We are under attack by Russians intent on weakening our democracy.

Trump welcomes that, making the heart and soul of his presidency a wall to protect us from desperate Hondurans seeking to clean our toilets and pick our tomatoes.

So how did I miss George Will’s review earlier this summer of Danny Okrent’s The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America?

Better late than never:


. . . [Late in the 19th century] racist thinking about immigration saturated mainstream newspapers (the Boston Herald: “Shall we permit these inferior races to dilute the thrifty, capable Yankee blood . . . of the earlier immigrants?”) and elite journals (in the Yale Review, recent immigrants were described as “vast masses of filth” from “every foul and stagnant pool of population in Europe”).

In the Century monthly, which published Mark Twain, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, W.E.B. Du Bois and H.G. Wells, an author informed readers that “Mediterranean people are morally below the races of northern Europe,” that immigrants from Southern Italy “lack the conveniences for thinking,” that Neapolitans were a “degenerate” class “infected with spiritual hookworm” and displaying “low foreheads, open mouths, weak chins . . . and backless heads,” and that few of the garment workers in New York’s Union Square “had the type of face one would find at a county fair in the west or south.”

. . . Theodore Roosevelt, who popularized the phrase “race suicide,” wrote to a eugenicist that “the inescapable duty of the good citizen of the right type is to leave his or her blood behind him in the world, and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type.” Woodrow Wilson warned against the “corruption of foreign blood” and “ever-deteriorating” genetic material.

. . . Four years before the 1924 act, 76 percent of immigrants came from Eastern or Southern Europe. After it, 11 percent did. Some of those excluded went instead to Auschwitz.


Some Americans today — many of them “very fine people” in Trump’s view — think, Yes!  We never should have let all those Jews and Italians in.  Jews will not replace us!  We never should have allowed freed slaves to vote, they think.  So they keep devising ways to make it difficult.

But most of us read this history and think — Wait!  What planet were Americans ON a century ago?  Was America ever really this backward?

Most of us favor the sort of sensible, welcoming, bi-partisan, comprehensive immigration reform the Senate passed 68-32 in 2013 — that House Republicans would not allow to come up for a vote.

Here’s hoping most of us vote next year, however difficult Republicans try to make it; and that those votes get accurately counted, however hard the Russians try to hack our democracy.

 

 

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