This Week: Going Nativist
Zach Goldhammer: We took on the travel ban this week with history in mind, which was good because the appeals court ruling came down just as we got to the studio on a snowy night. Our guests Neil Swidey and Aziz Rana laid out a two-part history of how our how our rhetoric on immigration has evolved over the past two centuries. Beginning with a cabal of Harvard-educated Brahmin aristocrats — who codified and weaponized anti-immigrant rhetoric through the 1894 Immigration Restriction League — Swidey finds the blueprint for 21st century America First-ism in 19th century nativism. Rana, meanwhile, shows us how the “nation of immigrants,” Melting Pot narrative of the 20th century U.S. was repurposed by Cold Warriors as a cloaked defense of American imperialism.
Where does that leave us today? Rana argues in N+1 that we can no longer turn to milquetoast personal stories of American inclusion and integration — in the way that Obama crafted his own personal narrative for the national stage —and should start embracing more radicalized, transnational ideals, fiercely mobilized against bigotry, exclusion and domination wherever it may arise.
Rana finds signs of hope in the increasingly internationalist thrust of the Black Lives Matter movement. Here in Greater Boston, we may be able to find some of that fighting spirit in elected official like our guest Nadeem Mazen. Mazen — an MIT grad turned Occupy-inspired political activist — became the first Muslim American to serve on the Cambridge City Council in 2013. He was later denounced by Bannon’s Breitbart as a representative of “Hamas on the Charles” due to his work with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). Rather than backing down or watering down his message, Mazen has been fighting back: he helped organize the massive Copley Square rally against the immigration ban last month and recently issued a general call for Muslim-Americans to run for public office.
Mazen’s example may prove our conservative guest, Francis Fukuyama, right in the end: “[the immigration ban] could be the biggest gift ever given to the Left, to the Progressive Left, in this country because it’s all of sudden given everybody a common cause to unite around, which they really didn’t have in the Democratic primaries.”
Read: “Becoming Steve Bannon’s Bannon” by Andrew Marantz
The New Yorker portrait of Steve Bannon’s 25-year-old special assistant, Julia Hahn
My own thinking on these issues has been somewhat clouded this week by the New Yorker profile of Julia Hahn, the 25 year old former Breitbart writer and radio producer for Laura Ingraham who was recently named as a special assistant to Steve Bannon.
I knew Hahn only in passing at UChicago— she was the year ahead of me and lived the floor above me in my dorm in South Campus . I generally remember Julia as being a fairly quiet, friendly person who was a part of my diverse, liberal friend group. She was not part of the small but vocal set of campus conservatives who I’d always worried would rise to power (most of them have now become #NeverTrump-ers)
Reading over some of Hahn’s Breitbart writing, what’s most striking is her anti-immigration rhetoric, which is far removed from the pseudo-scientific racism of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century Eugenicists and nativists, and is instead grounded in a perverted idea of liberal rights:
“Neither Ryan nor Clinton have explained how importing hundreds of thousands of migrants that come from nations which may hold sentiments that are anti-women, anti-gay, anti-religious tolerance, and anti-America, benefits the United States or helps to protect our Western liberal values,”
Sometimes I think I’ve only lived in liberal bubbles devoid of Trumpist rhetoric, but the genesis of this nativist feeling isn’t geographically as far off as I thought. As Swidey writes in his Boston Globe piece:
Heated rhetoric about Muslim bans, Mexican walls, and Mexican rapists has elicited harrumphs and horror in progressive Massachusetts, especially in the precincts around Harvard Yard, where Hillary Clinton trounced Trump. (He won just 4 percent of the vote there.) So it may turn more than a few faces crimson to learn that, like basketball, the microwave oven, and public education, the intellectual playbook for anti-immigration policy was made right here in Massachusetts.
Still, a big part of my interest in Hahn’s story might be motivated by a narcissism of small differences: Like Hahn, I’m also a coastal Jewish kid who hoped to “get a job in media” after I graduated from Chicago. Like Hahn, I also found myself spending a year in D.C.. Like Hahn, I might have also described myself as apolitical before discovering that my own outside-of-the-mainstream ideas were gaining some momentum in the 2016 election. And like Hahn, I ended up clarifying some of my own views in work as a radio producer.
Unlike Hahn, I don’t think have the same desire for power that would lead someone to leap from radio work to the White House (although, hey, maybe if Bernie had won, there’d be a space for some young lefty producers on Pennsylvania Ave.)
Susan Coyne: Ah, being anti-immigrant while enjoying all the services that immigrants provide. When it comes to fast food, rumor is Trump is more partial to KFC, but perhaps the taco bowls at Taco Bell can rival the ones made in the Trump Tower Grill.
Listening: Stroma Sessions
Conor Gillies: Two podcast recommendations here. First: The Stroma Sessions, a spooky radio drama/podcast miniseries from BBC’s classical station, Radio 3. It’s about a string quartet that goes to an abandoned island off the North coast of Scotland to make music. Producer Sara Davies of Afonica productions, working with composer Danny Norbury, create a totally eerie sound world of tape loops, ghost stories, enviro field recordings, string music, and other sorts of sinister resonances. Listen here or search your podcast app for “Stroma Sessions.”
Second is a recent premium episode of Chapo Trap House [mp3], an uncharacteristically earnest reading of the late Mark Fisher’s short book “Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?” within the context of recent protests. Fisher was a culture writer, known for his music criticism in Wired magazine (where he helped put Burial on the map) and lefty political blogging under the alias “k-punk” (catch up with his pieces on depression and identity). Both the podcast and the book provide some answers to Open Source’s ongoing investigation: What, exactly, is “neoliberalism”? “It’s a blip in history,” Amber A’Lee Frost reminds us. “It’s absurd to think of capitalism as an inevitability, but it — especially neoliberal capitalism — is so good at convincing us, without any active propaganda, that this is our final form.”
Coming Up: Cultural Migrations
Next week, we’re continuing our immigration series, but picking up on the cultural thread. So much great 20th century American art — in jazz, in film in modern painting — was created by immigrants and forged from foreign influences. These imported art forms also became crucial “soft power” cultural diplomacy for the U.S. government during the Cold War. As America sought to define itself as a place of freedom and cultural flourishing, the creativity found in jazz and Abstract Expressionism were set in stark contrast with the rigidity of the Soviet Union.
We’ll be exploring some of these themes in in our upcoming program, so stay tuned!
Zach, Conor, Mary, Susan & the OS crew