News & Politics

RNC Day 1: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Kalia Abiade • Jul 19, 2016
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

I2050RNCSpeakers at the RNC tried to scare us. Here are 5 things we should actually fear.

During yesterday’s opening of the Republican National Convention, a parade of speakers tried to scare the nation into the voting booth. I watched and somehow managed to be surprised at the incendiary, nativist tone, even though my colleagues at the Center for New Community have been accurately forecasting the storm of nationalism and xenophobia that would be on full display.

The theme of the first night of the RNC, “Make American Safe Again,” set the stage for a flurry of attacks on immigrants, Black people, Muslims, refugees, Muslim refugees, activists of all stripes, and anyone coming for “American jobs.”

I picked up that I should be afraid of everyone, including myself. But I didn’t quite catch how we would become “safe again.”

At one point, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani proclaimed, “a vast majority of Americans don’t feel safe.” It was at that moment that I remembered my 10-year-old son was still awake, watching quietly from the corner, when he said, “Watching this, I don’t feel safe.” I took a much needed break from the horror show, tucked him into bed, and prayed he (we) wouldn’t remember the details in the morning. 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t forget. And though today’s comedy about Melania Trump’s probably plagiarized speech has been a welcome distraction, it wasn’t enough to erase the dangerous and dehumanizing language I heard Monday night.

Those of us who like to think of ourselves as fighting for human rights and civil liberties often try to avoid scare tactics in favor of lifting up the values we hold dear. Today, I’m going to try it their way. Why not? Fear can motivate action. So here are five* things we should actually fear:

1. Be afraid of those who exploit tragedy for political gain

It is always heart-wrenching to hear the stories of families who’ve lost their loved ones from any kind of violence or tragedy. Knowing this, the RNC featured three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. It was an emotional appeal to roll back immigrant rights.

Read: ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Bill on Senate Floor Is Unsafe and Unwise

This is a well-worn tactic of anti-immigrant activists. Groups like the Remembrance Project have long exploited the experiences of grieving families to promote anti-immigrant policies that do nothing to prevent similar tragedies. In the last year, we’ve seen this most clearly in the way Kate Steinle’s death has been held up as the justification to “undo years of immigrant rights work, trust built between local law enforcement and immigrant communities, and constitutional rights established in law enforcement practices.”

In fact, shortly after Steinle’s death, the Center for Immigration Studies reignited their existing campaign to attack so-called Sanctuary City bills.

2. Be afraid of senators who don’t work for “American workers”

Many anti-immigrant activists and lawmakers need us to be afraid that immigrants may “steal our jobs.” They invoke divide-and-conquer strategies to convince Black people and low-wage workers that immigrants are to blame for scarce opportunities instead of the shady employers and systems that exploit so many of us. As he often does, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama took to the stage Monday with this message.

Read: Jeff Sessions is no “champion for American Workers, Imagine2050

“Our middle class is steadily declining, with our African American and Hispanic communities being hurt the most,” Sessions said, as if Black and Latino communities are his main priority. As we’ve pointed out before, Sessions is no champion of “American workers.”

When it comes to jobs, Sessions is only concerned with talking points to advance his real issue: “self-deportation.”

3. Be afraid of advisers to anti-Muslim hate groups

Unfortunately for retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, he followed Melania Trump in the lineup, so people left as he spoke. Fortunately for America, fewer people heard his fearmongering talking points. Apropos of nothing in particular, he said the “war is not about bathrooms,” and clapped along as convention-goers cheered “lock her up!” in reference to Hillary Clinton.

Read: Trump adviser joins ACT for America’s board 

But he did what he came to do, which was blame “radical Islamists” for the problems the United States faces. No doubt the commentary pleased his colleagues at the anti-Muslim grassroots group ACT for America, where Flynn serves on the board. Bonus points for invoking a favorite catchphrase of ACT’s president, Brigitte Gabriel, when he also said that “war isn’t about political correctness.” How about we throw Flynn’s advice in the “garbage where it belongs“?

4. Be afraid of ex-mayors who believe in “broken windows” and mass surveillance

giuliani_screenshotFormer Mayor Giuliani screamed through most of his speech and, as I mentioned, I left before he was done. But I got the gist. In perhaps the most frightening moment of his speech, if not the entire evening, Giuliani made a promise: “What I did for New York City, Donald Trump will do for America.”

If that means nationwide “broken windows” policing, even more stop-and-frisk racial profiling, and mass surveillance of Muslims, I decline. No, thank you.

5. Be afraid of elected officials who just make stuff up

Like Flynn, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa spoke after Melania Trump and, thus, to a thinning crowd after prime time. But the Iowa delegation stayed to cheer her on and may have been among the few who heard her say “ISIS is present in all 50 states.” For emphasis, she added: “Think about that for a moment.”

I thought about it and came to the same conclusion as Politico, whose headline today reads “Ernst exaggerated when she said ISIL is in ‘all 50 states‘.” No kidding.

Moving beyond fear

Reflecting on my son’s remarks and the general tone of the RNC’s first night, I’m still left with a big question: “Make America Safe Again” for whom?

I know it’s not enough to simply be afraid. We have seen enough to know that dehumanizing words, especially from our elected officials, have consequences. These are some of the people responsible for creating our policies and for defining what “safety” means for our country. Unfortunately their version of “safety” contributes directly to the violence and fear many of our communities face every day.

It is past time to hold our elected leaders accountable for their dehumanizing words and for their attempts to paint so many of us as a threat while they reserve safety for only a privileged few. Calling them out is just the start.

*Five is only the beginning. Even the internet has its limitations.

Kalia Abiade is the Advocacy Director at Center for New Community.

The Center for New Community is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse any political parties or candidates for elected office. This post, and any post on Imagine2050, is not intended to support or oppose any candidates for elected office.

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