Trump and ‘The Champion of the Migrants’

Over the weekend, at two campaign events, Donald Trump bragged to audiences about another of his big “ideas,” this one presented to his friend Dana White, the head of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. “Dana,” Trump said he suggested, “why don’t you set up a migrant league of fighters and have your regular league of fighters, and then you have the champion of your league—these are the greatest fighters in the world—fight the champion of the migrants?” This anecdote was in addition to his usual routine: claiming, erroneously, that migrants are violent, mentally ill criminals, while riling up his crowds with talk of mass deportations.

White confirmed that Trump had floated this idea, but assured everyone that it was meant as “a joke.” If you don’t think it’s funny, a Trump-campaign spokesperson suggested, it’s probably because you’re one of those “elitists” who “are the same people who stupidly think combat sports is human cockfighting, showing their ignorance to the sweet science of mixed martial arts.”

I am, admittedly, not an expert in the “sweet science” of MMA, but I do know my nation’s history, and I have, like many high-school graduates in America, read The Invisible Man. Trump’s comments immediately conjured up the battle royal at the beginning of Ralph Ellison’s classic—Black boys are being paid to box each other blindfolded for the amusement of drunken white spectators in the Jim Crow South.

The Invisible Man was a work of fiction, but the battle royal was drawn from reality. After emancipation, white audiences who resented the end of slavery would organize fights between Black men—a racial segregated blood sport for entertainment.

Like most Trumpian strokes of rhetorical genius—including “Make America great again” and the notion that migrants are “poisoning the blood of our country”—this idea of a migrant cage match is scandalous (or sticky, depending on your POV) not because it is original, but because it is familiar. Once again, Trump has reached into the back closet of history and dragged out one of our ugliest and most hateful conceits.

[James Parker: A gory amalgam of truth and spectacle]

Trump has long considered race battles to be good entertainment. The Migrant Championship is just an upcycled version of his idea for a “Black versus white” season of The Apprentice. He told Howard Stern in 2005 that the Black team would include light- and dark-skinned Black people, but the white team would be “all blondes.” “It would be the highest-rated show on television,” he claimed.

Why is Trump continuing to excel in polls—even among Latino voters, some 40 percent of whom support him—despite his obvious racism? One reason is that they trust his handling of the economy. But America also has a long tradition of the newest immigrant group seeking membership in white America by beating up on the most recent people through the door. Even in cases like today’s, when the newest immigrants might look and speak like them.

Latino voters be warned: Trump has repeatedly said what he thinks of us and what the future holds should we not be ready to present our papers.