During the first Republican Primary Debate, with sixteen candidates lined up on the big stage, Donald Trump introduced his proposal to deport twelve million Mexican illegal immigrants and build a wall to keep any more Mexicans out. He warned that “drug dealers, criminals and rapists” were crossing our Southern border and it must be stopped. His words were classic stereotyping an entire national group with abhorrent descriptive language. Some of the other candidates took immediate issue with him: Jeb Bush. Marco Rubio. John Kasich. Trump coined belittling labels and used them repeatedly in future debates. “Low energy Jeb”. “Little Marco”. He never deviated from his formula about The Wall, except to add that “Mexico will pay for it!”
In his ground-breaking book, “The Nature of Prejudice”, Gordon Allport, social psychologist at Brandeis University dissected the aspects and effects of prejudice and discrimination. His book was the text when, as a Sociology professor, I taught “The Individual and The Group” at Atlantic Community College from l969 to l983. Allport’s book explained how prejudice grows from ugly words (epithets) to threats and culminates in violence. I learned along with the students, as we all lived through a time of riots and burning cities in the l960’s: Watts, Newark, Miami, Detroit. In most instances, the rioters were black people in the inner cities destroying their neighborhoods as they reacted against a history of maltreatment by the police. They were not acting directly against white people. It was also the tragic time of the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy in l968.
There’s a song from the smash hit musical, “South Pacific” that explains one of the main origins of prejudice in almost every country across the world . “You’ve Got To Be Taught” : First verses:
“You’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made. And people whose skin is a different shade. You’ve got to be carefully taught.
“You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late. Before you are six, or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
Donald Trump learned early from his father Fred Trump when they both were building their real estate empire in the l960’s and l970 in New York City. All applications were screened and African Americans had a C for Colored circled on them. Almost all apartments were rented to white applicants. When, in rare instances a few black applicants raised objections and caused “problems”, law suits occurred. The Trumps lost the suits and several of the black residents still reside in those apartments.
There are also psychodynamic origins of prejudice. Certain individuals or groups have a distinct need to feel superior to other people or groups. This may be stoked by different social, educational, political or residential backgrounds. Our history since the nation’s inception has been based on people coming from every part of the globe. Those who emigrated from Europe and Asia sought to find better lives or to escape religious persecution. Those who came from Africa were brought as slaves against their will; many did not survive the brutal Middle Passage. Thus, most black Americans are 14th generation Americans, here much earlier than most white Americans who came centuries later.
Different immigrant groups have clashed over the centuries as waves of people arrived and settled in the crowded cities. After the Great Famine in Ireland sent millions to America in the mid l840’s, anti-Irish mobs roamed the streets. Signs in shops said, “No Dogs or Irish”. Jacob Riis catalogued with his pictures, the bands of young boys who lived in the streets of New York as scavengers while the rich lived in mansions . Settlement houses were started to care for the needy. At the turn of the century, Will Rogers described our country as” the only place people would go to the poor house in an automobile.” As the economy grew, fringe groups also grew. The Ku Klux Klan built their message of white supremacy with robes, marches, burning crosses and lynchings of black men who were suspected of being “troublemakers.”
By the 20th century, segregated housing and schools became de jure (legal) in the South and de facto (by custom) in the North. Jews were not welcome in certain communities, hotels or colleges which had published quotas. The Chinese Exclusion Act had passed in l882. A quota system was set up in l924 to limit immigration to The United States from Southern and Eastern European countries with preference to Northern and Western European countries. This system remained in effect until l965 when it was abandoned during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. All these laws and customs were examples of Discrimination (actions) which grew from economic and political prejudice (belief systems). The greatest changes occurred during L.B.J.’s tenure as president. He oversaw the passage of the Civil Rights Act, 1964 and The Voting Rights Act, l965 as well as The Fair Housing Act, Medicare, Medicaid and the Poverty Program. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only president to serve four terms – 1932 until his death in l945,had brought Social Security and Aid to the Blind and Disabled as the stellar legislative advances.
When Barack Obama was elected as our first African-American president in 2008, millions of Americans celebrated a new era of understanding among our many diverse citizens. At the same time, other individuals and fringe groups as well as political opponents met to make sure Obama would be a “one term president”. Donald Trump was one of the first to question that Obama was really born in Hawaii. He and others became known as Birthers. They demanded to see his original birth certificate and proclaimed that he had been born in Kenya. For years, Trump made headlines with his persistent press releases and tweets on the subject. Of course, he also disparaged all of Obama’s accomplishments leading the economy out of the Great Recession and being elected for a second term. Trump’s aim and that of other Birthers and Republican opponents appeared to be a negation of Obama’s legitimacy as president.
Bigotry describes deep seated antipathy to a person or group based on their race, religion or ethnic identity. Donald Trump declared at a recent rally, “Hillary Clinton is a bigot!”, and repeated it emphatically several times. There were gasps as some in the audience absorbed the epithet he had used since it made no sense. During the long campaign, Trump has committed so many examples of bigotry toward Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, immigrants, women and the disabled that the American public now understands that bigotry is one of Trump’s salient characteristics. Psychologists would cite his statement about Hillary Clinton as “classic projection” — when the speaker casts upon another person his own beliefs and behavior.
The best source on racism and hate groups in the United States is The Southern Poverty Law Center. They publish their Intelligence Report twice a year. The current summer issue features a major article, “Hate in The Race” , covering Donald Trump’s campaign from June, 2015 to the present. See spicenter.org