During a January 2018 meeting in the Oval Office with members of Congress focusing on a possible bipartisan immigration policy, Haiti, El Salvador and African countries came up and President Donald J. Trump asked, according to The Washington Post, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” He wanted, instead, more immigration from countries such as Norway.
The Nordic people have been featured prominently in the views of so-called nativists, including those who have advocated eugenics for more than a century as the ideal breed of the human race. Gaby Del Valle of The Nation, in an article published last November, focused on this issue and, in particular, the late Madison Grant and John Tanton, believers in eugenics, described in Wikipedia as “a set of beliefs and practices that aims at improving the genetic quality of a human population by excluding (through a variety of morally criticized means) certain genetic groups judged to be less desirable and promoting other genetic groups judged to be superior.” It dates back to the time of Plato, who urged “applying the principles of selective breeding to humans around 400 BCE.”
Del Valle cites Grant biographer Jonathan Spiro as saying that, for Grant, who traced his ancestry to 17th century New England, “eugenics was a way of ensuring the survival of those who made the United States a prosperous country…” He co-founded the American Eugenics Society and was president of the Eugenics Research Association. Hitler is said to have called his 1916 book, “The Passing of the Great Race,” his “bible.”
In the book, Grant, who died in 1937, divided Europeans into Nordic, Mediterranean and Alpine and concluded, according to Del Valle, “Only the Nordics, who hailed from Northern Europe, constituted the purest form of the white race.”
Grant, said Del Valle, believed that Nordics were endangered in the U.S. by intermarriage and immigration of other Europeans and Jews.
Del Valle cites Grant biographer Jonathan Spiro to say, “Undesirable immigrants at the turn of the 20th century was the impetus for declining birth rates among native-born Americans, particularly those ‘old stock’ Nordics who could trace their lineage to the colonial era.”
Eugenics, Grant believed, “was a way of ensuring the survival of those who had made the United States a prosperous country.” He regarded immigrants as an “infestation.” And that was about other Europeans, long before the current focus on immigrants from Latin America.
Grant is credited with passage of the 1924 Immigration Act, also known as the Johnson Nordic men Reed Act, which set quotas based on nationality, with most new immigrants to come from Western and Northern Europe and weighted in favor of Nordic males.
Tanton, a wealthy ophthalmologist now in his 80s, became, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the “mastermind behind the organized anti-immigration movement,” also embraced eugenics. He created the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 1975 and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in 1985, both dedicated to curbing immigration. His associate, Roy Beck, in 1987 started Numbers85, which helped defeat immigration reform proposals by President George W. Bush in 2007 that included amnesty for undocumented aliens.
But, despite efforts to tighten immigration, today the 325 million citizens include 37 million documented immigrants – and another 12 million undocumented. It is the latter group who are the focus of the current crackdown and Trump’s obsession with building a wall. Many of them, and others also trying to enter the country illegally, flee conditions at home created, in many cases, by American intervention that have led to economic and political destabilization.
The upshot is that, today, on the southern border there will be hundreds of miles of metal and concrete barriers, while, to the north, the Statue of Liberty still beckons to the world, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempesttossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Del Valle leaves no doubt that Grant and Tanton’s philosophy informs the attitude of at least three senior Trump aides: Kellyanne Conway, a former pollster for FAIR, CIS and Numbers85 and now a counselor to Trump; Julie Kirchner, a former FAIR executive director and now ombudsman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; and Stephen Miller, who cites research from FAIR, CIS and Numbers 85 and is a policy adviser.
There is another dimension to the racism which has infected immigration policy going back to Grant’s days and embraced by Tanton: conservation. Spiro, the Grant biographer, put it this way: “One argument was that immigrants are litter and vermin. The other argument was that we need to protect our natural resources. That’s the redwood trees, the American bison, the bald eagle and the blond, blue-eyed white male.”
That is, men from Norway. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls it “greenwashing” of hate, Del Valle points out.
And you thought it was about drug dealers, gang members, human trafficking, other sundry criminals and foreign invaders.