Colbert's Attack on Trump Misses the Immigration Angle

By Jerry Kammer on September 10, 2015

On Tuesday, Stephen Colbert launched his "Late Show" on CBS with a patriotic montage of clips of him and others singing "The Star Spangled Banner" in locations across the country. Then he launched into a mockery of Donald Trump's announcement that he will never again eat Oreos because much of the work at the Chicago plant that makes them is being moved to Mexico.

Trump's defense of American jobs was not the sort of patriotic gesture Colbert could sing about. He called it a case of standing up to "Big Cookie" and making life difficult for the Republican Party. He said Trump was "forcing Republicans to decide between alienating Latino voters and eating Hydrox."

Colbert staged a comedic dissent from Trump's populism. He defended the honor of Oreos by gorging on a package of them.

The audience roared their delight. But the story of Trump's anger at Big Cookie has an element that Colbert, a passionate defender of immigrants regardless of their legal status, seems to have missed. That's because the story of Big Cookie's run for the border is part of the dismantling of the American blue-collar middle class, which used to include many immigrants.

I wrote about that for the San Diego Union Tribune back in 2003. Kraft, which had bought the Oreo operations from Nabisco, decided to shutter a Fig Newton plant in New Jersey and move its operations three hours south of the border to the Mexican city of Monterrey.

The story focused on Italian immigrants Marie and Giovanni Portelli, who had worked at the New Jersey plant for three decades. Having prospered there, they were not fazed by the shuttering of the plant because they were preparing to move back to Italy.

But Alma Ruiz, an immigrant from El Salvador was very worried about being laid off after just four years at the plant. She looked worriedly toward the globalized future.

"We came here for the work and now it's going [to Mexico]," said Ruiz. In heavily accented English, she added, "The people just ask lots of questions. They wonder what's going to happen and nobody knows nothing. It's very stress."

For American workers the stress just got a lot worse. But Colbert just played the story for laughs.