Donald Trump’s first State of the Union was a largely banal speech with few policy details and none of his signature asides and bravado. Overall, the reception to the speech has been cool. A CNN flash poll found it had “the lowest net positive rating for a State of the Union address since at least 1998.”
One line, however, stood out.
My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too.
The line mirrored Trump’s language last September when he announced he would rescind the DACA program that provided legal protection for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, a group known as Dreamers. “[Y]oung Americans have dreams too,” Trump said.
The argument for DACA and the Dream Act, which would give a similar group permanent legal status, is that Dreamers are Americans. They had no choice in the decision to come to the United States, they grew up here and, in many cases, they have no connection to any other country. But Trump’s turn of phrase turns this concept on its head and pits “Americans” against “Dreamers.”
It was a message that was quickly embraced by white nationalists, who paired the phrase with stock photos of white people. Prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer, for instance, posted this image on Twitter during Trump’s speech:
“Americans are dreamers, too.”
~Donald Trump pic.twitter.com/nZmUFBWMCE
— Richard 🐉 Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) January 31, 2018
It was celebrated in a similar way on GAB, a social network that caters to white nationalists.
Former KKK grand wizard David Duke thanked Trump for including the line in his speech.
Thank you President Trump. Americans are "Dreamers" too.
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) January 31, 2018
The exact turn of phrase — “Americans are dreamers too” — appears to be have been popularized by Laura Ingraham, a Fox News host and immigration hardliner. She used the phrase to defend Trump’s decision to cancel DACA on September 5, arguing that Dreamers should not be eligible for work permits and raising the specter of “crowded schools.”
But the use of the phrase pre-dates Ingraham. It was embraced at a grassroots level by anti-immigrant racists online early in the Trump presidency.
We americans are dreamers too. We dream to kick ALL illegals out of our country. pic.twitter.com/VzzK9Xh3K6
— @Acosta is a little Bitch. (@Figue_j) February 28, 2017
The Washington Post billed Trump’s speech as “A Call For Bipartisanship,” describing the speech as “a chance to act presidentially.” White nationalists, however, heard a very different message. It seems like they were listening more carefully.