Last month, two sets of documents displaying the reach of white nationalism among Trump administration policymakers were made public, affirming the need for the U.S. Congress to combat white nationalism both within and through federal policy.
On November 12, the Southern Poverty Law Center released emails from senior White House adviser Stephen Miller showing his use of white supremacist materials and arguments that have now shaped Trump administration thinking and policy. The emails, sent to Breitbart before the 2016 presidential election and leaked by a former editor at the white nationalist news site, include Miller sharing a study tracking a purported demographic surge of Muslims in the United States, and another in which he promoted the work of an anti-immigration author who argues that “Hispanic immigrants are less intelligent than white Americans.”
Amid hundreds of anti-immigrant emails from 2015 to 2016, Miller, who at the time was an aide to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, routinely shared white nationalist and nativist publications with Breitbart editors. Miller has been Trump’s leading adviser on immigration since before the president took the oath of office and has been a key advocate of policies such as the Muslim ban, historically low refugee admissions, and family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border—policies directly related to the white nationalist content he shared. Miller has not only shaped policy within the White House but also in the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In the wake of the email leaks, calls for Miller’s firing have spread, from civil rights organizations, more than 100 Democratic members of Congress, and even Fox News contributors.
On the same day the emails were published, documents released pursuant to congressional investigations confirmed Trump administration officials communicated with the late Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller regarding the administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Further, according to the New York Times, “a senior Census Bureau official and friend of Mr. Hofeller, Christa Jones,” helped draft official government justifications of the question had it been added. The Trump administration’s use of Hofeller’s work has been suspected since earlier this year, when a trove of his documents was unearthed during litigation challenging the addition of the census question.
The explicit goal of adding the census question was to depress the count of immigrant communities. This move was calculated by Hofeller to directly benefit “Republicans and non-Hispanic whites” by artificially diminishing the representation of immigrant communities on the census, which is used to draw congressional districts. While the Hofeller story has received comparatively less attention than the Miller emails, these documents show contrary to the administration’s claims—that officials at the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Justice, and within the White House conspired to warp the country’s integrity as a representative democracy in order to enhance the political clout of white people.
One could be forgiven if the importance of these revelations is not immediately apparent. One week before they hit the headlines, George Washington University history professor Tyler Anbinder, who specializes in nativism in the United States, wrote in the Washington Post, “Trump has attacked and scapegoated immigrants in ways that previous presidents never have—and in the process, he has spread more fear, resentment and hatred of immigrants than any American in history.”
In October 2018, Atlantic writer Adam Serwer argued that Trump’s “only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men.” And I have frequently denounced the president’s nativist and racist rhetoric and policies. What more have we learned since these documents have become public?
The emails and documents connect intent, rhetoric, and the resulting policy. Most denunciations of the Trump administration’s actions toward people of color largely rely on the president’s rhetoric or the disparate impact of the administration’s policies to then infer nativist or white nationalist intent. Such inferences have allowed the president’s allies to defend his policies without defending white nationalism, arguing that any connections drawn between the two are born of partisan jumps to a disingenuous conclusion.
For example, in holding that the Muslim ban is legal, U.S. Supreme Court justices discounted anti-Muslim rhetoric as sufficient evidence that the policy reflected hateful animus. After these revelations, however, defenders of the harmful and exclusionary policies furthered by Trump can no longer credibly deny that they are allied with those bent on translating racism into official government policy.
The material released by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the congressional inquiry into the census affirm that rejecting Trump is no magic solution for addressing the role of the state in enacting white nationalist policies. The public record now includes confirmation that officials within multiple executive agencies have helped shape, advocate for, and promulgate policies serving explicitly racist motivations. Perhaps more importantly, there are many members of Congress defending the policy outcomes of white nationalists or are at best turning a blind eye to it. In holding politicians accountable, voters must demand that officials actively reject the influence of white nationalism in federal policies. With reference to Professor Ibram X. Kendi, people in the United States can no longer be satisfied that officials are not explicit white nationalists—they must demand officials are anti-white nationalist.
These recent revelations show that the preservation of the white, Christian character of the demographics and political clout of the United States is the chief driver of the Trump administration’s harmful immigration policy and yearslong census efforts to redraw districts to favor of Republicans. This leaves little room for equivocation: White nationalist ideology holds currency in policymaking circles. How politicians, candidates, and people in the United States react to this information—especially after attention for these stories is traded for the next scandal—will have lasting effects on the viability of truly diverse democracy in the United States.