After White Supremacist Terror, Trump Doubles Down from Birthright to the Border

In the aftermath of a spate of white supremacist violence from Florida to Kentucky to Pittsburgh, President Trump is ramping up nativism and xenophobia. The U.S. is deploying up to 14,000 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, purportedly in response to a caravan of Central American asylum seekers. Trump also says he might revoke birthright citizenship for the babies of non-citizens. We are joined by historian Gerald Horne of the University of Houston

After White Supremacist Terror, Trump Doubles Down from Birthright to the Border

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Story Transcript

AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.

From pipe bombs in the mail, to the killing of two black shoppers in Kentucky, to the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, the U.S. is grappling with yet a new round of white supremacist terror. But in the aftermath of this incident, and just days before the midterms, President Trump is ramping up the nativism and xenophobia that has stoked white supremacists. First, on Monday, federal officials announced plans to send 5,200 active duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to a caravan of Central American asylum seekers fleeing violence in dire conditions at home.

SPEAKER: Our message to the organizers and participants of this caravan is simple: As the President and Secretary Nielsen have made clear, we will not allow a large group to enter the United States in an unsafe and unlawful manner. For those that seek to cross the border illegally. We will apprehend them and fully enforce the laws of the United States. For those that seek to make an asylum claim safely and lawfully in a port of entry, the governor of Mexico has already offered you protection and employment authorization. If you are fleeing alleged persecution at home, you have arrived at a safe place to make your claim.

AARON MATE: According to Newsweek, the size of the U.S. force on the border could top 14,000. This comes amid reports that Trump is mulling executive actions to shut down border entry entirely, and even suspend habeas corpus, which grants detainees the right to appear before a judge.

Then on Tuesday, Trump announced yet another potential executive action. Speaking to AXIOS, Trump said he might revoke birthright citizenship for babies of noncitizens and undocumented immigrants.

DONALD TRUMP: Now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order. Now, how ridiculous- we’re the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.

REPORTER: Have you talked about that with counsel?

DONALD TRUMP: Yeah, I have.

REPORTER: So where in the process is-

DONALD TRUMP: It’s in the process. It’ll happen. With an executive order. That’s what you’re talking about, right?

Yeah, that’s exactly what I was talking about.

That’s very interesting. I didn’t think anybody knew that but me. I thought I was the only one.

AARON MATE: Joining me to discuss Trump’s latest anti-immigrant actions is Gerald Horne, historian and professor of history and African-American studies at the University of Houston. Welcome, Dr. Horne. Let me ask you first about this latest announcement from Trump today about birthright citizenship. Do you think that he even has the constitutional authority to end birthright citizenship for noncitizens? And if he doesn’t, then as a historian, what do you make of what he’s doing here?

GERALD HORNE: Apparently he does not have the authority to end birthright citizenship via an executive order. That is the impression I got from the words not only of Speaker Paul Ryan, but also from a survey of a number of leading constitutional scholars.

Having said that, we all know that the Republicans have packed the courts, the federal courts, in recent months and years. And many of these federal judges owe a debt of gratitude to the Republicans and Mr. Trump personally for him placing them on the court. And so it’s possible that there could be a wildcard federal judge, and certainly a wildcard Supreme Court, that could pass on that. I doubt it. But we’re in a different age right now. It’s obvious that many of our liberal friends have miscalculated when they overestimated the democratic potential nature of the United States of America, and the Bill of Rights, particularly. And I’m afraid to say that many of us are going to pay the price for that miscalculation.

AARON MATE: As a historian, when you hear Trump speak like this, what historical parallels come up for you? I’ll just say for myself that my thought today was I was recalling how the Nazis, back when they were formulating their own so-called racial purification laws, that they looked to the United States for inspiration.

GERALD HORNE: That’s true. There’s been a good deal of scholarship with regard to that, particularly how the Nazis looked the United States for so-called antimiscegenation laws. That is to say, laws in the United States that basically made it verboten for those defined as white to marry those defined as black. Obviously in Germany that was transferred to the German non-Jewish population and the Jewish population.

That is one striking parallel, but of course there are striking parallels from U.S. history itself. We should not forget the fact that when the Ku Klux Klan arose post-1865 in the wake of the U.S. Civil War, in many ways they were the armed wing of the Democratic Party. That is to say, the Democratic Party then being the party of Jim Crow, the party of Dixie. And that kind of terrorism that was inflicted, not least on black people post-1865, we hear echoes at least of that kind of policy in 2018 as enunciated by the present occupant of the White House.

AARON MATE: OK. So you mentioned 1865. So just 13 years later, in 1878, you have the signing of the Posse Comitatus Act, which bars military forces from playing a role in domestic law enforcement. Now there is talk of that being suspended, along with the suspension of habeas corpus, as I mentioned earlier, giving people the right to appear before a judge in this crackdown on the border, with Trump sending thousands of troops there, possibly over 14,000, which is about as many as are in Afghanistan right now.

And yesterday at the White House, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about this, and whether these drastic steps, these suspensions of constitutional protections, is on the table.

REPORTER: Now those are options on the table?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I’m not going to get into specific policies that we’re considering. There’s a number of actions that we’re looking at taking. When we’re ready to make an announcement on that front, we’ll let you know.

AARON MATE: That’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders. So Dr. Horne, if Trump is sending thousands of troops to the border, is he violating Posse Comitatus? And would there be a historical parallel for such an infringement, as he’s apparently doing that?

