Director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
During presidential adviser Stephen Miller's debate about immigration with CNN reporter Jim Acosta last Wednesday, Acosta asked, “Are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?” and Miller replied, “Jim, I can honestly say I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. Actually, it reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree.”
The word "cosmopolitan" struck me as odd, because if there is any rural-urban difference in knowledge of who speaks English where, it's probably in urban areas, which are more diverse. I wondered if it was an allusion to President Trump's anti-elite attitude, which was displayed most prominently during his campaign last year and appealed to rural voters.
Then commentator Jeff Greenfield weighed in, writing for Politico Magazine that the word is "a cousin to 'elitist,' but with a more sinister undertone. It’s a way of branding people or movements that are unmoored to the traditions and beliefs of a nation, and identify more with like-minded people regardless of their nationality. . . . In the eyes of their foes, 'cosmopolitans' tend to cluster in the universities, the arts and in urban centers, where familiarity with diversity makes for a high comfort level with 'untraditional' ideas and lives."
Greenfield said the term is "unnerving" because it has been used by dictators and nationalist movements in campaigns that had anti-Semitic elements. "Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller would angrily wave away any suggestion that they are echoing the sentiments of anti-democratic political movements, much less anti-Semitic dog whistles. But there is no evading the unhappy reality that to label someone a 'cosmopolitan' carries with it a clear implication that there is something less patriotic, less loyal . . . So maybe the next time Miller wants to duel with an obstreperous reporter, he might consider going back to 'elitist' – that’s a real homegrown insult."
Greenfield said Sunday on CNN's "Reliable Sources" that he erred by not noting in his piece that Miller is Jewish. He said Miller's use of the word was "not anti-Semitic," but "very strongly nationalistic," suggesting that "You're not a real American." He added, "'Cosmopolitan' is something like 'elitist' on steroids . . . I've never heard it used in an American political debate." It will be interesting to see if the White House keeps using it.