Historian Gerald Horne: Trump’s Attacks on Immigrants is History Repeating Itself
Following Jeff Sessions’ announcement ending DACA, we get a response from author, historian, and Houston resident Gerald Horne, who will also discuss efforts to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey
JAISAL NOOR: You are watching the Real News. I’m Jaisal Noor, coming to you live from our studio in Baltimore. We’ll be taking questions and comments on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, so send them our way and I’ll promise to try to get to them all. On Tuesday, as expected, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of DACA, an Obama administration program that protected children of undocumented immigrants, or Dreamers, from deportation and allowed them to work in the United States legally. Some 800,000 people are participating in the program and some are vowing legal challenges to the decision. In response to the announcement, hundreds took to the streets nationwide and dozens of undocumented activists were arrested in New York carrying out civil disobedience. The decision comes on the heels of the ongoing devastation in the Houston area in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey as rebuilding and recovery efforts have begun. At least one DACA recipient died taking part in the recovery efforts last week.
Now joining us to discuss this and more is Gerald Horne. He’s an author, professor, Houston resident. He most recently wrote The Counterrevolution of 1776. Thank you so much for joining us, Gerald. It’s good to hear that you survived Hurricane Harvey. I want to talk to you more about the recovery efforts, but let’s start with a clip of Jeff Sessions speaking on Tuesday announcing the end of DACA. This is a little bit of what he said.
JEFF SESSIONS: Enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers and prevents human suffering. Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and terrorism.
JAISAL NOOR: He went on to say it also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens, as he calls them. Gerald, talk about your reaction to Jeff Sessions’ speech yesterday.
GERALD HORNE: Well, it was an abomination. It was an outrage. Jeff Sessions, you may recall, came to the banner of Donald J. Trump, then candidate, not least because of Donald J. Trump’s anti-immigrant posturing. When he was rolled out to make the statement with regard to DACA, it solidified the tie between Sessions and Trump because just a few weeks ago, you may recall, Trump was threatening to throw Sessions overboard, but Trump’s base, particularly in Dixie, not least in Alabama, rose up as one against that prospect because they see Jeff Sessions as an anti-immigrant tribune. What’s curious about this entire episode is that, as you know, the black community in particular has been hammered from pillar to post, oftentimes blamed for what has befallen it and we’re always told to take responsibility for our misfortune, and yet with regard to the Trump base, instead of taking responsibility for job loss and opiod abuse and all the rest, they’re pointing the finger of accusation at 800,000 Dreamers on the faulty, flawed premise that if these people were ousted from the United States, magically their plight will then being to improve. This is magical thinking and hardly worth discussion.
JAISAL NOOR: This scapegoating of immigrants, some have called it a war on immigrants carried out by Trump, starting in his campaign. He appointed Jeff Sessions, one of the early supporters of Trump, as Attorney General. Jeff Sessions was known as the most anti-immigrant Senator when he served in Congress. Now, you’re a historian. Hearing these arguments, saying these jobs, these illegal aliens are stealing jobs, talk about the history behind that. Is this the first time those types of claims have been made in the United States?
GERALD HORNE: Oh far from it. You may recall that in the 1850s in the United States there was the so-called Know Nothing Party, K-N-O-W Nothing Party. It was an anti-Catholic party, an anti-Irish Catholic party in particular. It actually was so strong that it won elections on a write-in basis without campaigning. That gives you an idea of the strength of this anti-immigrant movement. Then fast forward to the second iteration of the Ku Klux Klan, circa 1915, approximately a century ago. The Ku Klux Klan during that era was not only anti-black, but it was also, once again, anti-Roman Catholic and anti-immigrant. So this particular kind of crude posturing against the immigrant population is nothing new, although I think it’s fair to say that it has been turbocharged by the question of racism directed at the Latino population generally and the population of Mexican origin in particular.
JAISAL NOOR: And Trump is struggling right now. He hasn’t passed a major initiative. His administration is reeling from his response to the attacks in Charlottesville that left one dead and dozens injured. Talk more about who this move is targeted to. Who really wants this? Because even some Republicans have pointed out that this is going to cause economic devastation to the United States. It’s going to cost billions of dollars in damage because these workers that are contributing to society are going to be removed.
