Barbed wire and battlefields: Manufacturing a war on migrants

Barbed wire and battlefields: Trump is manufacturing a war on migrants
5 min read
28 Nov, 2018
Comment: Trump is turning the 'migrant caravan' into a manufactured political crisis, and a testing ground for violence as a political tool, writes CJ Werleman.
Soldiers from the Kentucky-based 19th Engineer Battalion install barbed wire fences on Mexico border [AFP]
A panicked and terrified Honduran mother grabs three of her children, two are no more than three-years-old, and barefoot. Tear gas canisters fired from US Border Patrol officers into the Mexican side of the US border land by her feet as she flees.

It's an image that will forever stain the global reputation of the United States, making a mockery of its self-proclaimed democratic ideals, and will no doubt come to define the Trump administration's effort to normalise meanness, cruelty, and extreme racism.

Earlier this year the world drew breath in collective horror after it emerged that Trump had ordered more than 2,000 migrant children to be separated from their parents, and placed into cages.

But tear gassing the world's most vulnerable women and children places the Trump administration on an entirely different moral and political trajectory, one that promises to change the identity of the United States, forever.

When news of the approaching migrant caravan first broke on major US news networks, Trump seized on it as an opportunity to rile up his political base as the 2018 Midterm elections loomed.

He put refugees as a national security threat on par with terrorist groups such as Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda, and then deployed 5,200 US soldiers to the southern border in what can only described as the most overtly racist and cynical political campaign gimmick in recent memory, one costing taxpayers $72 million.

On 1 November, Trump suggested soldiers and border patrol officers might shoot at migrants. "They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back," the president told reporters. "I told them to consider it a rifle. When they throw rocks like what they did to the Mexican military and police I say consider it a rifle."

Trump is testing the American public's appetite for violent solutions to domestic problems

Well, turns out US Border Patrol officers were listening, and open fire with tear gas canisters they did, when approximately 100 migrants rushed towards the border wall near Tijuana, Mexico, leaving dozens of women and children in excruciating pain and gasping for breath.

What's important here is the fact that these desperate asylum seekers - the majority of whom are fleeing violence in their home countries - never had any chance of breaching the heavily patrolled and walled US border at the point they were approaching. But US Border Patrol officers fired a chemical weapon at them, regardless.

In other words, there was absolutely no justification in deploying such a violent response, and using a chemical weapon that has been 
banned in international conflict since 1997, in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

Moreover, the migrant caravan is nothing more than a manufactured political crisis, especially given illegal crossings across the southern US border have been falling steadily for decades, dropping from 1.7 million in 2000, to fewer than 310,000 in 2016.

In fact, a greater number of 
undocumented migrants are heading in the other direction across the border, migrating from the US to Mexico. Given the US is at near full-employment, the claims portending to "immigrants taking our jobs" are patently absurd, but then, facts and evidence rarely explain the outrageous and repugnant things Trump says.

Brutalising Hispanic migrants at the US-Mexico border is nothing more than a sinister attempt to create a vicious spectacle for Trump's slavishly loyal but declining political base.

It allows him to match his hostile rhetoric that promises to get tough with immigrants and minorities with violent deeds. The barbed wire, battlefield armed soldiers, armored tanks and gas cannisters are stage props in Trump's macabre performance.

Using the tools of the military to crush an imagined external threat has always been the go-to-plot for every wannabe authoritarian dictator.

Even more sinister still is the fact that this is Trump testing the American public's appetite for violent solutions to domestic problems. If Americans will tolerate Trump using violence against non-threatening brown-skinned migrants, what next might the American people be willing to accept?

To that end, Trump's surrogates in the media are already busy testing the public's tolerance for violence against minorities by mocking Sunday's tear gas victims, with one ex-border official appearing on Fox News to say, "Pepper spray could be served on nachos and eaten" by Hispanic refugees.

If militarised measures and racist cruelty can be so easily meted out to brown skinned migrants on the Mexico side of the US border, then one must ask how long before such acts are tolerated against immigrants and minorities on the US side of the same border wall.

Trump has invoked the want and need for violence throughout his candidacy and presidency

Trump has invoked the want and need for violence throughout his candidacy and presidency, calling on gun rights advocates to "take care" of his political opponent - Hillary Clinton - were he to lose the 2016 election; encouraging his supporters to beat up protesters at his rallies; praising a Republican congressman who assaulted a journalist; encouraging police officers to assault apprehended and alleged criminals in the back of police cars; and more.

These very Trumpian quips not only test the resistance and durability of established democratic norms, but also serve as a test balloon for the public's willingness to accept violence as a legitimate political tool.

According to Stanley Payne, author of 'A History of Fascism, 1914-1945', fascism requires "a philosophical valuing of violence," one that portrays violence to be "really good for you, that it's the sort of thing that makes you a vital, alive, dedicated person, that it creates commitment. You make violence not just a political strategy but also a philosophical principle."

This is where the United States finds itself today, with the leader of the country testing violence as a political tool against those his supporters deems to be undesirable, but on the other side of the border. Soon, however, it'll be those who are already here. All he needs now is a manufactured internal threat or crisis.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.