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.”