By Sikivu Hutchinson
For the thousands of white folk who packed the stadium in Mobile, Alabama to hear Donald Trump this past Friday it must have seemed like old times. No PC dogwhistle limpness or vacillation, no pandering to “the minorities”; just straight talk, the kind of unvarnished alpha male nativism, Christian evangelicalism and white supremacy that rocketed the Tea Party into the mainstream in 2009. Trump’s tirades on anchor babies and repealing the 14th amendment’s birthright citizenship clause have the GOP presidential campaign clown car in overdrive. As the rest of the field scrambles to double down on its racist appeal to red meat Middle America all people of color are targeted by this rhetoric of criminalization.
It’s fitting that anti-undocumented immigrant hysteria has become the GOP’s clarion call when the Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice, police accountability and an end to policies that criminalize communities of color is on the rise. Similar to the specter of black lawlessness, anxiety about encroaching “illegals” stealing jobs, sucking up public services and committing mayhem is one of white Middle America’s most primal fears.
Yet, many analysts argue that the GOP needs at least 40% of the Latino vote in order to win the 2016 presidential election. So Republicans who still want to party like its 2009 would seem to have a death wish. Back then, former Republican Congressman Nathan Deal introduced the Birthright Citizenship Act into the House. The statute would have denied citizenship to children born in the U.S. to undocumented women, stripping away a civil right that ostensibly distinguishes the U.S. from fascist governments. Deal’s amendment failed, and though the Republicans went on to big Tea Party fueled victories in the 2010 midterm elections Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama in 2012 was partly due to his poor showing with Latinos. As a result, the GOP did a so-called autopsy on its failures and vowed to do better with “the minorities”.
But now they’re back, guns ablaze, with birthright citizenship as the new-old whipping boy.
Ratified in 1868, the 14th amendment was originally designed to confer citizenship onto freed African slaves. As Kevin Alexander Gray writes in Counterpunch, “in the Reconstruction period, as now, racism and white supremacy loomed large in public debate. Back then, opponents of the amendment talked about ‘public morality’ being threatened by people ‘unfit for the responsibilities of American citizenship.’’ Trump’s call for a wall to protect U.S. borders from marauding Mexican criminals not only demonizes Latinos but evokes toxic themes of Manifest Destiny that were used to justify American expansionism into Mexico. Themes that allowed white folk, the U.S.' original "anchor babies", to be legitimized as citizens.
During the 19th century the “Manifest Destiny” of the United States was one of “God-ordained” expansionism. African slaves, indigenous peoples, Mexican nationals and other non-Europeans were deemed aliens and enemy combatants, anathema to the democratizing force of America. In the 1840s, Manifest Destiny played a key role in the U.S.’ brutal occupation of Mexican territory. Cultural propaganda dehumanizing indigenous Mexican populations provided American imperialism with the aura of moral righteousness. Indeed, commenting on the U.S.-Mexico War, it was no less than poet Walt Whitman who stated: “What has miserable, inefficient Mexico—with her superstition, her burlesque upon freedom, her actual tyranny by the few over the many—what has she to do with the great mission of peopling the new world with a noble race? Be it ours, to achieve that mission!”
Back in the good old days of docile slaves and vanquished savages, there were no ambiguities about who deserved to be accorded rights. God ordained the universality of European American experience, civilization and moral worth. Non-white peoples either submitted to the Enlightenment principles and values of the culturally superior West or were extinguished. States rights were white citizens’ last vestige of protection from the trespasses of big government ramming civil rights down the throats of a “victimized” white electorate. So it is no mystery then why these 19th century ideologies have gained fresh currency amongst a “reloading” white nationalist insurgency. The GOP has come full circle, drunk on a cocktail of xenophobia, anti-immigrant hysteria and jingoism that should deep six its bid for the White House.