What America looks like, according to Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn
It’s hard being concerned about national security. When you worry about threats all day, when you read about threats all day, it takes a very supple mind not to be consumed by them, and to understand that there is nuance to the world, and that not every sound under the bed is a monster.
It is especially hard to shake that if your self-image is based around being the tough, clear-eyed, no-bullshit kind of guy, who stares horror straight in the eyes, and is willing to see the world stripped of all comforting pleasantries. But of course, that’s a worldview as blinkered as the Panglossian optimism of the most self-absorbed Ted Talk futurist.
It’s even harder to maintain perspective when you are the sweaty, self-appointed defender of white culture, and see hordes of locusts eating away at your heritage, unstoppable as they are innumerable. When you are prone to conspiracy and the darkest visions, you see the world hanging on a razor’s edge, with you as the only person with the vision and steel to stop it.
I’m talking, of course, about Donald Trump, but more about Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Michael Flynn. As an LA Times story reports, the Muslim ban is about far more than stopping refugees.
Trump and his aides justified Friday’s executive order, which blocked travel from seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days and halted refugees from around the world for 120, on security grounds — an issue that they say they take seriously. But their ultimate goal is far broader.
Trump’s top advisors on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment to fundamentally transform how the U.S. decides who is allowed into the country and to block a generation of people who, in their view, won’t assimilate into American society.
This is the heart of it. It’s a few people who have decided, based on zero actual evidence except for the apocalyptic movie reels of imagination they both produce and consume, that assimilation is impossible for certain groups, and that they will instead be imposing their laws and their way of life.
The trio, who make up part of Trump’s inner circle, have a dark view of refugee and immigration flows from majority-Muslim countries, believing that if large numbers of Muslims are allowed to enter the U.S., parts of American cities will begin to replicate disaffected and disenfranchised immigrant neighborhoods in France, Germany and Belgium that have been home to perpetrators of terrorist attacks in Europe in recent years.
I want to think about how deeply and incredibly dark and faithless a view of America that is, and one that has been divorced from reality. It is true that there have been Muslim immigrants, mostly second-generation, who have killed other Americans while spouting semi-informed jihadi nonsense, but there is zero evidence that they were actually trained by ISIS or al-Qaeda. Instead, they seem like so many other people who are responsible for the terrifying hurricanes of mass violence: disaffected, lonely, with grandiose ideas about their own greatness and place in the world. Just because they gibbered “akbar!” while living out their fantasies, instead of “white power!” or “why won’t you go to prom with me, Heather”, doesn’t make them a category apart.
Most people know that. Most people, in fact, know that Muslim immigrants have been far more assimilationist than other groups, and until the Bush administration, tended to lean Republican. Now it is true that times have changed and the world is weirder and more dangerous, but there is no evidence at all of anyone imposing sharia, or of any mass discontent among Muslims in America, at least no more so than the discontent that has seen millions of people in the streets the last 10 days. It’s important to remember that Muslim citizens who hate Donald Trump are no different than the majority of other Americans.
But that’s not how the sweaty paranoiacs who have the unmediated ear of the President see it. They see us on the verge of a demographic tilt, and themselves at the gates of Venice, trying for one last push against the Saracen hordes. And because of that, they demonstrate a particularly faithless view of America.
We aren’t France, and aren’t Belgium. America does a remarkable job of incorporating every religion and creed. When Muslims come to America, they aren’t shluffed off to ghettos and banlieues, and don’t have their political and economic aspirations limited by anything more than what limits all of our political and economic aspirations (which, admittedly, are vast, but no more so for the Muslim than for most of us).
That isn’t to say that nothing can change. There are ways to radicalize more than a handful of American Muslims, and that is to make them second-class citizens, to deliberately discriminate against them, to separate them from “real Americans”, and to gradually isolate them more and more by systemically denying their coreligionists a chance to immigrate.
Is that what they want? It’s very possible: after all, actual examples of discontent can be used to create more restrictions. But we don’t even have to take their nightmares into account. What is important is their vision of America.
They see it as one teetering on the brink, weak and decadent, about to be overrun by brown masses, with their taco trucks and mosques. They see the American culture as monochromatic, and anything that messes with that as alien. They don’t see that America has always been changing and evolving, that it is an ongoing experiment, and that it means something above and beyond ethnicity.
That’s what I’ve meant when talking about Trump as a “blood and soil” nationalist. It’s a common phrase, but what it really means is that they see America as no different than the ethnic and cultural nations in Europe or East Asia. The ones who always had the myth (though never the reality) of being monoethnic, which led to the great nationalist wars of the 19th and 20th centuries. And they see that Europe crumbling, unable to take in the demographic tidal wave. (It’s not a coincidence that Breitbart is opening shop in France and Germany in an attempt to elect white nationalists).
To an extent, that’s true, but also an incomplete view. But regardless, it is an insane way to look at America. We’ve never been that kind of country. Our strength didn’t come from borders drawn around ethnic lines, but from a set of ideals. And those have been honored more in the breach than in practice, sure. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t true. We don’t draw power from the earth; we draw it from the concept of a nation strong enough to change.
That’s not what they want. That’s not how they see America. That explains why their decisions on immigration are “until we know what’s going on.” That’s ignorance by Trump, but also a dodge: they never want to “find out”, because they already know. They already see the white, Christian purity of the nation being diluted, and they see us as unable to be, well, America. They see as an already infiltrated Germany, and they want that to stop.
That’s their America. And that’s what we must resist.