The United States is a super-power. We built the current world order at the end of World War Two. We have greatly benefited from it. Our political system spread across the world. It is what many people abroad admired and wanted, until about ten years ago. We are in the midst of a global movement that is populist, isolationist and rejecting the old order. It is not just the America First crowd that hates the current form of globalization. They are joined by the Russia First crowd, together with Hungary, Italy, Germany, the Brexiteers, and many others. This is a short list of all the usual suspects.
Nor is this historic moment unprecedented. This rejection of a smaller world is not new, and history offers a guide and a warning. The world saw a period of globalization starting in the 1870s. Some of the same processes that we have at present developed in that period. The tools of that world were the railroad and the telegraph. Ours is the internet. Keeping in touch with family, even across borders, was not near impossible as in previous periods. Letters and the telegraph, while not fast by our standards, were efficient, and allowed people to keep in touch.
Businesses relied on local, even regional production for most goods. However, things like furniture, even clothes, started on the road to foreign lands where it was sold at local stores. For example, the furniture business relied on imported woods from South America. The finished products were at times exported to other markets. This process is familiar to us, except that instead of furniture, we often think of computer products and other industrial goods. Coffee makers and electronics are made in China, and other places east. It is imported to the United States and sent across the Pacific in cargo ships. Incidentally, cheap furniture is made in China as well, and not from good quality goods. The effect is a disposable society, where goods are made on one end of the planet and sold on the other
Food, due to its very nature, was still locally produced. That is until refrigeration came to be. Then people in the Midwest could enjoy an orange, or even the far more fancy, occasional banana. These days we have a movement to consume locally grown food. However fresh fruits and tomatoes in the middle of winter are not local. They come from far away, and due to the magic of refrigeration, we can enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables in the middle of winter.
With the movement of goods came the movement of people, not just across borders, but across oceans. That was the origin of the 19th-century migration to the United States, which was the largest wave from Europe. This was also a time that if you made it to Ellis Island, you were in. Very few, if any, were turned away by immigration officers. Nor did they exist until the 1880s. Before that, there was absolutely no control. This migration service, which in time would become the Immigration and Naturalization Service we know today, did not start its functions until late in the 19th century. While the time needed before people could apply for citizenship, from two to fourteen years, in the end it settled into five years of residency. After this people could apply for citizenship. Early in the history of the nation, there was no fuss, no muss, no test, no oath. The naturalization ceremonies came relatively late in the 19th century as well..
The formation of the immigration service was in response to a perceived crisis. Eastern Europeans and Italians were seen as lesser people and portrayed as invaders. Yet, even then, most were allowed into the country. It was not until, 1924 that a quota system was created.
The first true exclusion law was against Chinese at the end of the 19th century. It was race-based, and it was meant to prevent people who were seen as less than human from coming to the United States. Some already here were expelled, deported if you will, to Mexico. This is the origin of a vibrant Mexican-Chinese community. It also tells you a lot about our views of race, that in time would lead straight to the American Eugenics Societies. There are weaker races and stronger races, and mixing of the blood leads to a weakening of the race. It can trace its origins to both Richard Darwin and Herbert Spencer’s ideas, but also to much older concepts of race and purity that permeated the United States. These toxic ideas rear their ugly head every so often, especially among the far right wing White Christianity movement, as well as the Ku Klux Klan and other groups. The KKK came to be at the end of the Civil War, and it was part of the means to maintain the social order in the South even after their defeat at the hands of Union Forces. The superiority of the white race is a core belief.
As the first age of globalization came to an end, so did a revival of the KKK. Our entry into World War One did not help either. Especially since it saw the rise of legislation that painted many immigrants as part of a fifth column. Also, there were economic changes, and factories, and the beginnings of the move from the rural space to the urban space. This process would not end for a few generations, but it started to change politics in the country. Many in older immigrant groups saw new immigrants as invaders, who were portrayed as a rapist, ill-educated, and would not assimilate to the United States. This language that Donald Trump used is hardly new. For that matter, the pattern is hardly new. Creating an animus against the outsider, perceived, is an old tactic.
Enter World War Two and one of the most shameful known chapters of American history. After December 7, panic spread across the nation. The best analogy is what happened after the attack of Sept 11. This led to the internment of Japanese-Americans, perceived as a fifth column, into concentration camps, such as Manzanar. However, have you ever wondered why there was no widespread internment of Americans of Italian and German provenance? Part of it is the population size. Between Italians and Germans, you had over three million people, so there was the problem of logistics, The Japanese-American population was small in comparison.
