In his lust for power, Trump once again turns to xenophobia

Subscribers Only Content

High resolution image downloads are available to subscribers only.

Not a subscriber? Try one of the following options:



Get A Free 30 Day Trial.

No Obligation. No Automatic Rebilling. No Risk.

In just the latest example of his tendency to employ passive-aggressive racially coded dog whistles, former President Donald Trump referred to Republican presidential rival Nikki Haley by her birth name, Nimarata.

Haley is the daughter of Indian immigrants and was born Nimarata Nikki Randhawa. She took her husband Michael Haley’s last name after they were married. Trump recently amplified his attacks on her by targeting her birth name and falsely stating she is ineligible to become president because her parents were not U.S. citizens when she was born in 1972.

The truth is Haley was born on American soil and is thus eligible to run by the laws of our constitution. Coming from Trump and the larger right-wing apparatus, such tactics are hardly surprising. Trump and other Republicans practiced similar xenophobic antics during the 2008 campaign , when they falsely accused then-presidential candidate and eventual President Barack Obama of being born in Kenya.

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz jumped on the racist bandwagon by stating on Newsmax, “What I can tell you is for every Karen we lose, there’s a Julio and a Jamal ready to sign up for the MAGA movement, and that bodes well for our ability to be more diverse and to be more durable as we head into not only the rest of the primary contest, but also the general election.”

Can we honestly be surprised at comments like these from Republicans?

The fact is xenophobia has always been a central part of American life and an ugly factor enraging and galvanizing voters. It’s a form of racism and discrimination that has threatened the democratic ideals upon which this country was founded. For example, in the mid-19th century, anti-Catholic xenophobia swept the nation, and Catholic immigrants faced hostility. Then, in 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first federal law to single out a specific immigrant group for exclusion. This law remained in effect until 1943.

In the late 19th century, nativism was rampant, and the country’s leading scientists and politicians labeled Italians, Jewish people, and others from Southern, Central and Eastern Europe as “inferior races” that pushed the “native born” aside, leading to a call for “America for Americans.” Thus, quotas were implemented to allow immigrants from Northern and Western Europe but not Southern and Eastern Europe or from Asia.

During the harrowing years of the Great Depression, calls to deport Mexicans became part of local and federal policies. Almost one out of every five Mexicans or Mexican Americans were forced to leave the country, including natural-born citizens. During World War II, 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced into concentration camps for the duration of the war based on the US government’s reasoning that they were a severe threat to national security.

A temporary reprieve occurred in the 1960s, when the civil rights movement helped raise support for immigration reform. The 1965 Immigration Act overturned discriminatory quotas that had been in place since the 1920s and indisputably outlawed discrimination based on race, gender, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence in government decisions to issue international visas.

By the 1990s, xenophobia had begun to regain momentum as immigration became a vital component of the rightward growing conservative movement . During this decade, right-wing journalists, scholars, and politicians argued that growing numbers of immigrants from Latin America, Africa, and Asia were culturally diluting and ethnically assaulting the “core of American identity.” By this they meant white America.

Such impassioned and sinister tactics were successful in generating backlash, electing conservative politicians to office, and moving political influence in the United States rightward on a number of issues. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Islamophobia became a signature symbol of the political, social, and cultural right.

Nikki Haley, who had previously stated her father had to teach at a historically Black college and university because he was unable to secure employment at a white institution of higher learning, continues to espouse the notion that “America was never a racist nation.” She does this even as Trump continues to attack her, her name, and, by default, her ethnicity.

Should Haley continue selling her moral compass by engaging in such blatant denials and by refusing to state such obvious truths, despite the fact that she knows better? America has been and, in certain ways, still is a nation where racism and xenophobia exist. To claim otherwise is to be disingenuous to the point of straining credulity.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.