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

Steven Jonas | March 29, 2021

Steve Jonas has provided us with a brief background to the Republican Party's history of xenophobia and racism.

chinese exclusion
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 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") 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.

It is often thought that it was Trump who brought this sort of thinking to the Republican Party. While Trump is a racist and xenophobe extraordinaire, 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 (sometimes 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.

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.

On Racism

The reason that Rutherford B. Hayes, the GOP candidate in the disputed election of 1876, 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" became the party of his predecessor – the racist pro-slavery Andrew Johnson (who Lincoln had chosen to "balance" his ticket in 1864).