No Comment — July 1, 2007, 3:02 pm

The Dark Shadow of Racism

Every time the subject of immigration comes to the top of the public agenda, a dark shadow falls over the country. Hysterical rhetoric begins – racist demonization. It’s not a new phenomenon in American history. It’s been there, perhaps not contiuously, but certainly in a sustained way since the 1840s. First it was the Irish, then the Germans, the Italians, the Eastern-Europeans of various stripes, the Jews, the Chinese. Each has provoked an outburst of xenophobia and racism that show the worst side of America. And the last six weeks have seen a spectacular display, showing how deeply entrenched these merchants of hatred are in the American broadcast media.

“There’s racism in this debate,” Senator Lindsey Graham told the New York Times. “Nobody likes to talk about it, but a very small percentage of people involved in this debate really have racial and bigoted remarks. The tone that we create around these debates, whether it be rhetoric in a union hall or rhetoric on talk radio, it can take people who are on the fence and push them over emotionally.”

The opponents of the current immigration legislation have used not only racism and xenophobia as tools. They openly resort to threats of violence against members of Congress. Earlier this week, a leading organization opposing the immigration bill was circulating an email stating “They need to be taken out by ANY MEANS.” The “they” to whom this message referred were supporters of the president’s immigration bill. “I’m sure a lot of the people who have taken a high-profile position on this have been threatened, but what are you going to do?” said Senator Graham.

Senator Trent Lott, the Republican whip from Mississippi said: “Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem.”

I have previously catalogued some of the more high-profile outrages, usually involving insinuations that immigrants as a group are infested with communicable diseases such as leprosy. And now we progress to the next level – joking about genocide. Glenn Beck from Thursday:

On the June 28 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Glenn Beck commented on a mock ad — produced by subscribers to his website known as “Insiders” — depicting a “giant refinery” that produces “Mexinol,” which, according to the ad, is a fuel made from the bodies of illegal immigrants from Mexico. Beck read from the ad: “At Evil Conservative Industries, we know four things for certain. The country needs cheap, alternative fuel source. Two, the human body is 18 percent carbon. Three, carbons can be turned into hydrocarbons. Four, we have a buttload of illegal aliens in our country.”

Beck continued to read from the ad: “Evil Conservative Industries is proud to present the fuel of the future, Mexinol. A clean-burning, cheap alternative to gasoline, Mexinol’s future seems unlimited in its potential. There are other gasoline alternatives available such as ethanol. However, Mexinol has certain advantages from corn. Corn has to be grown, harvested, and processed. With Mexinol, raw materials come to you in a seemingly never-ending stream. Go ahead and purchase that boat-sized SUV. There’s plenty of Mexinol for everyone.”

Beck introduced the discussion by saying, “Sometimes the Insiders go too far,” and later said, “I don’t think we need to make the illegal aliens into fuel.” Beck also said, “That would be evil conservative, yeah. I don’t even know if that’s conservative. That would be … [p]sychotic, perhaps? Sociopathic, perhaps?” Beck’s executive producer and head writer, Steve “Stu” Burguiere, added, “Just evil, pretty much.” However, as of June 29, the ad was posted on the front page of Beck’s website under the title “Picture of the Day,” with a caption that described the “ad” as a “brilliant creation.”

So now we’ve progressed far beyond simple racism. We have a CNN anchor using his radio airtime to “joke” about acts of genocide targeting Mexicans. “Humor” it is said is generally extremely revealing of the author. It indicates what he thinks is “humorous.” The notion of exterminating human beings to create synthetic fuel is not remotely humorous. But it tells us just what sort of man Glenn Beck is.

And this raises another obvious question: How does Mr. Beck succeed in antics like this (at which he is hardly a first offender at this point) and keep his job at Time-Warner?

And a second question: At such times, the country’s president has in the past spoken to slap down the rhetoric of the racists and bigots and to reaffirm the liberal premises on which the country was founded. Is it too much to expect George W. Bush to open his mouth and say a word? Bush’s conduct in the immigration debate has been encouraging. But his voice has been mysteriously soft. It’s been enough to make one wonder whether he really has his heart in it. And whatever the merits of the immigration bill, his failure to speak up against racist hysteria is disturbing.

Whatever conclusions are reached on the treatment of immigrants, one commandment must be kept in mind – and that is to respect the fundamental humanity of those who enter our country in search of work. They mow our lawns, care for our children, clean our houses, harvest our fruit and vegetables. They fill all the labor needs in our society which are unappealing to Americans. And today, increasingly, they are denigrated – stripped of their basic humanity – as “illegals.” Glenn Beck shows exactly where this cruel sort of talk inevitably leads, and history knows no shortage of examples. As the Swiss playwright Max Frisch, who often made his home in New York, wrote: “They come to us as menial laborers, and somewhere along the way we seem to have forgotten that they are also human beings.”

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

January 2017

The Monument Wars

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trouble with Defectors

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Over the River

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

House Hunters Transnational

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Lords of Lambeau

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Window To The World

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
Article
Over the River·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Photograph (detail) by Brian Frank
Article
A Window To The World·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Artwork by Imre Kinszki © Imre Kinszki Estate
Article
The Lords of Lambeau·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Photograph (detail) by Balazs Gardi
Article
With Child·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
Photograph (detail) by Lara Shipley

Months after Martin Luther King Jr. publicly called the U.S. the “world’s greatest purveyor of violence ‚” that he was killed:

2

Temporary, self-absorbed sadness makes people spend money extravagantly.

One of the United Kingdom’s largest landlords published guidelines banning “battered wives” and plumbers, among others, from renting his more than 1,000 properties. “It’s just economics,” he said.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today