Last year I posted about the new anti-immigration rhetoric. Unlike the rantings of a Donald Trump or Nigel Farage, the new anti-immigration is more insidious and possibly more dangerous because it masquerades as serious intellectual discourse. People swayed by explicit racism or xenophobia are usually complicit in their ignorance and shoddy thinking. Little can be done to persuade them as they are not interested in reflecting on information that might make them change their mind.
In contrast, the new anti-immigration rhetoric hides under a veneer of respectability to lend respectability to the anti-immigration crowd. It is a particularly poisonous influence because it is packaged as a serious source of political discourse rather than a source of anti-immigration propaganda. Just as far right politicians have succeeded in shifting the immigration debate so that mainstream parties have come to adopt restrictionist, coercive policy, the appearance of politely disguised extremist views in mainstream publications helps make policies that a decade ago not worth printing viable alternatives.
Rich Lowry’s opinion piece Heed Trump’s Warning in Politico yesterday is a case in point. It begins by acknowledging that Trump’s speech is inflammatory and that his remarks on the Orlando killing have been widely condemned. He mentions “countless” articles have been written about how United States’ has integrated its Muslim population. (Here’s The Economist and The Nation. Also see the article on Middle Eastern and North African immigrants in the United States at the Migration Policy Institute.)
Nonetheless, Lowry holds that Trump has a point: “The bottom line is that the only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here. That is a fact, and it’s a fact we need to talk about.” This non sequitur reduces terrorism to an immigration issue.
He goes on to insist that we must not allow political correctness to prevent us from taking exclusion seriously: “The immigration debate is so encrusted with clichés, unexamined pieties and politically correct virtue-signaling that any suggestion that we reduce the number or the composition of the current immigrant flow is taken as an attempt to kneecap the Statue of Liberty.”
Against the claim that Muslims have been integrated, Lowry stresses that an immigrant and second generation immigrants in the United States have “repeatedly” perpetrated mass killings (he mentions three instances and makes no attempt to situate these mass killings in the larger pattern of mass killings and gun violence in the United States). He goes on to speculate that these killings are less frequent in the US than in France because there are more Muslims in France. He also warns that the Somali community in Minneapolis is “a rich recruiting ground for Islamic extremists of all types,” suggesting that more mass killings will occur.
The upshot is that we should heed Trump’s warning about allowing another million or so Muslim immigrants over the next decade. On Lowry’s view, asking whether this is a good idea is not racist and should not be “out of bounds”.
Here he takes a line from the anti-immigrationCenter for Immigration Studies in claiming that it is not racist to advocate reducing the percentage of foreign born population in the United States. (Notice that here he slips from excluding Muslims to excluding foreign born people more generally.) Immigration policy should serve “our values and interests”. (The word “we” or “our” is always a dangerous one in these debates: readers should ask who “we” are. Lowry implies that the diverse population of approximately 3.3 million Muslims in the United States is not included.)
Though Lowry admits Trump’s plan to exclude all Muslims is “inflammatory” and “unworkable,” he endorses Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies’ “more sensible course”. Krikorian advocates imposing a “Cold War-era ideological test for new arrivals, geared to the new struggle against radical Islam.” New arrivals would be quizzed on their views about “killing religious converts or homosexuals” to “send a signal about what constitutes a lowest-common denominator of American civic life.”
Lowry ends with some more general anti-immigration policies endorsed by the Center for Immigration Studies: reducing overall legal immigration, less family unification, fewer refugees so that there are fewer “low-skilled” immigrants in the United States. Notice that the discussion of these proposals is utterly irrelevant to the larger topic of the article. The anti-Muslim plank of Trump’s platform merges with the larger anti-immigrant stance of his campaign.
Here are some of Lowry’s most obvious rhetorical moves. First, he denies that he endorses Trump’s more ludicrous views, but nonetheless salvages the spirit of them by claiming that they contain a kernel of truth. Second, he lambasts “political correctness” in preventing people from considering this kernel of truth – people who thinking they should be taken off the table as racist or dangerous are simply succumbing to their biases. Third, he selectively presents limited evidence to suggest grave consequences supposed tied to the presence of immigrants and their children.
These moves allow him to confuse readers who have not thought carefully about the topic and to present himself as a reasonable commentator, rather than an advocate of what should be considered extremist views.
We need defense mechanisms to help determine when someone is in fact advancing a controversial position that should be answered with arguments and when someone is advancing an anti-immigration political agenda. Here are ways of identifying the new anti-immigration rhetoric.
- The author conflates a huge group with individuals or a faction within the group (e.g., in Lowry’s case, making the actions of a couple of individuals representative of Muslims more generally).
- The author conflates migration with larger problems not specifically related to immigration (e.g., in Lowry’s case, making gun violence an immigration issue).
- No reference to actual other points of view except to dismiss them without argument or to tar them by condemning them as “politically correct” refusals to talk about uncomfortable truths.
- The insistence that “my views are not a racist, but…