Salon recently ran an article called “My mother and Trump’s border: America has been through this “extreme vetting” before.” It told the story of the author’s mother entering the United States as a foreigner in the 1950s. When she was asked, “Do you intend to assassinate the president of the United States,” she answered in jest, “If I were going to assassinate the president, would I tell you,” and was detained. The author guesses that she was held for somewhere between a few hours and three days; the period varied depending on which family member was telling the story. She was released because her husband, who worked at the United Nations, reportedly convinced none other than the then-Secretary General to intervene.
What makes the story interesting is the author: Duke University professor Ariel Dorfman. However amusing the anecdote about his mother is, Professor Dorfman’s own story is more interesting. As the son of an Argentine UN official, Prof. Dorfman travelled a lot, and lived in the US for a time, even attending Berkeley in the late 1960s. But by early adulthood he had become a citizen and resident of Chile, and it was there that he began to make a name for himself. In 1970, an avowed Marxist, Salvador Allende, was elected president of Chile, and Prof. Dorfman became a cultural advisor to the administration. For those unfamiliar with Allende’s brief reign, here are a few facts:
- Entire industries, such as copper mining, were nationalized overnight.
- The federal government set-up local boards, (“Unions of Supply and Price Controls”) composed of party loyalists, to decide how much of a given consumer good each neighborhood would receive.
- By the end of 1972, inflation was 600 percent, and by the next year it was 1,200 percent.
- In 1971, Fidel Castro visited for a month. As a gift, he gave President Allende an AK-47 inscribed, “To Salvador Allende, from your brother in arms.”
- In 1972, a new and stringent gun control law was put in place, and the government started confiscating civilian-owned firearms.
In September 1973 a military coup overthrew Allende’s regime. What happened to Professor Dorfman? He fled the country and eventually ended up in the United States where, naturally, he became a professor at the prestigious Duke University. Why was he let in and why was he granted citizenship? To this day, the United States is not supposed to let in Communists.
Did Prof. Dorfman hide the fact that he worked in the administration of a government cozy with the Soviet Union? Was his authorship of the virulently anti-American book, How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic, somehow overlooked? Perhaps an immigration official asked him if he’d ever been affiliated with a Communist Party, and Prof. Dorfman joked, “If I had been, I wouldn’t I tell you,” and they both laughed and he got through.
Something tells me that Prof. Dorfman’s father, the UN employee, pulled strings for him, just as he did for his wife. In any case, the damage has been done. Prof. Dorfman is the epitome of the anti-American college professor. In the 1990s, when California passed a referendum that ensured the elimination of bilingual public education, Prof. Dorfman opposed it, asking in the New York Times, “Will this country speak two languages or merely one?” He went on to claim that when immigrants continue to speak their own languages “the American experience and idiom are fertilized and fortified.” Prof. Dorfman seems to think it is the voter’s job to satisfy guests like him.
But Prof. Dorfman was only being consistent about English. In the 1960s he wrote, “I finally came to renounce the English language–forever, I swore–because it was the language of the gringos who were oppressing Latin America.” That was before he had to flee Chile and live among the gringos, and he now claims to regret his past “monolingualism.” His alleged regret means he can now criticize foolish American “monolinguists” who think theirs is an English-speaking country.
A glance at his bibliography shows that criticizing his host country is Prof. Dorfman’s specialty. He is especially vitriolic about the very small role the United States played in assisting the inevitable and very popular coup against President Allende.
These days he has taken to writing anti-Trump articles. Recently Time ran one with what is perhaps the most condescending title yet: “The Case for Feeling Compassion Toward Trump Supporters.”
What makes all of this unbearable is that Prof. Dorfman is so clearly blind to his own privilege. He seems genuinely to view himself as a rebel outside of “the system.” He was the son of an international bureaucrat, and got a world-class education in the United States that helped him go from college professor to presidential advisor. He helped ruin Chile’s economy for two and half years, but when the coup came, he had the connections to get out quickly and go on to teach at Duke. Factory workers and Communist Party members–presumably the apples of Prof. Dorfman’s eye–had to stay, and plenty of them were killed. One doubts that their souls are comforted by Prof. Dorfman’s public agonizing over his survivor’s guilt. He lives a life of luxury in a country he claims to despise, but that is foolish enough to give him top academic positions and publish his spiteful articles in the most popular newspapers. If Prof. Dorfman had compassion for those factory workers, one wonders what good that compassion will do Trump supporters.
Compassion does not seem to be Prof. Dorfman’s defining trait. Consider how his most famous piece of fiction, the play Death and the Maiden, became famous. It was made into a movie by none other than the film director Roman Polanski, who left this nation never to return, so as to escape prison for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. The protagonist of the play is a rape victim.
Much like Frankfurt School disciples, such as Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, Prof. Dorfman is as rootless as the forces of international capitalism he cries out against. Adorno and Marcuse were also foreigners who came to the United States, got cushy academic jobs, and went on openly to attack everything American. Just as they forever worried that another Hitler was just around the corner, he is petrified that Trump is an American version of Augusto Pinochet, the general who lead the 1973 coup that ousted Allende.
It is madness to let such people into our country and give them cultural and media power. Even if one believes the neo-con claim that America is not a place but an idea, and that so long as you believe in American values you are as American as Ann Coulter, people like Ariel Dorfman should be deported immediately. His disdain for American values could not be clearer, but he is protected by all of those other “Americans” who share his disdain.
All of this to say, from one Chilean-American to another, “I’m sorry your mom was detained because of a stupid joke, Prof. Dorfman. It is you who should’ve been detained, because you are completely serious.”