Immigrants "In Shadows": Bush Using Idea From Terror Speeches To Frame Latinos print email On September 12, 2001--just one day after America was brutally attacked by airline hijackers--President Bush described these attackers as an enemy that 'hides' in 'shadows': The...
Immigrants "In Shadows": Bush Using Idea From Terror Speeches To Frame Latinos
On September 12, 2001--just one day after America was brutally attacked by airline hijackers--President Bush described these attackers as an enemy that 'hides' in 'shadows':
The American people need to know that we're facing a different enemy than we have ever faced. This enemy hides in shadows, and has no regard for human life. This is an enemy who preys on innocent and unsuspecting people, then runs for cover. But it won't be able to run for cover forever. This is an enemy that tries to hide. But it won't be able to hide forever.
(see the full speech on the White House Web Site here)
As can be seen easily, the phrase 'hides in the shadows' is not just an image. It provides a frame--a broad logic--for the whole paragraph. Our enemy is nameless and faceless, lurking, preys on the innocent, the unsuspecting, living under cover of darkness. Fighting this enemy is about tracking it down in the 'shadows.' President Bush's torture policy, his secret domestic spying on Americans--all of it flows from the 'shadow frame.'
Fast forward five years to where we are, today. Mid-2006. Last week.
President Bush's poll numbers have collapsed. Military families, his so-called "Christian base," fiscal conservatives--the entire nation and his own party have turned against him. He is staring into the abyss: becoming a pariah to his own party in an election year. The once and future king of America, has become yesterday's mistake. George W. Bush is so politically rancid that even Limbaugh and Hannity are covering their noses.
In the midst of this nightmare, this political train wreck, suddenly--without warning--President Bush returned to those first speeches on terrorism he delivered in the days after 9/11. He returned to his talk about an enemy that 'hides in the shadows'--to his rousing speeches about tracking down those people who seek to destroy America. Only this time, instead of talking about terrorists hiding in the 'shadows,' President Bush was talking about Latinos.
The Shadow Frame
By the fifth year of President Bush's Presidency, the 'shadow' frame was well-established as the way the Bush Administration controlled the debate on terrorism.
They used it endlessly to justify a variety of measures that have weakened our constitution and elevated the office of the President to an alarming degree of power. The President and his staff often claim, in the face of concern from all corners of America, that the reason we must collect bulk phone records from private citizens, why we must torture prisoners, why we must arrest and hold innocent people without probable cause, why we must conduct secret trials reminiscent of communist East Germany, why we must systematically classify millions of historical records from the Library of Congress--we must do all of this, we are told, because we are fighting an enemy that 'hides in the shadows.'
Danger that hides in the shadows is, by definition, impossible to see. We have all seen movies with enemies that hide in shadows. From Nosferatu the shadow vampire to the monster in Alien, enemies that hide shadows are dripping with slime and blood, armed with fangs and sharp claws, and driven by a desire not just to kill, but to revel and feast on the dismemberment of their victims.
The metaphor we step into with the phrase 'hiding in shadows' is a metaphor of danger:
[danger] is [a monster hidden in the dark]
This way of defining danger is much more than a frame. It is what some psychologists call an 'archetype'--an idea or image that we all have tucked away in our unconscious. We pick it up as children when, for the first time, we notice an unfamiliar sound that seems to be coming from under the bed, or in our closet, or behind the door in the room that was forever off limits. And when we heard that noise, and thought about those dark spaces, we were afraid indeed.
By framing 9/11 in the 'shadow frame' immediately following the attacks, President Bush tapped into the deepest, most primal fears of the nation--fears we had not felt since we were children, but which were familiar and very real. When President Bush told us that the terrorists lurked in shadows, the child's voice within us all responded, "Make it go away! Take the monster away! Make me safe, again!"
And so, we entered into the 'whatever it takes' phase of the Bush Presidency--where Bush and Cheney constantly reminded the country that our enemy lurked in shadows, and Americans responded, "Whatever it takes! Take the monster away! Make me safe, again!"
