Xenophobia and Racism in the U.S. Election Campaign

Analysts see xenophobia as an ongoing topic in the U.S. election campaigns
Xenophobia and Racism in the U.S. Election Campaign
Foto: Facebook/Lalo Alcaraz

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Donald Trump launched his campaign attacking Mexicans, then continued with insults to China and now rounds it off by suggesting that Americans should mark Muslims.

In his political rallies he attacks, verbally and even physically, pro-immigrant activists and other groups who oppose him.

Other Republican candidates suggest that DACA should be taken away from undocumented youth and that the border is still not safe, despite the fact that President Obama has deported more than 2 million people and that numerous studies indicate that more Mexicans are leaving rather than coming into the country.

Many of his followers think they are a “silent majority”; a phrase used by former President Richard Nixon during his 70s’ campaigns, and considered a reference to the mostly Anglo white country.

Blaming the Foreigners

So far, the main focus in this campaign has been the danger that foreigners pose for this country: immigrants, refugees, other alleged enemy countries or a president that may not be as “American” as some think – a continuous issue used by Trump to refers to Obama as a Muslim or his Kenyan origin.

Despite these striking or intense messages, xenophobia, or “fear, hostility, rejection or hatred towards foreigners” it is not a single symptom of this presidential campaign; it has always been part of the history of this country.

According to Costas Panagopoulos, director of the Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy at Fordham University in New York, the difference is that this campaign is showing that issue more openly than in recent years.

“We have seen this throughout American history. What are clearer are the explicit discussions on topics such as race, religion and immigration,” Panagopoulos said. “These have always been sensitive issues in this country.”

However, according to other experts, this election campaign can also be seen as the culmination of a renewed wave of xenophobic sentiments that began after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Others place the most serious part of this wave in a more recent date, after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008.

“The election of Obama, made possible thanks to a new racial coalition in the heart of American political life, was very unsettling for a part of the white population that live in the central and southern states of the country,” said Hatem Bazian, an ethnic studies professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Trump did not invent racism or xenophobia,” Bazian said. “He has managed to leverage existing feelings and has brought them to the surface.”

Ongoing Topics in the United States

Panagopoulos considers that many of the issues currently discussed come from problems that already exist,” and “have not received the attention they deserve.”

“Whether they are expressed in a positive or negative way, or if the solutions they propose are good or bad, they are concerns that exist in this country and that have not been resolved,” said the professor.

The researcher also said that immigration, the discussion about whether “certain religious traditions” agree with the American character or international terrorism, are legitimate issues. The racial issue is also a constant topic in any political discourse in the United States.

“The point is that these are still disturbing issues,” said the professor. “If these candidates propose viable solutions or not, the point is that, by discussing them, they get more supporters.”

Buchanan Precedes Trump

In the 2000 elections, Pat Buchanan, Republican candidate who then switched to the “Reform Party”, campaigned on an isolationist, pro-war and anti-immigrant platform.

“They are taking our country away from us, they are damaging our identity,” Buchanan said back then in an interview with NPR and in numerous public appearances.

At the time, Pat Buchanan’s campaign was backed with a commercial in which a white American man choked on a meatball when he could not get help by calling 911 because the operator asked him about the language he spoke from a long list.

“Do you ever miss the English language? Vote for the party that puts Americans first,” says the commercial, as the man drops dead, “victim” of multilingualism.

The difference between back then and now is that the candidate of the extreme rhetoric is an outcast and the one today is the favorite.