GERALD HORNE: Well, certainly it’s fracturing the Republican Party. You may know that Silicon Valley, Microsoft in particular, Apple also, have objected strenuously to this kind of measure. You may also know that Silicon Valley has within its ranks a number of Dreamers. What’s also curious is that there are a number of Dreamers who are part of the U.S. military, and in light of the fact that Mr. Trump is already enmeshed in an attempt to purge transgender troops from the U.S. military, now it seems he’s going to purge Dreamers from the U.S. military at the same time he’s ratcheting up military tensions with North Korea and all manner of nations across the globe. So certainly this is a contradiction within the Trump camp, but I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that there is a hard core of Trump supporters. Of that 63 million who voted for him in 2016, it’s probably fair to say that there are tens of millions who are heartily in favor of this measure, not least because they are racist, they are deplorably racist, to coin a phrase, and also they point the finger of accusation at the Dreamers to excuse their own misfortune and that’s something that we will not allow to stand.
JAISAL NOOR: And Trump’s administration is also the wealthiest in history. He’s got millionaires and billionaires packed in there. How does this serve … Demonizing immigrants, promising to deport millions of people, promising to deport some 800,000 people that came here as children, how does it serve the elite interests? Because we know there’s economic damage that could be done, but how are their interests served by this?
GERALD HORNE: Well, you have to look at it as a kind of bank shot in politics. That is to say that there probably is immediate damage to a good deal of the U.S. ruling elite if DACA is abolished. At the same time, the Trump base, which includes many foot soldiers, who are defined as white and are part of the middle class and working class, they are very useful to the elite in terms of this maniacal rush to cut taxes, which would presumably be, and definitely be, cutting taxes for the wealthy. So in order to keep the middle class and working class voters on board, who are pointing the finger of accusation at DACA for their own misfortunes, the elite feels that that’s useful in terms of what will be a major push in September, which will be a rush to enact massive tax cuts for the wealthy. It’s a kind of a coalition of the unseemly, but that’s where politics stand, I’m afraid, in the United States today.
JAISAL NOOR: And does this also serve to divide the working classes, divide low income workers and Latino workers and also it ripens the ability to exploit them, especially those that are undocumented?
GERALD HORNE: Oh absolutely. You’ve hit the nail precisely on the head. That is to say that particularly for workers who are defined as white, it’s quite useful in terms of elite interests for those workers to be kicking down rather than kicking up, rather than punching up. That is to say, to attack those who are perceived as below them on the economic ladder as opposed to attacking those who are responsible for their misfortune, who are at the top of the economic pyramid. This is, I’m afraid, what lies near the heart of this rush to abolish DACA.
JAISAL NOOR: I wanted to turn to Houston because I know that you are a Houston resident. Talk a little bit about your own experience dealing with Harvey and how you and your loved ones and your friends were impacted.
GERALD HORNE: Well, fortunately, I did not suffer any damage, but last Tuesday, when the waters were rising, I heard a radio report that suggested that they were reaching the second floor and I live on the third floor, so I began to get concerned and I began to monitor the internet in terms of Texas highways and monitor Twitter traffic as well, because I figured that even though the press was telling people to shelter in place, the press had not sheltered in place. Obviously, they had been able to get to their battle stations to report on what was going on. So I found a route out of Houston going north safely to College Station, which is about 100 miles north and has a small airport on the campus of Texas A&M University and from there got a flight to Dallas and was able to escape. I’m not sure if the moral of the story is don’t pay attention to press reports, but certainly in my case, ignoring press reports probably helped me to survive.
JAISAL NOOR: And we’ve been hearing a lot about how immigrant communities, low income communities, and black communities in the Houston area have been disproportionately impacted. We know Alonso Guillén, he was a DACA recipient, a Dreamer, he died last week responding. He traveled 100 miles to be a first responder. He passed away. His car was overcome by flood waters. Who is being the worst hit by the storm?
GERALD HORNE: Well, I think that the predicate of your question reveals the answer. That is to say that poor black and brown communities oftentimes are in houses that are less than sturdy, which would be swept away as the flood waters began to rise. I think you have to understand, however, that what has happened on the Gulf Coast of the United States, what’s happened in southeast Texas heading eastward into Louisiana, in many ways is capitalism run amok. That is to say Houston, as is well known by now, has a dearth of zoning regulations. You can construct any kind of facility just about anywhere. There is construction on wetlands. There are constructions on flood plains and on prairies, which makes it difficult to drain and therefore when a rainstorm comes, even a rainstorm not as spectacular as Harvey, the city tends to flood.
