By Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.
Presumably Donald Trump had forgotten to alert Prime Minister Theresa May, while holding her hand at a black-tie gala at Blenheim Palace, that he had eviscerated her leadership during an interview with The Sun, which the British tabloid saw fit to publish in the middle of the festivities. The exclusive promptly ignited a backroom diplomatic row: Trump, on the record and audio-taped for posterity, bashed May for not following his advice on how to execute Brexit; dinged England’s health-care system by claiming that a hospital had “blood on the walls”; suggested that Boris Johnson would make a better prime minister than his host; and declared himself more popular than Abraham Lincoln. May, who has spent the past few weeks struggling to reach a compromise on a Brexit deal with Europe without getting booted out of office, plastered on a pained smile for the cameras and dutifully kept up appearances.
While Trump’s clash with May got the most press, however, the Sun interview also buried a far more sinister set of remarks, in which the president regurgitated an oft-circulated right-wing talking point regarding immigration. The president, of course, has a long and colorful history of immigrant-bashing, famously calling Mexicans “rapists” in the speech announcing his candidacy, and more recently sparking widespread controversy with assertions that criminal aliens are not “people” but “animals.” But his comments to The Sun were perhaps his most insidious yet, replete as they were with the sort of dog-whistle comments that frequently appear on white-nationalist forums—or on Rep. Steve King’s Twitter feed. Immigrants, he told The Sun, are responsible for destroying European culture from within. “I have great love for countries in Europe,” he said. “Don’t forget, essentially I’m a product of the European Union, between Scotland and Germany.” But, he continued, “I think what has happened to Europe is a shame.”
“Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame.”
“I think it changed the fabric of Europe and, unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was and I don’t mean that in a positive way.”
“So I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad.”
“I think you are losing your culture. Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago.”
Traditionally, anti-immigrant rhetoric tends to center on the idea that a wave of strangers with different morals and religious beliefs end up bringing, as Trump once famously said of Mexicans, crime, drugs, and rapists into an otherwise pristine country. In the case of the European Union, which is experiencing a mass influx of African and Middle Eastern refugees—many of whom are Muslim—the right has argued that immigration is causing an uptick in terrorist activity as well. (Trump fell back on that talking point earlier in the interview, blasting London’s first Muslim mayor and perennial foe, Sadiq Khan, for failing to control the city’s migrant population.) In his comments to the Sun, however, Trump also made the more xenophobic, arguably racist argument: that non-European migrants are corrupting the social fabric of the continent itself.
Trump’s brief screed on the corrosive effect of immigration was almost immediately highlighted by the European right-wing commentariat. Breitbart London, launched as part of the far-right news site’s attempt to bring the culture wars to the U.K., published his comments, along with a note that the practice of female genital mutilation had skyrocketed, but was not being prosecuted because “the National Police Chiefs’ Council F.G.M. lead [has described] the crime as ‘nuanced.’” Far-right trolls in Britain took their glee one step further, reported Vice News, with Generation Identity, a prominent white nationalist group in the U.K., seemingly overjoyed that the most powerful man in the world appeared to share their concerns. “Is Donald Trump an Identitarian?” one member wrote, while the organization’s Twitter account took the opportunity to flip the Trump baby balloon, launched by anti-Trump protesters, on its head:
Trump soon walked back the interview, calling The Sun “fake news” and claiming that the outlet conveniently excluded his praise of May. He made no mention of his comments on immigration, but even if he had disowned them, the damage had already been done. Trump, perhaps the least-subtle person on the face of the earth, has somehow managed to toe the line when it comes to racist remarks, insisting each time that he has been taken out of context, or deliberately misinterpreted. But fortunately for his like-minded allies, they know better. Unfortunately for Trump, all his comments were recorded.