-- by Dave
One of the interesting aspects of the immigration debate is the way that authoritarianism is really the driving mindset underlying most of the nativist opposition to Latino immigration. It comes creeping out and reveals itself in odd moments, most typically when the nativists are challenged on the moral grounding of their crusade.
Probably the central example of this is the nativists' insistence on calling undocumented workers "illegal aliens", a phrase clearly intended to cast these immigrants both as The Other and, most especially, as lawbreakers. The phrase becomes a way of negating any recognition that perhaps the nation's dysfunctional immigration laws, which render millions of hardworking contributors to the national economy noncitizens, might actually be the problem.
The nativists are intent, of course, on the emphasis on the legal status of these immigrants because it becomes a club with which to bash them -- and moreover to justify all kinds of measures against them, most especially rounding them up, incarcerating and deporting them. So, for example, when someone points out the demonization and scapegoating inherent in this sort of approach to immigration -- a facet of their behavior that decidedly casts them as the ethical and moral reprobates they are -- they leap into full-fledged reflexive authoritarianism: intimidating, bullying, smearing, and generally shoving their opponents rhetorically to the ground.
We saw this recently in Lou Dobbs' reaction to being challenged by Air America talk-show host Laura Flanders last week over his frequent use of the term "illegal aliens" to describe undocumented immigrants. It occurred early the week before, on Dobbs' May 8 broadcast (about 1:40 remaining in the video above):
- DOBBS: Well, I appreciate it. Thank you, Joe. Laura Flanders, let's talk about Mitt Romney at ...
LAURA FLANDERS, AIR AMERICA: I wanted to come back for a minute to the L.A. story, the last two stories. I think if Dr. King were alive today, he would be talking about what happened on L.A. on May 1st. When you talk about abuse, 240 rounds of rubber bullets and tear gas.
We've gone from legal punishment of illegal aliens to physical punishment, and it's not helped by language like yours, Lou, talking about these [marchers] as being illegal aliens...
DOBBS: Laura, Laura, Laura, that's ridiculous.
FLANDERS: They're not aliens, they're people. And the vast majority of people at these marches are utterly legal. They're not aliens, Lou. They're people, and you're dehumanizing them with that language.
DOBBS: And you're absurd to suggest such a thing.
FLANDERS: I don't think so.
DOBBS: You're being absolutely absurd.
FLANDERS: Let's talk about people. You said they're families ...
DOBBS: You talk about people.
FLANDERS: ... they're peaceful families, so why not introduce them that way.
DOBBS: You want to talk about 250 million Americans in this country and their families, people who actually support laws in this country and you're telling me illegal immigration should be condoned ...
FLANDERS: No. I'm saying when you use language like illegal aliens as opposed to families, many of them legal ...
DOBBS: What do you want to call them? Undocumented workers.
FLANDERS: You're dehumanizing people which is making it easier to fire batons at them ...
DOBBS: Laura ...
FLANDERS: Lou, I like you ...
DOBBS: You may like me, but you're being extraordinarily short-sighted and obfuscatory.
FLANDERS: Dr. King would be saying let's not call people aliens.
DOBBS: Dr. King, if you presume to speak for Dr. King, you are of greater intellect and spirit than me and I certainly would never presume to do so and I will leave that as your final comment because we have used up our time. Laura Flanders, thanks for being here ...
MCINTYRE: I'd like to speak for Gandhi, Lou.
DOBBS: Joe Madison, Doug McIntyre, thank you. Thank you very much, Laura, for being here. Doug, Joe.
MADISON: Thank you.
Note, first of all, that this occurred at the end of the same broadcast in which Dobbs castigated pastors who used their pulpits to weigh in on the immigration debate, and even went so far as to run an insta-poll asking viewers: "Should churches and religious institutions that engage in political activity have their federal tax exemption revoked? Yes, no." Of course, no one but Lou Dobbs or his staff (especially Casey Wians) has even remotely proposed taking such a step, since it would constitute an obvious infringement on pastors' free-speech rights. But even suggesting it is a kind of intimidation attempt, and it has produced a predictable outcry even from the fundamentalist right.
Moreover, note that Dobbs makes no attempt here to address the substance of Flanders' point. No, the problem is with her -- she's being "short-sighted and obfuscatory." Huh?
Anyone want to bet Dobbs' wife has heard that charge? It sounds like the old "you're just being a sentimental woman" line that was the stock in trade of men in the 1950s.
What brings that to mind is watching the video of this exchange; the transcript doesn't really give you the full sense of what Dobbs does to Flanders here -- the finger jabbing, the scowling intimidation, the furious impugning of her argument (equating it with "condoning illegal immigration").
But apparently, it all escalated when the cameras went off. Recall what Mark Potok told me yesterday:
- The day after he went after me, which was last Monday, I saw him with this woman from Air America. I only saw a few minutes of it, but it was unbelievable. He was simply screaming at her. It looked like Rivera vs. O'Reilly on immigration. He was simply shouting her down. And this was over an extremely minor point -- she was trying to make the point that calling people 'illegal aliens' is a pejorative, and comes off that way, which I think is pretty undeniable. And Dobbs was just screaming at her.
Laura told me later, he followed her, first, into the dressing room, and then almost into the ladies' room, yelling at her! It was unbelievable.
Potok's characterization of the on-air confrontation with Flanders wasn't quite accurate; it's clear from the tape that although he's clearly trying to intimidate her, he doesn't scream at any time. Certainly, it's far from the O'Reilly-Rivera exchange, in which it appeared that O'Reilly was about to gouge Rivera's eyes out.
But as to the off-camera bullying -- with Dobbs following Flanders into the Green Room and then to the door of the ladies' room -- I e-mailed Flanders herself to confirm the story, and she answered: "Yeah, it's all true."
I'll be trying to obtain more details from Flanders about just what Dobbs was saying and how threatening she found it all, but for those of us who have worked around male authoritarians, none of this is particularly new. We've all known jerks like Dobbs who find women who undermine their authority particularly threatening, and their extreme overreactions to these women of course reveals a profound insecurity on their part.
It's also a common feature of right-wing authoritarians generally: a fetish for so-called "masculine virtues," including the ability to physically intimidate and "put women in their place," is innately part of these kinds of personalities.
And inevitably, it is reflected in the politics they pursue. Dobbs' anti-immigration diatribes are nothing if not fully loaded vehicles for a politics of fearfulness, a fear of change and a fear of disaster. That's how authoritarians rule: by fear. And women, it seems, are always among their first targets.
[Note: Laura Flanders will be at Firedoglake tomorrow at 10 am PDT for the book salon, talking about her new book, Blue Grit.]
UPDATE: Flanders, commenting at FDL, relates this:
- I meant to say: he flipped. It was as if no one had ever challenged him on the use of the word "alien" before. He followed me into the make up room berating me, "How dare you ..." then down the hall and to the elevator. His point: it's a government term. My point. It's dehumanizing no matter what. Being a government term doesn't make it better. It was dehumanizing vs. Germans and Italians too and he has a megaphone he's using to beat immigrants with. He wouldn't give way, but neither would I. In the end to his credit, when I said "i guess i won't be back any time soon" he invited me right back, which he did.
One point of historical detail: The term "illegal aliens" was introduced as a "government term" in the 1920s, when it referred primarily to Asian immigrants, during the nakedly racist campaign to excluse immigrants from Asia, culminating in the Immigration Act of 1924.