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Monday, December 09, 2019

Reprinted with permission from

This week, President Donald J. Trump ended a long-standing program that had allowed several thousand Liberians to remain in the United States temporarily. They have one year to leave voluntarily or face deportation.

Thousands of Liberians fled their war-torn country for the U.S. in the 1990s; they were given temporary legal status by then-President Bill Clinton, and it was extended by George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Many have been here for decades, raised children here, started businesses and bought homes.

The president’s revocation of Liberians’ temporary legal status mirrors his actions toward thousands of immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan and Nicaragua; they were also given protected status in the U.S. because of dire conditions in their countries of origin but ordered to leave by the current president.

Trump is not ousting them because they are criminals or layabouts, leeching off the public treasury. He is pushing them out because they are immigrants of a darker hue, and he and his most loyal supporters don’t want them here.

In another move meant to discourage legal immigrants, the Trump administration plans to change federal rules on government assistance, according to published reports. If the changes are adopted, a legal worker may be denied permanent residency if he uses any federal support program, including the popular Earned Income Tax Credit.

By now, it should be clear that the president isn’t merely making good on his pledge to rid the country of dope dealers, gangbangers and drunk drivers who crossed the border illegally. He and his closest allies hold a deep-seated animosity even toward legal immigrants if they come from Africa or somewhere south of Florida.

American history is littered with tales of the discord that has followed waves of immigration. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Irish laborers fleeing the potato famine were treated with disdain and stereotyped as lazy, dirty and drunken. But their descendants were able to assimilate, eventually, because of their white skin. And U.S. immigration policies continued to favor those emigres coming from the continent of Europe, especially its northern and western countries.

But in 1965, Edward Kennedy, a young U.S. senator from Massachusetts, pushed through a law that would soon change the complexion of the country — quite literally. The Immigration and Nationality Act ended preferences for northern and western Europeans and dramatically reduced the limits that had been placed on immigration from Asia and Africa. Largely as a result of immigration, the U.S. is becoming browner; by 2040, according to demographic estimates, whites will no longer account for more than half the population.

That was bound to create anxiety in a substantial portion of the white population. The civil rights laws of the 1960s allowed black and brown Americans to vote, to attend neighborhood public schools and to eat in public restaurants. But those laws didn’t end the political or cultural hegemony enjoyed by whites, who are accustomed to representing the “real America” in movies, in magazines, in advertisements and, perhaps most important, in the Oval Office.

The election of Barack Obama was a startling wake-up call for many of them, a harbinger of the demographic changes just over the horizon. Hollywood and Madison Avenue, too, are signaling the inevitable changes in the way the country sees itself as movies and TV commercials frequently feature multiracial casts.

Trump’s election was a backlash to all that, the last gasp of a dying order. While many political prognosticators continue to insist that The Donald’s victory was due mostly to his economic outreach to a financially fragile white working class, political scientists have noted that many Trump supporters are on solid ground economically. They just wish to turn back the clock.

Trump’s introduction to the political stage as birther-in-chief was a signal to them that he was on their side. So was his presidential campaign, dismissive of Mexicans, disrespectful toward Muslims and patronizing toward black Americans. His base will remain loyal as long as he keeps up his hostility toward people of color.

Still, the tide has already turned; the nation’s face is already changing. Trump’s racist policies only serve to diminish us in the eyes of a multiracial world.


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