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Elites employ various rhetorical strategies in public discourse, including on the topic of immigration. As such, those with influence rely on storytelling to shape views about the narratives related to immigrants as a minority out-group. This has significant consequences, particularly in areas of policy development. Policy shapers have isolated immigrant groups by creating certain ideologically derived criteria well beyond citizenship for them to eventually receive “full American” status. Further, such status first has required immigrants to unduly prove their “worthiness” as exceptional—like being extra hardworking and very law abiding. Our essay seeks to show how foundational rhetoric is often intentionally chosen in order to categorize immigrants as inherently different and intrinsically inferior. As an alternative, we propose a pragmatically conceived model of discourse for the practice of public rhetoric that redescribes immigrant narratives as one of belonging and inclusion. To this end, we draw on examples of how rhetoric, informed by Richard Rorty, has sought to emphasize this-worldly commonalities rather than metaphysical abstractions about similarity or difference. Pragmatism prevents the philosophical justification of cruel acts endured by immigrants, both in indecent rhetoric and wrong-headed public policy, while simultaneously enlarging the definition of “one of us,” in part by reconceiving the notion of democratic loyalty.


Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication | Race and Ethnicity | Social Policy | Speech and Rhetorical Studies


© 2020 The Author(s). This open access article is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) 4.0 license, and was originally published in Cogent Arts & Humanities.