differences. But there is nothing essentially bad about a Muslim (indeed, most of the 1.5 billion lead virtuous lives) or an Arab.
Many who want to “make the border secure” (but at what cost?) argue that they simply want to stop illegal activity, and that securing the border is essential to a country’s stability. They have a point. Illegal immigration is not a good thing. And many who are concerned are doing so with no dislike of Mexicans; many Mexican immigrants here legally worry that illegal immigration is hurting both the US and their status. Yet the rhetoric employed by people like Gohmert, Palin, and Gingrich goes for the gut, not the head. The natives are restless, they sense, and afraid.
The economy is in the dumps, there is a black President with a strange name, and the America of the 1980s seems to have morphed into a strange place, where gays marry, we’re dependent on China to fund our debt, and demographic change means that the standard white American family will soon be a numerical minority (albeit one with most of the wealth and power). Add to that the fact that middle class whites have seen their status and wealth go down in very real terms. Across the board the middle class has suffered in the last thirty years as wealth has expanded at the upper levels. Those at the top play a nice game of distraction, “it’s those poor people taking welfare that take your tax dollars, we’re just investing and creating jobs.”
So when firebrands say all mosques are potential terror grounds and Muslims thus do not have first amendment rights (the guy who said that is sponsoring an event which will be attended by Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin), babies are called dehumanizing terms like “anchors” and bizarre terror plots involving babies designed to turn into monsters after being welcomed in our midsts, this emotive rhetoric lands on fertile ground among some parts of the population.
Yet for all the hype and hollering, this will fade. Demographically it’s mostly older whites who support such groups, and it’s a minority of those. The country is changing; even with the economic doldrums, this is a country which elected Barack Hussein Obama, has seen a steady increase in support for gay marriage, and retains a strong belief in the constitution. The Republicans who sense danger in embracing these firebrands are right — this is a group acting out of fear against change they can’t hold back. Ultimately, the GOP can no more be seen with these reactionaries than Democrats want to be seen with socialist activists. In fact, Republican gains in the 2010 election are likely to be smaller because of such movements — if the GOP put forth a pragmatic, rational, alternative without demonizing the left, they’d win big. The public wants cooperation and problem solving, not zealotry.
Perhaps Gohmert’s bizarre theory represents the point in which the xenophobes went too far, and we’ll move towards a compromise between those really concerned primarily about the importance of border protection and controlling immigration and those wanting a system that humanely deals with the millions lured over here with a wink and nod when we needed the labor. The natives may be restless, hopefully most of us are not stupid.