Trump’s xenophobia is an American tradition — but it doesn’t have to beRoundup
tags: racism, immigration, Xenophobia, Trump
Erika Lee is the author of "America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States" and Director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota.
The immigrants who are coming are “the most ignorant stupid sort of their own nation.” They herd together and “will soon so outnumber us that … we will not in my opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious. … I wish … the number of purely white people … were increased.”
While these sentiments may echo President Trump’s remarks on immigration, these words do not come from our current commander in chief in 2019 but from Benjamin Franklin in the 1750s. The threatening foreigners Franklin feared so much were Germans coming to Pennsylvania. The numbers of “purely white people” he wanted increased were the English.
Trump may be the most xenophobic American leader in United States history. From the effort to restrict immigrants from mostly Muslim countries and the drastic reduction in refugee admissions, to efforts to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and the denial of asylum seekers from Central America, Trump’s policies have transformed immigration to the United States.
But the truth is that xenophobia has always been a central part of American life. It is an American tradition that shapes our worldview, mobilizes voters and generates profits. It influences our international relations and dictates domestic policy. And it is a form of racism and discrimination that has threatened the democratic ideals upon which this country was founded.
For Samuel F.B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, Catholic immigrants posed the danger. In 1841, Morse warned that Catholic foreigners were an “insidious invasion” of the country and an “enemy to [its] democracy.” New technology like Morse’s telegraph expedited the spread of these ideas, and anti-Catholic xenophobia spread across the country. Violence and bloodshed hit a peak in Louisville on Election Day in 1855 when 500 members of the anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic American Party, also known as the “Know Nothing” party, tore through the city attacking foreigners. An estimated 22 to 100, mostly Irish and German Catholic immigrants, died in what has been remembered as “Bloody Monday.”
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