I hate Mexican immigrants. Whenever I hear someone speaking in Spanish, I want to scream. Bottles of hot sauce set out on restaurant tables annoy me. The mere suggestion that the United States is becoming increasingly Hispanic sickens and offends me.
None of the above is true.
At least not true for me. In fact, I feel exactly the opposite of each hateful sentiment expressed in the opening paragraph.
Then why say it? Because these opinions, though rarely articulated, are held by many Americans. I wrote them out to show that it could be done. Frankly, I wish it were done. Because, being unable to state their true feelings, perhaps out of an appropriate if unrecognized shame, they instead make claims that are far worse.
Take Jeanne Ives, the Illinois state legislator running against Bruce Rauner in the Republican primary for governor.
Her campaign has produced a number of TV commercials playing upon the fears of Illinois voters. One particularly offensive piece of propaganda features a man named Brian McCann, who talks about how his brother Dennis was killed by a drunken driver named Saul Chavez. He leaps from the specific to the general.
“Thousands upon thousand of people have been victims of murders, all manner of felonies, rapes, because of illegal criminals that are in this country and we want them removed,” McCann intones gravely.
Ives is not breaking new ground. She is merely aping Donald Trump, who announced his candidacy tarring Mexicans as criminals. Trump lashed out at all immigrants at a conservative conclave Friday, reciting lyrics to a folk song he liked to quote on the campaign, repurposing “The Snake,” a song about a kindly woman bringing a frozen snake into her home, nursing it back to health and then being bitten as thanks, into an anti-immigrant tirade.
The message is clear: Immigrants are snakes, are criminals. We don’t want them here.
A new twist on a very old story. There’s a paragraph in Sinclair Lewis’ novel “Babbitt,” written in 1922, that could be lifted from a Jeanne Ives commercial:
“And another thing we got to do,” said the man with the velour hat (whose name was Koplinsky), “is to keep these damn foreigners out of the country. Thank the Lord, we’re putting a limit on immigration. These Dagoes and Hunkies have got to learn that this is a white man’s country, and they ain’t wanted here. When we’ve assimilated the foreigners we got here now and learned ’em the principles of Americanism and turned ’em into regular folks, why then maybe we’ll let in a few more.”
“Dagoes and Hunkies” are slurs for Italians and Hungarians. If you’re confused by the claim they aren’t white, they weren’t then, to some, who viewed them as an unacceptable ethnic criminal element. A reminder that hating immigrants is a fashion. Ives goes after Hispanics because she can. It’s all the vogue.
This attempt to legitimize what cannot be defended ignores the truth: Illegal immigrants commit less crime than native born Americans. They have fewer DUIs.
A 2014 Purdue study crunching 24 years of immigration data found that as the population of illegal immigrants in a state increases, DUIs go down.
“Undocumented persons may be less likely to drive after drinking, or drive at all, because of fear of police surveillance and deportation,” the authors wrote in the American Journal of Public Health.
The facts don’t back up Ives. So she uses this sinister synecdoche, leaping from the singular to the universal, from one drunken driver to all undocumented immigrants. The anti-immigrant crowd would have you believe they hate immigrants because immigrants are evil, but the opposite is true: they tar immigrants as evil because they hate them and are too dishonest to utter their true feelings.
Jeanne Ives will probably lose. That doesn’t mean her hatred should go unchallenged. We need to understand the trick she’s playing because people play it a lot. She won’t be the last. Trump won’t be the last. People don’t become haters because they’re brave, trying to confront the wrongs of the world. Rather, they hate because they’re cowards, trying to inflate their swollen fears into a general malaise. Having fooled themselves, they labor to fool others. Don’t be fooled.