Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously the justice editor at Grist.
The Republican candidate is cribbing from the early 20th-century white supremacist and eugenicist Madison Grant.
The press has been having a great time lately figuring out whether Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is softening or hardening on his immigration stance. But, as Diana Lind writes over at Vox, there is really no mystery about where Trump stands. He’s has been clear about his overtly restrictive immigration designs, based on myths about Mexicans being criminally and disease-prone and on all Muslims being terrorists.
There are reasons why many Americans consider his immigration stance racist, beyond the nativist roots of Trump’s family and the legacy of slavery that motivates his supporters. One of the main reasons is that the language he uses mirrors, sometimes verbatim, the language used by early 20th-century white supremacists who fought to close America’s borders to immigrants. There were no shortage of men like that during that time period. One man worth examining in particular, however, is Madison Grant, the eugenicist and nature conservationist whose white supremacist worldview influenced President Teddy Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler alike. And Grant’s words on immigration in the 1910s and 1920s—perhaps the peak era for xenophobia in America—carry an uncanny resemblance to Trump’s rhetoric today.
In September 1925, Grant wrote an essay in The Forum titled “America for the Americans,” a phrase borrowed from a speech given by President Calvin Coolidge the previous year. Grant’s message is summed up in this excerpt from his essay:
Immigration from the West Indies is mostly Negro, from Mexico and South America mostly Indian, pure or mixed, and additions of this character to our population are most undesirable. From the racial point of view it is not logical to limit the number of Europeans while we throw the country open without limitation to Negroes, Indians, and half-breeds. Nor is it the part of wise patriotism in any way to enhance the already large proportion of peoples of so-called colored blood among us.
It’s all based on Grant’s theory of the superiority of the Nordic race, which he was far from alone in subscribing to at the time. What’s remarkable is how Grant’s “America for the Americans” comports so warmly with Trump’s most recent speech on immigration—if not Trump’s general campaign theme.
Below are a few parts from Trump’s September 1 immigration speech, paired with excerpts from Grant’s 1925 essay. If these quotes weren’t labeled by name, it would be difficult to determine which of the men said them.
Grant: In cities and industrial centres with a large alien population, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are greatly impaired. Everyone knows that it is impossible publicly and freely to discuss the relative value of races or religions, the amount of crime, feeble-mindedness, or military worth attributable to the various alien groups, although these topics are all the subjects of daily conversation in private.
Trump: The truth is our immigration system is worse than anybody ever realized. But the facts aren’t known because the media won’t report on them. The politicians won’t talk about them and the special interests spend a lot of money trying to cover them up, because they are making an absolute fortune. That’s the way it is.
Grant: A mixed population not only interferes with unity of national action, but also leads to a struggle of conflicting cultures, if not of languages. Free immigration would make this nation a mosaic, like the former Austrian Empire, instead of a homogeneous unit, such as America was a century ago. It would decrease the efficiency of our national government, just as it has already made our municipal administrations among the worst in the world, largely because of the mixed character of our city populations.
Trump: Only the out of touch media elites think the biggest problems facing America — you know this, this is what they talk about, facing American society today is that there are 11 million illegal immigrants who don’t have legal status. And, they also think the biggest thing, and you know this, it’s not nuclear, and it’s not ISIS, it’s not Russia, it’s not China, it’s global warming. ... There is only one core issue in the immigration debate, and that issue is the well being of the American people. … So, we block the funding for sanctuary cities. No more funds. … Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars, and we will work with Congress to pass legislation to protect those jurisdictions that do assist federal authorities.
Grant: Our institutions are Anglo-Saxon and can only be maintained by Anglo-Saxons and by other Nordic peoples in sympathy with our culture.
Trump: We also have to be honest about the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate. Sometimes it’s just not going to work out. It’s our right, as a sovereign nation, to chose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish and love us.
Grant: One of the largest loopholes in the existing law is the clamor of certain alien groups to admit relatives and thus evade the limitations of the quotas. The alleged separation of families and other sentimental and humanitarian appeals on behalf of "relatives" are used as a means of discrediting the law, in the hope of ultimately breaking it down. Admission of relatives must be held down to the fewest possible classes, and these should be included in the quota.