Not only that, but as you know, there is an anti-federal government mania in Texas. You may recall that Senator Ted Cruz of Texas objected to aid to the U.S. Northeast in the aftermath of Sandy a few years ago, and yet now he’s coming with his begging bowl to Washington demanding federal aid to Texas. The hypocrisy stinks to high heaven. But this is now compounded by the fact that in the aftermath of Harvey, you see another example of savage capitalism. That is to say, with thousands in shelters, you have landlords rudely expelling tenants from apartment complexes figuring and feeling that they can now get a pretty penny if they rent those apartments to someone with more money, which is compounding the housing crisis. Likewise, there were tens of thousands of cars that were abandoned in the floodwaters and now, as a partial result, you see a slight episode of car theft tending to escalate. So in some ways Harvey and its aftermath is a microcosm of how savage capitalism operates in the 21st Century.
JAISAL NOOR: And just as the dust is sort of settled, at least for some people, from Harvey, Hurricane Irma is developing now in the Caribbean. It’s expected to devastate areas stretching from Cuba to Haiti to Florida. I wonder … You’ve written extensively about Haiti and we know that Cuba, actually, is one of the better prepared island nations there. Can you talk a little bit about how the storm will affect different areas in a different way and what accounts for those differences in the wealth of those countries and how they’re looking able to take care of their people?
GERALD HORNE: Well, in terms of human life, Cuba will probably be less affected by Irma than neighboring islands and, once again, one of the reasons is is that in Cuba, there is no rush to attack the very role of government, which is what you have witnessed in southeast Texas in the last 10 days. That is to say that the government in Cuba plays a muscular role in terms of preparing its citizens, in terms of rescuing its citizens and I think that one of the lessons, with regard to what nature is telling us, is that going forward this idea of the rugged individual, this idea that the heroism of the individual is the solution to all problems should be cast aside on the dung heap of history. It is like the horse buggy in a jet age and no longer should stand, but as you well know, ideology is a powerful thing, and Houston in particular and Texas in general may have to suffer more damage in order for these antiquated notions to be cast aside. That is to say the antiquated notion that there is little role for government, generally speaking.
JAISAL NOOR: And just last year, Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti. Talk a little bit about the history of Haiti and why the impacts of these weather events are going to disproportionately impact Haiti itself.
GERALD HORNE: Well, Haiti paid a price for all of the Americas. That is to say, 1791 to 1804 you had the Haitian Revolution, which ignited a general crisis of the entire slave system in the Americas, including the United States, which could only be resolved with that system’s collapse, but Haiti paid a heavy price. That is to say that Haiti was forced to pay reparations to the slave owners, let us not talk about the descendants of slaves and the slaves themselves being paid for their unpaid labor. That crippled and handicapped the independent Haitian government from its inception and then it faced the anger and fury of the slave holding republic headquartered in Washington, which further destabilized the island. You may recall that it was in 1844 that the island was split and you had the emergence of the now independent Dominican Republic, and the conflict between the DR and Haiti was a major theme from 1844 virtually to this very day, which has further weakened Haiti. And so when Irma approaches Haiti, it is continuing to reel from the blows for the past, and I’m afraid to say will probably be reeling even more in the aftermath of Irma.
JAISAL NOOR: And so we know the Republican governor of Florida, Rick Scott, is a climate change denier. Donald Trump says it’s a Chinese hoax. Mar-a-Lago stands in the path of the hurricane. Talk about, from a historical perspective, the threat of climate change. We know the scientists say it makes these storms much worse, it increases their frequency. The threat posed by this, has mankind faced anything like it and do you think mankind will react in time to address it before it’s too late?
GERALD HORNE: It’s apparent and evident that things must change with regard to the looming threat of climate change. It’s not clear if you can say that climate change instigated Irma or Harvey, but it is fair to say that climate change intensified and exacerbated the effects of hurricanes, as your prefatory comments tended to suggest. The problem in the United States ties in to the problem we were talking about a moment ago. That is to say that there is a powerful mass right wing movement in the United States of America that not only denies climate change, but now is willing to throw overboard 800,000 Dreamers. Until and unless we can reduce the political potency of that Trump base, that 63 million who voted for him, I’m afraid to say that the entire planet will be placed in peril, not only from climate change but of course there’s the other looming issue of the day, which is this increasingly militaristic jingoistic confrontation with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which may explode, I’m afraid, in any day or any week.
JAISAL NOOR: All right. Gerald Horne, author, professor, Houston resident, thank you so much for joining us.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you.
JAISAL NOOR: And thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.