To be fair, there were some, about 11,000 Germans and German-Americans were detained. About 3,000 Italians saw the same fate. However, there were significant differences. The Germans and Italians who were targeted belonged to specific organizations. You could make an argument that Americans of German and Italian extraction were a fifth column. After all, we had a rally at Madison Square Garden that embraced Nazi views but a year before the war started. It was attended by hundreds of thousands, many native-born but friendly to the ideology. One of the America First proponents was no less than Charles Lindberg. He was a national hero, but until the attack, he was a leader in the isolationist wing of the country, and friendly to Nazi views. He became a strong proponent of World War Two soon after he learned of the attack, and the German declaration of war,
Japanese Americans were targeted because they were of Japanese extraction. It was racist, and the concentration camps involved putting toddlers behind the wire, with soldiers on watchtowers overseeing them. So having children in dog kennels these days, and separation from their parents is not unprecedented in American history. However, the reaction from most of the country has been very different. Americans object to this policy. When Japanese-Americans were removed, their neighbors did not say a word.
The current policy of family separation is the national origin. Nor are they less or more jarring than Japanese-American toddlers behind the wire. They are equally problematic and come from the exact same place. It is a deep fear of the other.
Racism runs deep in the recesses of the American mind. This is why we still have a white supremacy system that permeates society. This is why we hide from the history of genocide and slavery. Denial of the true horrors allows us to continue doing what we do. Granted, both of those happened before any of us were alive, but it. It also helps to explain how a legislator in Arizona, who is from a native population, has been told he is not American. He is, but to some Whites, he is a threat to their power.
Americans distrust those who speak different languages, or English with an accent. We dislike those who have a different skin color. And there are people, including the current president, who not just fan the flames of division, but believe in the things they peddle. I believe that the president wants more division, no less because this helps to keep power concentrated in a few hands.
But children are in cages? They are refusing passports to Mexican Americans! (Incidentally, this did not start with Donald Trump but led to an agreement to stop that in 2009 between the Obama Administration and the ACLU.) All this is true. It smacks of ethnic cleansing. Again, this is not the first time. It happens repeatedly because we refuse to confront our collective, at times horrific, history.
I am glad there are Americans who are horrified. Definitely, it is a good thing people are fighting back. We have not seen that in the past. However, we need to confront our worst instincts if we are to banish these attitudes. Or at least, send them to the fringes of society where they can be more or less tolerated. I am not naive and believe that racism and anti-semitism will disappear, But they need to be made strictly socially unacceptable. Moreover, hate and fear are not normal, it is a learned behavior.
Children are not born fearing people with different melanin content. Nor are they born with the belief that a group of people drinks Christian blood for Passover. For that matter, we are not born believing Islam is a hate-filled religion. These are learned and accepted views in certain circles. The Zionist Occupation Government is a conspiracy theory. It is as deep though as Mexicans want to go on a Reconquista of the United States. Barack Obama is an American Citizen, born in the United States, not a stranger in a strange land who illegally was elected. The last one was started by President Donald Trump. His favorite president is Andrew Jackson, who effected ethnic cleansing.
The idea that globalists want to destroy the nation, the volk, is a conspiracy. Granted not limited to the United States. The last time around, when he had another globalization period, these globalists used trains and the telegraph. When they were driven back, we had two world wars. One involved outright genocide. Nationalism was so deep and dangerous that the killing fields claimed millions of lives.
We are on the knifes edge of something similar. Children in cages are a test for all of us. We accepted it last time around when children were put behind the wire. Fear drove the policy of Japanese internment. Hate is driving the current cycle. We got rid (deported if you need this spelled out) American citizens of Mexican decent back to Mexico the last time around as well.
It is time for us to not just confront children in cages. It is time to admit this is deep in our souls. Why? This is how you diminish and deny it. We need to teach openly about the genocide of native peoples. We need to teach about slavery and how it connects to the present. Jim Crow led to mass incarceration. We need to do more than just apologize, and pay reparations, to Japanese Americans. It is time to confront the deep racism against Mexican Americans, some of whom have been in the United States longer than the United States existed.
Until we do that, these cycles will repeat themselves.
We also must stop buying into every conspiracy theory that is popular in some quarters. And yes, one of those peddlers is the White House. No, there were no good people among the far right marching in Charlottesville. The lost cause is not a good cause. It is time we confront that history.
September 10, 2018