Donald Trump’s Forebears

Donald Trump’s Forebears

Donald J. Trump proposes mass deportation of 11 million Mexicans and wholesale exclusion of Muslim immigrants, tourists and visitors. His nativism has deep and disturbing roots in our nation’s past.

Just after our nation’s birth and before the turn of the century, President Adams and the federalist Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. The acts sought to deport and/or jail those who disagreed with those in power; they made it harder for immigrants to become citizens and easier to deport them; it made it a crime to criticize the federal government. Notable writers and publishers were fined and jailed; many immigrants fled the country. The upshot was that the opponents, led by President Jefferson won the 1800 elections and repealed the Acts.

The Know Nothings (American Party) were a nativist, anti-immigrant phenomenon of the 1850’s that emerged in response to the unresponsiveness of the elites of the Whig Party to the interests of native-born working men. It was strenuously opposed to immigration of Irish and German American Catholics fleeing the potato famines in Europe and was open only to white Protestant males. It began as a secret society and members were to respond “I know nothing” if asked about the organization. It was created to counter the Democratic Party’s reliance on immigrant votes in state and local elections. Immigrants were denied citizenship, public schooling, forced to read the Protestant Bible and ousted from their jobs in favor of native-born Americans in those states and communities where the Know Nothings achieved political ascendancy.  After the party’s collapse, a significant share of its Northern members joined the anti-slavery forces in the Republican Party.

The Ku Klux Klan emerged after the Civil War and has continued in various forms ever since; it espoused white supremacy, white nationalism, anti-immigration, anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism. While its tactics were terrorist in nature, its membership was widespread, at one point nearly 1/3rd of Indiana’s adult males were members. It has grown and waned at various times and has had deep roots in both the South and North. Its membership was secret and only open to white Protestants. Its heydays were after the Civil War, during the 20’s, and then again during the 50’s and 60’s.

The Immigration Restriction League was founded in 1894 by three Harvard alumni to restrict immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe on the grounds that they were ethnically inferior to Northern European Protestants. Unlike the Klan and the Know Nothings, which were middle class organizations, this group was highly elitist. One of its chief writers and thinkers was Madison Grant, a conservationist, an eugenicist and the author of “The Passing of the Great Race” – a paean to the Nordic races, which helped promote the ensuing immigration reforms to restrict immigration from Asia, Southern and Eastern Europe in 1921 and 1924. Echoes of Grant’s thinking appear in National Socialism. These laws governed American immigration for more than the next forty years. As examples of their impact, Italian immigration fell from 200,000 annually to 4,000 annually after the Act, and immigration from Eastern Europe and Asia fell to nothing – Chinese, Japanese, and Jewish immigration were specially targeted.

Beginning in the 20’s, these nativist movements had overlaps with the Red Scares of the 20’s led by Attorney General Palmer, which targeted for arrest and deportation prominent members of immigrant communities from Eastern and Southern Europe for their political beliefs and union organizing. Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy took this political art form to its zenith in the 1950’s as the search for leftists in academia, the government, unions and Hollywood became a national obsession.

The ideology, tactics, theatrics and overall tenor of Donald Trump’s campaign summon forth these darkened echoes from not so proud moments in American history.

Prepared by: Lucien Wulsin

Dated: June 15, 2016


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