Historians will write about this period as the five years in American history when the President convinced the country that the Constitution must be put aside to make us safe, when in reality--we are only safe when we embrace it.
Terrorists Live in Shadows...And So Do Latinos
In the face of total political failure, President Bush leafed through his old speeches on terrorism--speeches that had been so effective at tapping into that childhood fear we all feel--and, in a nationally televised prime-time speech, began describing Latinos in America using the same 'shadow' frame that he had been using for years, and continues to use today, in his speechs on terrorism:
We must begin by recognizing the problems with our immigration system. For decades, the United States has not been in complete control of its borders. As a result, many who want to work in our economy have been able to sneak across our border, and millions have stayed.
Once here, illegal immigrants live in the shadows of our society.
(read Bush's entire immigration speech here)
With this speech, President Bush expanded the circle of his terrorism argument to include Latinos in America. And in the week since President Bush delivered his immigration speech on TV, he has continued--along with his staff--describing both terrorism and Latinos using this same 'shadow' frame.
When President Bush used the shadow frame to tap into our childhood fears back in 2001, it provided the justifying logic for the 'war on terror' and Presidential actions that violated the Constitution.
Now, when President Bush uses the shadow frame to talk about immigration, it provides the justifying logic he needs to scapegoat Latinos in America in order to restore his political fortunes.
Despite all the talk about 'immigrants,' Latinos in America know that President Bush is using this 'shadow' frame as part of a calculated risk to sacrifice their support in order to win back support the nationalist wing of the Republican party.
Presidents in dire political situatiions like President Bush have meetings in which they discuss which sacrifices they will make in order to gain some momentum, and get a quick jump in the polls. President Bush tried to do just this with Latinos in America--to sacrifice them at the feet of his nationalist Republican base with the hope of gaining back some favor in the eyes of those now threatening their leader with pitchforks and torches.
Reframe: Latinos Are 'All Around Us!' 'Rooting Out Corruption'
To change the debate and turn back the damage caused by President Bush's description of Latinos as if they are terrorists, Progressives should change the words they use in the debate.
Any use of the 'shadow' frame will re-enforce the President's ultra-nationalist ideas and further empower armed, fringe nationalists groups to believe they have been given a 'green light' to take vigilante actions against Latinos. The President's language has incited real danger against Latinos in America, and Progressives can help fight this danger by driving the debate onto better terms.
A new way to frame the immigration debate is to use the the logic of 'rooing out corruption' which flows from this basic metaphor:
[corruption] is [tree roots]
The 'tree roots' frame is very different from the 'shadow frame' and it gives rise to a new set of words and phrases.
The problem we face in America is not immigrants who hide in the shadows as if they are terrorists, but a 'deeply entrenched' corporte culture that has 'grown' out of decades of labor law violations.
To protect America, we must accomplish two goals at once: (1) guard the gates and (2) root out corruption.
We must 'guard the gates' into our country, not just send the army to the border. In the year 2006, the danger posed to our nation will not be eliminated by erecting a wall on the border. The 9/11 terrorists did not sneak across the border at night, but walked through airport security in broad daylight. 'Guarding the gates' is a metaphor for securing the nation through smart interventions at all points of entry and departure--ports and harbors, airports and highways, and yes--borders.
And we must 'root out corruption' in our country in order to stop the abuse of American fair labor laws that creates a constant flow of undocumented foreign workers into our country--workers who are ordered up by corrupt corporate CEOs and managers like cheap plywood, and then disposed willy-nilly like garbage tossed out a car window.
Guard the gates, root out corruption. These are frames that take America to moral ground and that can stop the President's attempt to lift himself from the depts of political despair by scapegoating Latinos in America.
No more talk of shadows. Now is the time for Progressives to drive the debate.
© 2006 Jeffrey Feldman