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NYT Editorial: Into the Void, With Steve King

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Originally posted at the New York Times

Many Americans have been marveling at the bald racism of Steve King, Republican member of Congress from Iowa’s Fourth District, who said this over the weekend on Twitter:

“Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

He was praising Geert Wilders, a far-right Dutch politician who wants to close his country to Muslims, whom he calls “scum.” What Mr. King said about civilization and babies was a little cryptic. On Monday, on CNN, he elaborated:

“There’s an American culture, American civilization. It’s raised within these children in these American homes. That’s one of the reasons why we require that the president of the United States be raised with an American experience. We’ve also aborted nearly 60 million babies in this country since 1973.

“There’s been this effort we’re going to have to replace that void with somebody else’s babies. That’s the push to bring in much illegal immigration into America, living in enclaves, refusing to assimilate into the American culture and civilization.”

Earth to Mr. King: Illegal immigration is not an abortion-linked repopulation scheme. Immigrants in America do assimilate. They have for centuries, and the latest newcomers will do the same, given the chance, as will their children and grandchildren. And if by “American culture and civilization” you mean a Christian, English-only whitopia, then a lot of Americans will object to your framing. Some might even wonder whether your hostility to our values reflects your own failure to assimilate. But that’s America for you.

Mr. King has been at this for years. He has proposed an electrified border fence, to shock migrants like cattle. He said young immigrants have calves like cantaloupes, from hauling marijuana over the border. His foreign babies tweet is more of the same: doomsaying with a side of hate.

It’s also a dot.

The dots have been piling up. There are so many, they are starting to connect themselves. The picture is of a Republican president waging a toxic campaign of ethnocentrism and xenophobia, based on the lie that foreign hordes threaten our existence. The lie emboldens extremists like Mr. King and taints the entire G.O.P.

Mr. King has long been a leader of the “hell no” caucus, a handful of far-right House Republicans who trolled Congress over immigration reform. They couldn’t remake the system on their own, but during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama years, with the collusion of congressional leaders, they shut down everyone else’s attempts to fix it.

Now Donald Trump is in power, and Mr. King is enjoying a moment of ideological solidarity. A few in his party have condemned his latest rant, but most Republicans and the White House have been silent. Mr. King’s worldview harmonizes nicely with that of Mr. Trump and the architects of his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim policies, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was among the hardest of Senate immigration hard-liners.

Together they are pushing an old nativists’ dream: a “self-deportation” strategy, also called “attrition through enforcement,” which envisions making America whiter by making life intolerable for nonwhite unauthorized immigrants. Their antipathy to foreigners is broad, attaching not only to those here illegally but also to refugees, asylum seekers, even students and guest workers.

Mr. Trump has worked himself into a frenzy over immigration and crime, and insists on depicting Europe as an immigrant hellhole. “You look at what’s happening,” he said last month. “We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?”

Nobody, actually. But that’s what he said. Mr. Trump has made his ignorance, or cynicism, quite clear. He doesn’t know or care how immigration works. He doesn’t understand the damage his wall and deportation surge will do to the economy and the American character, or maybe he just cares more about harnessing voters’ bigotry.

Meanwhile, the damage is piling up. Bomb threats terrorize mosques and synagogues; vandals attack Jewish cemeteries; confused racists attack South Asians. In these conditions, hate effloresces. In the United States, intolerance is in full breakout.

That is why Mr. King — and his journey from the fringe — matters.