Toxic Tropes: "Skyrocketing" Racism Through Respectable Journalism

Exclusive: Trump to terminate birthright citizenship (Axios.com)

Even in a straightforward news story, which gives valuable information about the latest planned Trump outrage on immigration, we can see how the "objective" language is weighted toward inflammatory interpretation. The story notes:

Between 1980 and 2006, the number of births to unauthorized immigrants — which opponents of birthright citizenship call "anchor babies" — skyrocketed to a peak of 370,000, according to a 2016 study by Pew Research. It then declined slightly during and following the Great Recession.

You scarcely notice the scarifying language on a first reading. But look again: "skyrocketed." We are talking about the birth of 370,000 children over a period of 26 years. 370,000 -- in a population of 325,000,000. We are talking about a cohort of children spread out over more than a quarter of a century, eventually reaching a total of ... 0.1 percent of the population.

This slow, minuscule, scarcely measurable increase in the population is described as a skyrocketing -- explosive, soaring, kinetic, dangerous. And this isn't in an article that is consciously attempting to inflame the immigration debate. It's an example of how inflammatory language can and does infect public discourse -- especially when "balance" has become a fetish to the point that extremist tropes are given such wide play that they become normalized.

Any ordinary, quick reading of that passage would leave the lingering idea that the extremists' mendacious concern about "anchor babies" does have a kernel of truth. Even if readers opposed Trump's approach to immigration, they could easily come away thinking, "Trump is awful, of course, but this problem has skyrocketed. It should probably be looked at one way or another."

But of course there has been no "skyrocketing." There has been a slow rise in "the number of births of unauthorized immigrants" over the course of a quarter of a century: from the time when Jimmy Carter was president and Leonid Brezhnev ruled as still-extant Soviet Union, before personal computers and cell phones, before 60 percent of the people alive on the planet today even existed. 

This rise has actually had no discernible demographic impact at all. The only "concern" it can genuinely evoke is among those who can't bear the fact of even a small increase in the number of other-skinned people who have become American citizens. In other words, it is a "problem," a "skyrocketing" only to racists, to extremists -- and to those who use racism and extremism to further their own political or professional careers. 

And yet here we find this inflammatory language being used casually -- and, one assumes and hopes, unconsciously -- in a straight news story. And we see this across the board on the subject of immigration (among others): the lazy promulgation of racist and other extremist tropes in the most ordinary of circumstances.

This one story hardly matters in itself, of course. But it is indicative of the poisonous "background radiation" that we all must live with nowadays. Even if you put aside the multibillion-dollar operations -- like Fox, Sinclair, the Kochs, etc., which openly and relentlessly seek to inflame the populace and drive it toward extremism -- we are still immersed in the toxic language of hate and demonization that has crept into "respectable" discourse in a thousand insidious ways.