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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/19/21

Xenophobia and Racism: They're in the Republican Party's DNA

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"Either this nation shall kill racism, or racism shall kill this nation." (S. Jonas, August, 2018)

The Chinese Must Go - Magic Washer - 1886 anti-Chinese US cartoon. Right up the Republicans' alley, right now.
The Chinese Must Go - Magic Washer - 1886 anti-Chinese US cartoon. Right up the Republicans' alley, right now.
(Image by Wikipedia (, Author: The George Dee Magic Washing Machine Company)
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At the recent House of Representatives hearing on the mass shooting of Asians in Georgia and more generally on the massive rise in anti-Asian hate crimes since President Trump and other Republicans began referring to the COVID-19 pandemic as the "China flu" ( and worse), Cong. Chip (on-his-shoulder) Roy of Texas spoke fondly of lynching as a way to achieve what in his mind passes as "justice," and then subsequently doubled-down on his estimate of the value of this particular method of racist murder.

Then the House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, (in both attacking a reporter and using racist tropes, definitely in the running for the "next Trump" --- you know, "the base" just loves both the attacks and the tropes) blew up when a reporter asked him about the propriety of using terms like "kung flu" or "China virus," giving every indication that he had no problem with the term. So, this is where the Republican Party currently stands on both racism and xenophobia (at least to date there have been no denunciations of either Congressman from within the Republican mainstream for either set of thoughts).

Now it is often thought that it was Trump who brought this sort of thinking (both types) to the Republican Party. Indeed, while Trump was a racist and xenophobe extraordinaire was what he was doing anything new? Was it a sudden violent departure from traditional Repub. policy? Well, no. In fact, the xenophobia part has been in the genes of the Republican Party since its beginnings and the racism part began with the abandonment of Reconstruction in 1876.

On Xenophobia

Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United Sates, and the last Whig to hold that office, succeeding to it upon the death of Zachary Taylor. Denied his party's Presidential nomination for re-election in 1852 he joined the American Party (otherwise known as the "Know-Nothings") and became their Presidential candidate that year. His party was known for its violent (sometime literally) antagonism towards the Irish (Catholic) immigrants who had been fleeing a very poor homeland since the 1830s, a flow that only increased with the Potato Famine in the mid-1840s. Following the Presidential campaign, Fillmore went on to become one of the founders of the Republican Party, not surprisingly bringing his "know-nothingism" with him, where it festered over the years.

As it happened, in 1875 the Republicans enacted the first specifically anti-immigrant law, the Page Act, which prevented the immigration of Chinese women (can't be birthing Chinese-ancestry people here, now can we --- sound familiar?). Then in 1882 they enacted the both-sexes Chinese Exclusion Act. About 40 years later came the infamous, Republican, Immigration Act of 1924. It banned all immigration from all of Asia and set severe quotas for immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, among other restrictions. This led to, among other things, the virtual impossibility for Jewish refugees from the Nazis getting into this country during the 1930s and early 40s, until the Second World War cut off Europe completely.

In the mid-60s, what is now looked back upon as a remarkably liberal Republican Party, agreed to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which liberalized matters very significantly. But with xenophobia gradually rearing its ugly head in portions of the Republican Party in this century (specifically among the members of misnamed "Freedom" Caucus, which should continue to be referred to by our side only as the "Tea Party"), Trump has put it back at the head of the line of Republican policy. BUT, the point here is that this is nothing new for the Repubs. It just a resurgence of policy that has been in the blood (one might say) of the Party since its founding. McCarthy and his fellows are just doubling down on it.

On Racism

For most of its existence since the end of Reconstruction following the election of 1876, the Republican Party has been the party of reaction in the United States. In fact, the only reason that Rutherford B. Hayes, the GOP candidate in that disputed election, won, was that he agreed to end Reconstruction, essentially turning over the Southern states to the former slaveholders and the Ku Klux Klan. Very quickly, despite the best efforts of President Grant, 1869-1877, "The Party of Lincoln" (some Repubs. amazingly still use that term) became the Party of his predecessor, the racist, pro-slavery, Andrew Johnson (who most unfortunately Lincoln had chosen to "balance" his ticket in 1864). With the end of Reconstruction, the party clearly and openly turned a blind eye to the successor to slavery, Jim Crow. There were two bright Republican exceptions to this rule (to a greater or lesser extent), Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. But their influence did not last long.

But then came Richard Nixon. In his early days he was an avatar of Joseph McCarthy (and his right-hand man, Roy Cohn, who would later become Trump's mentor), a violent political red-baiter, a virulent "anti-communist" abroad (who nevertheless later engaged in the first "de'tente" with the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and later than that opened the door to China) as well as an expander of the war on Viet Nam. But in his first 20 years in politics he wasn't known, particularly, as a racist.

However, then, in the late 1960s, he invented the Republican "Southern Strategy," openly moving into the Southern racist politics that the Democratic Party had left behind when it got solidly behind the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The Southern Strategy has dominated Republican Party politics ever since. Even before that, they nominated Barry Goldwater for President in 1964 (Goldwater had famously voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and then in the 1970's, after the Nixon resignation began the "clean-out" of the (relatively) liberal wing of their party, starting with the last major "big-government" voice in it, that of Nelson Rockefeller.

Ronald Reagan truly initiated the historical stream of GOP-led right-wing reaction that we now see in front of us, every day, for example on racism. The first campaign stop that Ronald Reagan made following his nomination for President by the Republican Party in 1980 was to the tiny hamlet of Philadelphia, MS. The village is significant historically only because it is the place that three northern civil rights workers were murdered by a white gang, including members of law enforcement, in the "Freedom Summer" of 1964. Nothing outright, but very symbolic to those Southerners who took note of such things.

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books. In addition to his position on OpEdNews as a "Trusted Author," he is a Senior Editor, (more...)
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