GERALD HORNE: Well, once again I’d have to give a similar response as I gave to the previous question; that is to say, that there is an argument that he is in violation of the law, but there is a counter argument that if he goes before the so-called right judge, that will not matter. It reminds me of what Trump’s lawyer Roy Cohn, the late Roy Cohn, the anticommunist fixer and colleague of Senator Joe McCarthy, once said. When he went into court he didn’t want to know what the law is, he wanted to know who the judge is. And I think that that’s the kind of philosophy that you see taking place with regard to Mr. Trump’s actions.

Secondly, this removal or threat to remove habeas corpus is particularly dangerous. That is a long-standing writ that goes back to England hundreds of years ago which allows a prisoner improperly detained to go before a judge and be released. That suggests that there will be a mass roundup of some sort where people will not be able to go to a federal judge to be released.

And then thirdly, I think you have to look at the fact or the possibility that what Mr. Trump is saying is a desperate electoral gambit. That is to say, the midterm elections are taking place on Tuesday. There are polls that suggest that the Republicans will lose the House. More to the point, the Houston papers in particular are talking about a Beto bump; that is to say, senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, who’s running against incumbent Ted Cruz. He’s behind in the polls. But the so-called Beto bump might wipe out Republican Congressman Will Hurd, a former CIA analyst who is now in the Congress. He’s running against a very strong Democratic candidate who is expected to benefit from the Beto bump. And it’s possible that Mr. Trump is trying to prevent other Beto bumps by ginning up the right-wing base, particularly in southern Texas.

AARON MATE: So in terms of these threats to all these basic rights, now, there is a growing fear that this is not just being done to target undocumented people, but this is also part of a process that wants to gin up fear in order to justify cracking down on dissent on progressives at home, working people, to crush strikes. And I’m wondering, in this context, to what extent is the historical crackdown on working people, the crushing of unions- a huge theme especially in the 20th century- how has that contributed to what we’re seeing today, and actually to the appeal and the power of white supremacy across the country?

GERALD HORNE: Well, I couldn’t have asked a better question myself. One of the things I’ve been stressing in recent days, months, and indeed, years, is that you cannot underestimate the potency of the Red Scare, which not least routed progressive labor. I oftentimes cite the case of Harry Bridges, the leader of West Coast Longshore, who led the San Francisco General Strike of 1934. Happened to be born in Melbourne, Australia. And therefore it led to repeated efforts not only to deport him, but to weaken his progressive leadership. The Union, the International Longshore and Warehouseman’s Union, had to spent a pretty penny out of its treasury in order to keep their leader from being deported. I could also cite the case of Ferdinand Smith, a black Jamaican who was number two in the National Maritime Union, who actually was deported in the early 1950s, which led to the demolishing, virtually, of the National Maritime Union, which he led, turning ships into floating slums.

That also led to a devastation of political education which has been particularly harmful to the working class. Particularly, I would say, those working-class voters who were seduced and [traduced] into voting for Mr. Trump in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, et cetera. And it created an overall atmosphere of backwardness whereby the class question was downgraded, which inevitably lead like a seesaw to the rising of ultra right-wing white nationalism, which you just saw manifested in Pittsburgh, not least.

AARON MATE: I want to go to a clip of some of the xenophobia and chauvinism that has stoked by the media. Because it’s not just Trump, it’s also his allies on Fox News, especially. So I want to go to Lou Dobbs speaking recently on his show on the Fox Business Network.

LOU DOBBS: The fear is, to be clear, the fear is that some of them are radical Islamist terrorists that have intermingled with this group of Central Americans. A further fear is that many of the, you know, so many of these, these migrants from Central America, frankly, are radical left-wingers. Their leaders are left-wing party members, for crying out loud, out of Honduras. This is- and no one other than the President at this point, we- you know, I keep expecting to hear Chuck Schumer Nancy Pelosi express their concern for America. But with a caravan that seems to be doubling every few days in size, they have said nothing.

AARON MATE: So that’s Lou Dobbs speaking on the Fox Business Channel about the migrant caravan comprised of hundreds of people fleeing violence and persecution in Central America. Dr. Horne, As we wrap, where do you rate this moment right now in history, in terms of the level of white supremacy and chauvinism we’re seeing being mainstreamed across the country? And if you have any comments on what Lou Dobbs said there, and especially about the role that that’s stoking fear of immigrants has played in a historical context.

GERALD HORNE: Well, obviously Lou Dobbs is introducing a canard when he’s speaking about so-called Middle Easterners who are part of this caravan of hope, which is making its way through Mexico as we speak. I find it also striking that the speaker in waiting, Kevin McCarthy, has demonized Jewish billionaires such as George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, who’s leading the struggle to impeach Mr. Trump; and deleted his tweet demonizing them, but the stain still remains. Note as well that the New York Times just reported this morning that a leading executive of Campbell’s Soup Company was recently ousted because he singled out George Soros as financing this caravan that’s heading North. That is to say, like Kevin McCarthy, helping to whip up the kind of anti-Semitism that you saw recently manifested in Pittsburgh.

I would say this is a particularly dangerous moment, because unlike previous dangerous moments we don’t have the necessary kind of international solidarity that the black liberation movement, for example, enjoyed for decades, but does not necessarily enjoy today. That means that the ultra right-wing white nationalists have wind in their sails as a result, and our climb as a result will be uphill, I’m afraid.

AARON MATE: We’ll leave it there. Gerald Horne, historian, professor of history and African-American studies at the University of Houston, thanks very much.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you.

AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.