Trump looks for an America that never existed

Trump looks for an America that never existed

5 min read
04 Apr, 2017
Comment: Trump's desire to 'Make America great again', with a return to a homogenous, white, male-dominated country is fundamentally flawed, for history tells us it never existed, writes Anisa Abeytia.
Trump's inner circle is dominated by rich, white men [Getty]

The Monroe Doctrine of Manifest Destiny played a large part in shaping US history. Expansion beyond the thirteen original colonies was the intention of America's Founding Fathers.

However, the land they desired was already inhabited and a means of seizing the territory was required. Similar to other colonial powers of the age, they needed to write laws disenfranchising natives to justify seizure of land, a tactic the French had also used successfully in Algeria.

The theft of land needed to be shrouded in law to provide the semblance of legitimacy, but also a "civilizing" justification maintained "moral" authority over conquered peoples. The pretext for their aggression and forced removal of pre-existing populations required a sanitation of facts that only the law could provide. Nazis also used the shroud of the Nuremburg Laws to provide the legal justification to their "Jewish problem".

On several occasions, past and present, the US has found itself in a similar situation when dealing with undesirable populations. Jim Crow, the Yellow Laws, Japanese internment and deportation of US citizens were instrumental in denying US citizens their rights.

More extreme measures included use of biological warfare - blankets infected with small pox given to Native Americans, and the seizure and destruction of their natural resources and food supply; a practice that continues until today.

Municipal courts were used to transfer Mexican lands to Americans. This dramatically altered property ownership of land in favour of white Americans

As the US expanded its borders westward by purchasing land from the French, it provided a means to add territory while maintaining the veneer of legality. The 1803 addition of former French territory was land originally belonging to Native Americans, but now passed to another foreign power.

Although legal according to western law, it was neither moral nor ethical. The Louisiana Purchase also came with thousands of francophones, with their Catholicism and strange customs. Assimilation and the introduction of white skin privilege were the solutions for bringing them into the fold of American culture.

Mexican independence from Spain in 1821 provided Washington with a cause to covet Mexican land north of the Rio Grande, and west of the Rocky Mountains. Washington hoped by encouraging Americans to settle into New Spain, particularly Texas and California, they would be able to annex the territories.

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President James Polk ran on a platform based on annexing California at any cost. He made good on his campaign promise and launched a war on Mexico to fulfill America's lust for Mexican territory.

Polk, an ardent supporter of Manifest Destiny, attempted to purchase California and New Mexico. Mexico was offered around $45 million for the territory, but the Mexicans refused to meet with the US envoy. Polk's inability to purchase the territories escalated the situation and Polk looked for a means of rationalising the seizure of Mexican land.

US citizens residing in Texas declared independence in 1836 and provided a reason for US intervention. On 1 March, 1845 before leaving office, President John Tyler authorised the annexation of Texas. The US then used the pretext of Texas' independence to escalate tensions between the two nations.  

The deeper issue here is not about religion, but who is entitled to be considered American and who is allowed to claim full cultural citizenship

The two nations went to war from 1846-1848 in an aggressive conflict that was supported enthusiastically by the American public. However, the conquering force only wanted the land, and not the people who populated it.

The Mexican-American war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits and Settlement (The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo) on 2 February 1948, and the Mexicans who chose to remain in their homes were ensured the security of their rights as US citizens.

Unsurprisingly, this did not happen in practice.

Municipal courts were used to transfer Mexican lands to Americans. This dramatically altered property ownership of land in favour of white Americans.

Violence against Mexican-Americans escalated to lynchings and segregation that continued into the 1950s. Washington couldn't herd Mexicans into reservations as it had Native Americans, or enslave them like Africans. Mexicans were considered racially white, so racial codes that had been implemented to control all aspects of life for African Americans and Chinese Americans, were not applicable.

Trump's administration is attempting to return the country to a time when anyone who was not white, male, wealthy and following a certain kind of Christianity, was excluded

Subsequent Washington administrations implemented integration policies that forced people to comply, or face the consequences. Such policies changed with shifts in public opinion and changes in the political milieu, and effected Native Americans, Africans, Mexicans, Chinese and others deemed "foreign".

Washington systematically tried to erase diversity, but racist laws were also passed to maintain a hierarchy. This racist system began to face serious opposition in the 1950s. The election of Trump - who ran on an anti-immigrant and racist platform - is an attempt to rollback the legal strides made since then, that sought to make the US more inclusive of minorities.

The Trump administration's move last month to implement a ban on seven (now six) majority-Muslim countries "to halt the entry of terrorists", has little to do with national security. 

Their immigration policy hopes to alter US demographics to exclude anyone they deem unable to assimilate. Reading between the lines, this implies that Muslims are not fit to be Americans. This is not a new tactic but a continuation of U.S. policy. 

The deeper issue here is not about religion, but who is entitled to be considered American and who is allowed to claim full cultural citizenship.

Unfortunately, much of US history has been steeped in racist legislation. Trump's administration is attempting to return the country to a time when anyone who was not white, male, wealthy and following a certain kind of Christianity, was excluded.

But look more closely, and the homogenous white, male and Christian entity he so covets, is something that never existed to start with.

Anisa Abeytia is a writer whose work has been featured in The Hill, Brunei Times, The Dubai Sun, Orient.net and the Middle East Observer. Abeytia holds an MS and an MA from Stanford University in Post-Colonial and Feminist Theory.

Follow her on Twitter: @AbeytiaAnisa

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.