Last year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services dropped the phrase “nation of immigrants” from its mission statement. That phrase, like most foundational myths and more than some, obscures much of the country’s history: the first immigrants would more accurately be described as settler colonialists, who brought Africans here as slaves. But this was not why the Trump Administration deleted the phrase. Trump has retired the myth of America as a nation of immigrants because he staked his election campaign and his legitimacy as president on the demonization of immigrants—and on mobilizing Americans for a war against immigrants.
Trump’s American story is the story of struggle, “the epic tale of a great nation whose people have risked everything for what they know is right,” as he said in the address. Over the course of forty-seven minutes, Trump enumerated American military conquests and the branches of the U.S. armed forces. A quick listing of civilian achievement—medical discoveries, cultural accomplishments, civil-rights advancements, and space exploration—was thrown in at the beginning of the speech, but the master narrative Trump proposed was one of wars and victories, punctuated by the roar of airplane engines for flyovers and the songs of each armed-forces branch.
The narrative was also one of fear. Trump spoke like the leader of a country under siege. The President and the people who joined him onstage were in a fortress of their own, a clear protective enclosure that, streaked with rain, made for an incongruously melancholy sight, as though we were watching them through a veil of tears.
Trump extolled the strength and battle-readiness of American troops but named no current threat. He promised only to strike fear into the hearts of America’s enemies. But his audience knows who the enemy is. North Korea or China may go from enemy to partner to friend on a whim, but there is one enemy whom Trump has consistently, obsessively described as an existential threat: the immigrant. [Continue reading…]