From 'Immigrant' to 'Alien': A Shift In Rhetoric Is A Shift In Values

At this year’s Republican National Convention, conservatives presented Donald Trump as the leader of a crusade to reclaim American glory. Playing on the fears and apprehensions of the American people, the increasingly divided Republican Party was able to rally around one commonality: opposition to Hillary Clinton. While Hillary-bashing took center-stage, many of the more substantive moments were brushed-aside.

Though not as newsworthy as bombastic speeches and mock kangaroo courts led by faux-prosecutor Chris Christie, the Republican Party platform was adopted in Cleveland. Like all party platforms, this one illustrated noteworthy changes in vision, ideology, and rhetoric. There is one particular change that encapsulates the anti-immigrant language which Donald Trump has brought to the forefront of American political discourse.

This single word change represents a shift in rhetoric that will shape Republican messaging during this election cycle.

The Republican Party changed the word “immigrant” to “alien” in its platform. This single word change represents a shift in rhetoric that will shape Republican messaging during this election cycle. There is no purpose related to actual policy that is changed by the word “alien” being used. However, this shift reflects values. “Alien” is a charged word. One that conjures up images of the dissimilar, the bizarre, the extraterrestrial, and the unfamiliar. While America is often referred to as “a nation of immigrants,” one would be hard-pressed to find a leader likening us to “a nation of aliens.” It is hard to view this as anything other than a conscious effort by many in the Republican Party to make immigrants “the other.” Republicans have made a choice to detach immigrants from their American vision and now voters must either corroborate or reject this vision.

 “Alien” is a vile word, but it is just one of the many problematic words used to refer to immigrants over the course of American history. The term “illegal” in itself has been subject of debate in recent years. Though “illegal” is often the most common term used to describe individuals who have unlawfully entered or stayed in the United States, is it the most accurate? When the word illegal is used to describe an individual it’s as if his or her very existence is criminalized. Critics of the adjective “illegal” have long held to the maxim that “no human being is illegal.” Indeed, many in recent years have began using the term “undocumented” to better explain the circumstances of these individuals. Republicans are now moving backwards; they seek to build walls with words as well as with Mexican money.

'Alien' is a vile word, but it is just one of the many problematic words used to refer to immigrants over the course of American history.

A reflection of the party’s regression, the Republican National Convention was a choreographed show calling for a reclamation of American glory. But the America they sought to reclaim was one that is foreign to many of us. Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” put on his political analyst hat at the RNC and declared that if voters spent more time with “real Americans,” they too would join the “Trump train.” The party’s idea of “real Americans” is what is perhaps most destructive. Willie Robertson’s America makes up a mere 20% of the electorate, not nearly enough to win the presidency. This vision of America is not a welcoming one for minorities, immigrants, muslims, women, and LGBTQ individuals. By embracing this vision, Donald Trump has, however, “unearthed” many of the worst elements of American society and brought them into the mainstream discourse.

 Donald Trump is quick to brand undocumented immigrants as rapists and murderers, but in many cases these individuals are working and living beside American citizens. If not for lack of a piece of paper, they would in many cases be living the average American life. Yet, this “otherization” continues. Not only have the Republicans label these individuals “illegal” in existence but they also intend to dehumanize them into unknown entities.

 While the immigrants Trump polemicizes are unknown to me on a personal level, the hard working and civic-minded immigrants who deserve a path to citizenship are part of the fabric of our daily lives. These individuals are out of the media spotlight and overshadowed in presidential debates but they are the majority and they refuse to be forgotten.

So, this debate is about more than one word. It’s about the values that this word and the constant vicious rhetoric embody. It’s about people: our co-workers, our friends, our families, our communities. It’s about seeing ourselves in each other.