During yesterday’s White House press conference, President Trump’s senior adviser for policy Stephen Miller took the podium to articulate the administration’s support for the Cotton-Perdue immigration bill introduced in the Senate this week. The proposal would abolish the current chain-migration and employment-based green card framework in favor of a points-based immigration system.
As Miller addressed the press yesterday afternoon, he got into an impassioned exchange with CNN reporter Jim Acosta. At one point, the dialogue became particularly heated:
Acosta: This whole notion of [immigrants] have to learn English before they get to the United States, are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?
Miller: I have to say, I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree that in your mind — this is an amazing moment. That you think only people from Great Britain or Australia would speak English is so insulting to millions of hardworking immigrants who do speak English from all over the world. Have you honestly never met an immigrant from another country who speaks English outside of Great Britain and Australia?
Acosta: It sounds like you’re trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country.
Miller: Jim, that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant, and foolish things you’ve ever said.
Today, Politico published a piece by Jeff Greenfield — called “The Ugly History of Stephen Miller’s ‘Cosmopolitan’ Epithet” — implying, in part, that Miller’s use of the phrase “cosmopolitan bias” is somehow similar to the way in which Soviet dictator Josef Stalin used the phrase “cosmopolitan” to “purge the culture of dissident voices.” While the article never outright claims that Miller and the Trump administration do in fact have a Stalinist or anti-Semitic agenda, this is clearly the implication the author intends for you to take away from the piece.
More from Greenfield’s article:
To be clear: Steven Bannon and Stephen Miller would angrily wave away any suggestion that they are echoing the sentiments of anti-democratic political movements, much less anti-Semitic dog-whistles. But there is no evading the unhappy reality that to label someone a “cosmopolitan” carries with it a clear implication that there is something less patriotic, less loyal . . . someone who is not a “real American.” So maybe the next time Miller wants to duel with an obstreperous reporter, he might consider going back to “elitist” — that’s a real home-grown insult.
It’s not evident what exactly Miller meant by “cosmopolitan bias,” and it certainly wasn’t the most articulate means of making his point. But to suggest that his use of the phrase is evidence of a possible Stalinist or anti-Semitic streak within the Trump administration or its immigration policy is unfair and beyond ridiculous.
Calling Acosta’s mistake an example of “cosmopolitan bias” was more than likely an attempt by Miller to expose the reporter’s obvious ignorance, or perhaps even to attack the progressive tendency — often exhibited by journalists, too — to claim that the Trump administration is motivated by a secretly racist or xenophobic agenda . . . sort of like the way Greenfield hints at such an agenda Greenfield in his Politico piece.
Regardless of the specific phrasing he chose, Miller was right to accuse Acosta of posing agenda-driven questions without having the facts to substantiate them. Here’s part of Rich Lowry’s take on the exchange from his Politico column today:
Although Acosta angrily objected to giving a preference to English speakers, knowing English helps people make their way in this country and it’s reasonable to want immigrants to speak the language. As Miller pointed out, this is already a requirement for naturalization. And every comprehensive immigration reform bill always makes at least a symbolic nod to undocumented immigrants learning English before receiving amnesty.
(Acosta worries that preferring English speakers means all immigrants will come from Britain and Australia — apparently unaware that 125 million people speak English in India alone.)
Greenfield’s piece would have you believe that the absolute best explanation for Miller’s phrasing is not that he simply meant to expose Acosta’s ignorance and bias, but rather that Miller — an intensely pro-Israel Jew — intentionally used an anti-Semitic dog whistle against a Cuban reporter, revealing the Trump administration’s underlying sympathy for the “ugly,” Stalinist history of the word “cosmopolitan.” Looks like Miller had a point.