By Jason Newell:
Introducing, Dictionary.com’s word of the year:
- intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries.http://www.snopes.com/trump-sends-unpresidented-tweet/
If one looks closely at the word usage rate of the word xenophobia, it ostensibly coincides with Trump becoming the outright leader of the Republican Party as the convention neared. And since the beginning of civilization, politicians have brought the definition of this word into use. It’s a simple political strategy: cater to to the fears and insecurities of a majority and loyalty will likely be solidified, especially during times of economic uncertainty or rapidly changing demographics. And while I don’t subscribe to the notion that half of Trump supporters are a “basket of deplorables,” the majority of those with racist leanings reside within his base. This is nothing new, however, if xenophobia is analyzed and perceived through an historical lense. Therefore, in order to paint a picture of the role xenophobia plays in electing jingoistic, and at times, undemocratic-leaning despots, one need to look no further then sifting through the annals of American history.
Prior to the formation of the Union, there were slaves of various ethnicities. In particular, those from West Africa and the United Kingdom (majority Irish). Now, it’s not fair to say that these two groups, once imported, got along in a kumbaya fashion, but class consciousness did gain a foothold in the early colonies. After work, some indentured servants would congregate with African-Americans in local pubs after a day of hard labor. Indentured servants essentially contained a parallel legal standing to the newly imported African-Americans. Topics included discussions of fundamental human rights, the potentiality of freedom, and convos relating to the treatment by agricultural bosses. However, whites were concerned with, from those who were the dominant landowners, the possibility of a worker’s coalition being formed between indentured servants and slaves.
In response, white suffrage acts were instituted in order to prevent this undesired coalition from coming to fruition. From this point on, an even stronger form of “white consciousness” crystallized as both indentured servants and Caucasian immigrants were granted full citizenship, which allowed them to pursue education and work normal jobs. As for those not included in the legislation, their legal status remained the same. The bill also placed quotas on immigration by preventing immigrants coming from many non-Western European nations – in other words, it was another way in which to cleanse American society of “inferior races.” Another manner to interpret this legislative proposal is economic protectionism – Whites wanted to prevent the inclusion of other races into the standard workforce.
Another point in time whereby economic uncertainty and changing demographics contributed to restrictive racial quotas being placed on immigrant nations occurred during the early-1920s. The influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe instilled a sense of fear in wary, nationalistic Americans, who viewed unfettered capitalism as the ideal economic paradigm. American paranoia primarily stemmed from the Red Tide that made its way to Eastern Europe as communism presented those suffering from international capitalism with an alternative form of opportunity. It was not as if it was the ideal system per se, but those residing within lower socioeconomic positions saw a glimmer of hope through the lense of “class consciousness.” So, in response to the spread of the idea of communism, the United States employed these quotas in order to minimize the immigration of unwanted races, and at the same time, attempted to solidify capitalism politically with these strict quotas on nations with pro-communist sentiments. Recent historical scrutiny has labeled these restrictive measures as explicitly racist.
The palpable fear of Latino and Hispanic immigrants is misguided: undocumented workers are less likely to commit crime when compared with citizens. By using a couple examples of immigrant crime, conservatives are attempting to use a broad brush to label millions of innocent people. Don’t get me wrong, checking the backgrounds of illegal immigrants is fully justified – we don’t want felonious individuals residing here without a way to track them. The conservative view is, in a sense, utilitarian: if we have less criminals here, then we will presumably have less crime. It’s not a bad argument in regards to “extra crime” being committed if more criminals in-fact live in the United States, but he fails to statistically prove a correlation between undocumented workers containing the propensity to commit more crime.
Secondly, a proposed religious test is also discriminatory and likely unconstitutional. The notion that asking a person about their religious beliefs, and thus using it as a mechanism to prevent immigration is absurd. However, per usual, I will provide a counterargument by invoking the Bill Maher school of politics: there are countries where large percentages of Muslims believe in the right to stone homosexuals, jail a woman for being raped, and murder nonbelievers. Due to this reality – and as a staunch secularist – I can understand the concern when immigrants aren’t screened properly; in particular, when they arrive from nations with theocratic governments. Religious theocracy is the antithesis to liberal, secular values.
Nonetheless, American Muslims are largely acclimated and far from extreme. There are a few outliers, such as what happened in Orlando and San Bernardino, but since 9/11, there have been more domestic terrorist acts committed on behalf of right-wing US citizens. However, one hole in the non-extremist American Muslim argument is the percentage of identifiers when compared to the total American population – American Muslims only account for .9% of the American population but are responsible for around 10% of domestic terrorism. This stat is a bit high compared to the total population; these stats, however, don’t justify a religious test proposal. If one wants to delve deeper into the reasoning behind the anti-Muslim stance then it’s necessary to look at current economic conditions. While the American economy is strong in some sectors, 5 million manufacturing jobs have gone overseas, or have been lost since the year 2000. Therefore, the economic uncertainty experienced by countless Caucasians is justified but being misdirected.
The correct direction to point the finger is toward corporate America and its incessant lobbying in favor of anti-worker trade deals. And yes, comparative advantage makes logical sense but it fails to take into account worker conditions and wages when one considers that corporations house company HQs within American jurisdiction. By the way, the “unions are responsible for the high cost in American manufacturing” argument is feeble as only 7% of the US population is currently a member of a union, thus their influence is quite limited. Moreover, the lower than usual participation rate is largely a consequence of retiring baby boomers and manufacturing jobs losses. All in all, immigrants shouldn’t solely be blamed for American job losses and domestic terrorism.
Trump’s unprecedented (no pun intended) path to the most powerful position in the world partially relied on one of the most relevant political maxims of all time: “Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd,” a quote uttered by the likes of Bertrand Russell. What’s occurring at this moment is a slight variant of herd instinct in that it’s mostly driven by the basic feeling of anger, but it’s misdirected and derives from a standpoint of bigotry and hatred. If America wants to propagate values relating to its insistence on being the “melting pot” of the world, then it should steer away from the route of racially motivated mob mentality.
Only then, will America truly represent the values it both cherishes and proudly projects.