The Tracks Of History

The reality of American politics is that it’s always been influenced by the past. Right from the very beginning, the government the founders created was because it wasn’t the government of Great Britain. No King, no parliament, an electoral college so that large population centre’s weren’t the deciding factor in a presidential election, and an ode to the days of the Roman Empire. It seems that, even when creating a new government, the past haunts us.

Fast forward to 1919: The first true ‘World War’ is over. The victors are sitting in Versailles, signing a peace treaty with Germany (the other central powers all had separate treaties written) who wasn’t allowed to attend the actual negotiations. The victors require Germany to accept all responsibility, and to establish a payment of reparations which many economists argue were too harsh (and would result in the re-negotiation of the reparations and the Dawes Plan in 1925, and the Young Plan in 1929), changes in territory including renouncing sovereignty over former colonies, and restriction on the military and fortifications. The German people were furious, the German government attempted to deal with the terms as best they could, but with a furious people? It’s hard to get much done. And so began the rise of hyper-nationalism, and the rise of the NSDAP (the National Socialist German Workers’ Party…which was actually fascist and not socialist at all)….you may know it as the Nazi Party.

Fast forward to 1920: Civil wars are springing up all over the world, in less stable places, and people are fleeing. They’re entering the stable lands of the UK, and more importantly the US. In 1921 the first law which imposed quotas on all immigrants are enacted in the US, and in 1924 the Johnson-Reed Act expands the quotas placed on certain groups (including those from eastern europe, Jews, and those from the middle east) and created a ‘barred zone’ which included most of Asia (except the Philippines because it was a US colony) and China (which had it’s own act excluding Chinese immigrants).

Fast forward to 1933: After years of hardship, unemployment, bread lines, wheelbarrows of currency to buy some cheese, and deep seated festering hatred for those they argued caused the situation, and massive distrust of the government, on 30 January the President of Germany appoints the leader of the most popular party in the Reichstag (essentially the lower house of parliament), the NSDAP, as Chancellor. In February, the Reichstag Fire Decree is passed, removing most civil liberties, and in March the Enabling Act, which allows the Chancellor to act without approval of the Reichstag, creates the cement foundation of what will become the one-party system in Germany. Hyper-nationalism explodes…anyone different is a target. Six years later Germany will invade Poland, and the war no one wanted begins in earnest.

Fast forward to 1947: The world that existed when the Founders created the Constitution is no more. Neither is the American government. The foundation is the same, but that’s about all they’d recognise of their creation. America can no longer live in isolation. The days of ‘friendship with all, alliances with none’ are over. With the rise of globalisation there is no such thing as an isolated nation anymore, and America is looked to for peace and world defence. New governmental departments are created, others destroyed, a true standing military, which will be used for more than defence, is established for the first time in American history, and the movement of peoples across the earth creates tension. The invention and use of the aeroplane in the commercial sector, faster ships, and the beginnings of what would become the highway system in the US during the Eisenhower administration meant that people could move wherever, whenever. The rise of communism, the falling of the iron curtain (although the Berlin Wall wouldn’t be built until 1961), and the re-ignition of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and the creation of the Hollywood Blacklist would set the stage for a deep seated fear of ‘different,’ which, in American culture, would come to mean ‘immigrant’ and ‘non-white.’

Fast forward to 1952: The Immigration and Nationality Act is passed. Vetoed by Truman, who considers the act ‘un-american,’ the veto is overridden by a vote of 278 in the House and 57 in the Senate. The Act, written by two Democratic members of Congress (Senator Pat McCarran* and Rep. Francis Walter), abolished racial restrictions on immigration, but instead established a preference system based on ethnicity and labour qualifications.

Fast forward to 1953: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, both natural born US citizens, are tried, convicted, and executed as Soviet spies. Although the Rosenberg’s were both born in the US, the anti-immigration backlash of their conviction is swift. Suspicious, and racist, neighbours used the Rosenberg’s conviction as reason to suspect the people they didn’t like. The continued public hearings of HUAC, along with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s contributions, create an atmosphere of hatred and fear. Anti-immigration sentiment runs strong throughout America, calming slightly after the dissolution of HUAC and the political climate of the late 60s and early 70s.

Fast forward to 2001: Terrorists bring down the World Trade Centre in NYC, ushering in a climate of uncertainty and fear. After declaring war on a ideology (which, let’s be real, you can’t actually do) President George W. Bush amasses the largest military deployment since the end of the Cold War. The first decade of the 21st century will see massive upheaval in the middle east caused by war, and the rise of extremism. Once again, America enters a period of fear mongering and hatred aimed at those they don’t understand.

Fast forward to 2016: It’s a presidential election year. The last 8 years have seen a semblance of stability at home, and rise of instability abroad, in particular the middle east…a domino effect of US and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan from the previous decade. The effects of extremism abroad is causing hyper-nationalism at home, and a sense of fear of different. Immigrants, LGBTQ+, African-Americans…all targeted for exactly the same reason anti-semitism rose in the 1930s. It seems that America has, once again, come full circle.

Election Day 2016: Trump wins. The reaction is brutal and swift. The unexpected (by most) actually happened, and no one’s quite sure how to deal with it. Why? they ask. How? People fear the future, and hate those that created the situation. But why really, did it happen? See, the thing about American politics is that you can watch it coming from a hundred years away.

Trump didn’t win because of James Comey (although that didn’t hurt), and he didn’t win because everyone who voted for him is a misogynistic racist (there were women, and African-Americans, and Latinos, and Muslims who voted for him too…all though some certainly were), and he didn’t win because the democratic nominee was a woman (although some people voted for him for that reason).

He won because the democrats failed to take into account history: Hyper-nationalism, rise in prices, trade agreements which much of the country disagree with (although you have to wonder how many of those people actually understand a trade agreement), rise of extremism, fear of immigrants, rising insurance premiums under Obamacare making it unaffordable to millions, the belief that the government is too interested in your personal business, a working class that feels neglected and abandoned by the political elite, and a desire for personal safety. Every single reason Trump won is the same reason WWII began, the same reason the red scare of the 1950s and 1960s happened, the same reason ethnic quotas in immigration acts existed, and the same reason the entirety of the 21st century has been mired in an ever conflict of religion and refugees.

The polls were wrong, the pundits were wrong, and the analysts were wrong…simply because they forgot the most important part of American politics; the past.


*Speaking on the floor of the Senate during the veto override of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, Senator Pat McCarran said: I believe that this nation is the last hope of Western civilization and if this oasis of the world shall be overrun, perverted, contaminated or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished. I take no issue with those who would praise the contributions which have been made to our society by people of many races, of varied creeds and colors. … However, we have in the United States today hard-core, indigestible blocs which have not become integrated into the American way of life, but which, on the contrary are its deadly enemies. Today, as never before, untold millions are storming our gates for admission and those gates are cracking under the strain. The solution of the problems of Europe and Asia will not come through a transplanting of those problems en masse to the United States. … I do not intend to become prophetic, but if the enemies of this legislation succeed in riddling it to pieces, or in amending it beyond recognition, they will have contributed more to promote this nation’s downfall than any other group since we achieved our independence as a nation.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Nobody…Except The American People Themselves | Luxated History
  2. Trackback: If Men Were Angels | Luxated History

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