Trump: Hillary Clinton, for instance, talks constantly about her fears that families will be separated, but she’s not talking about the American families who have been permanently separated from their loved ones because of a preventable homicide, because of a preventable death, because of murder. No, she’s only talking about families who come here in violation of the law. … We will be fair, just, and compassionate to all, but our greatest compassion must be for our American citizens.
Grant: Having limited the numbers and limited the nations from which the bulk of our immigrants are to come, the next consideration is to secure the best possible individuals from these countries. This can be done by the imposition of intelligence tests, such as were employed in the draft examination in our Army in 1918. By applying these principles we can secure the best available immigrants and those most capable of reinforcing the Nordic element now in the country and of maintaining or improving our present level of intelligence. ... A careful examination into the character of the applicant and his literacy and knowledge of the English language and at least a ten years' residence should be prerequisites.
Trump: As soon as I enter office I am going to ask the Department of State, ... Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice to begin a comprehensive review of these cases in order to develop a list of regions and countries from which immigration must be suspended until proven and effective vetting mechanisms can be put in place. I call it extreme vetting, right? Extreme vetting. I want extreme. It’s going to be so tough, and if somebody comes in that’s fine but they’re going to be good. It’s extreme.
Another reform involves new screening tests for all applicants that include, and this is so important, especially if you get the right people. And we will get the right people. An ideological certification to make sure that those we are admitting to our country share our values and love our people. … To choose immigrants based on merit. Merit, skill, and proficiency. Doesn’t that sound nice?
Grant: Deportation of aliens who have illegally obtained entrance, or aliens who have become burdens to the community or who have developed anti-social activities, is becoming of great importance. This is a question of the administration and enforcement of the existing laws, and these must be strengthened in order to secure universal and effective application. The two questions of registration and deportation go hand in hand—the former is a necessary prelude to deportation on a large scale.
Trump: Under my administration, anyone who illegally crosses the border will be detained until they are removed out of our country and back to the country from which they came. … And you can call it deported if you want. The press doesn’t like that term. You can call it whatever the hell you want. They’re gone. … Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation. That is what it means to have laws and to have a country. Otherwise we don’t have a country.
Grant: The nations are waking up to the necessity of protecting their territories against an invasion far more dangerous than an armed conquest.
Trump: Whether it’s dangerous materials being smuggled across the border, terrorists entering on visas or Americans losing their jobs to foreign workers, these are the problems we must now focus on fixing. … The result will be millions more illegal immigrants; thousands of more violent, horrible crimes; and total chaos and lawlessness. That’s what’s going to happen, as sure as you’re standing there.
Grant, from his introduction to the 1921 book The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy: This is suicide pure and simple, and the first victim of this amazing folly will be the white man himself.
Trump: These are matters of life and death for our country and its people … It’s our last chance. It’s our last chance.
And for the bonus round, here are Grant and Trump on ID for “illegal aliens”:
Grant: We are vitally concerned with the maintenance of our form of government. From this point of view it is not those who are here who count but only those who vote that count. … In a republic—and this is a republic and not a democracy—all aliens applying for admission should be registered. This will prove to be necessary in the near future along the Mexican border to prevent the influx of Mexicans, Japanese, and south and east Europeans. For their own safety and protection, aliens already in the country who have come in legally should have proof to that effect. Exact identification by finger-printing and other means will protect those lawfully here. Only criminals and aliens illegally here can object to identification. Registration should be extended ultimately to the entire population because no one can legitimately take exception to accurate identification, and such universal registration would prove of great eugenical value.
Trump, responding in support of a plan to track America’s Muslim citizens in a national database: I would certainly implement that. Absolutely, there should be a lot of systems, beyond databases. We should have a lot of systems.
Trump in January: Look, you've got to have real security with the voting system. ... This voting system is out of control. You have people, in my opinion, that are voting many, many times. They don't want security, they don't want cards.
Trump in August: Voter ID. What’s with that? What’s with voter ID? Why aren’t we having voter ID? In other words, ‘I want to vote, here’s my identification. I want to vote. … And I will not tell you to vote 15 times. I will not tell you to do that. You won’t vote 15 times, but people will. They’ll vote many times, and how that could have happened is unbelievable.