President Donald Trump’s lament this week that immigration is “changing the culture” of Europe echoed rising anti-immigrant feelings on both sides of the Atlantic, where Europe and the United States are going through a demographic transformation that makes some of the white majority uncomfortable.
Historians and advocates immediately denounced Trump’s comments, saying such talk would encourage white nationalists.
“The way he put this argument about changing our culture … about Europe becoming less nice than it is, in other words, these people are here and they are making the culture crappy and making the place lesser, that’s straight out of the white supremacist/white nationalist playbook,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.
Trump, in an interview with the British newspaper The Sun, blamed immigration for a changing culture in Europe: “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 ten or 15 years ago.”
Trump, the grandson of a German immigrant and the son of a Scottish immigrant to the United States, repeated his contention at a news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May:
“I just think it’s changing the culture. I think it’s a very negative thing for Europe. I think it’s very negative,” he said. “I think it’s very much hurt other parts of Europe. And I know it’s politically not necessarily correct to say that, but I’ll say it and I’ll say it loud. And I think they better watch themselves because you are changing culture, you are changing a lot of things.”
Beirich called those comments “racist.”
Claire M. Massey, a scholar at the Institute for British and North American Studies at Ernst-Moritz-Arndt Universität in Greifswald, Germany, said Trump’s comments were “awfully painful,” especially for the United Kingdom, where immigration has played a key role in rebuilding the country after World War II. “England and the United Kingdom wouldn’t be what it is today without immigrants,” she said.
By Jesse J. Holland and Russell Contreras for CHICAGO TRIBUNE
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