President Milliard Fillmore, on September 18, 1850, signed the Fugitive Slave Law. This law updated the Fugitive Slave of 1793 by providing for stricter provisions for the return of Africans who had fled enslavement. The law also empowered the federal bureaucracy to carry out the law. Collectively, the 1793 law and the 1850 law criminalized all Black people living in the United States. On May 30, 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. The purpose of this law was simply to remove Indian tribes from the southeastern United States. What resulted from this policy were atrocities collectively known as the “Trail of Tears.” President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act into law on May 6, 1882. This law was designed to bar Chinese laborers from the United States. In 1939 a ship, the MS St. Louis that was carrying Jews escaping persecution in Nazi Germany, was not allowed entry into the United States. President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This executive order called for the incarceration and deportation of people with Japanese ancestry. Some of the internment camps that were created out west can still be visited today.
All of these examples show aspects of the worst that America has had to offer to the world. These incidents give evidence that there are people in America who harbor racist, fascist, and xenophobic ideas. Also, these incidents demonstrate what can happen when such ideas find their way into law and government action. On January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order banning immigrants, refugees, and essentially people from seven Muslim countries. These seven countries include Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. From all that I can gather from listening to administration spokespersons and sympathizers, this ban can be expanded to include more Muslim countries. What we are witnessing before our very eyes is the criminalization of Islam and Muslims. President Trump’s executive order follows in a long line of executive actions that manifest the worst of America.
Unfortunately, one cannot say that Trump’s ban is unprecedented in the annals of America. Yet, what is sad is that many American believed that we had moved beyond our worst instincts. Yes, bigotry exists. Yet, many believed that such bigotry resided outside the corridors of power and could not be codified in law. The turmoil that has followed the Trump administration into the White House is the result of Trump being in office for just over one week. What in the world will America look like after four years? After President Obama was elected, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize within his first year in office. The Nobel Prize committee noted Obama’s emphasis on negotiation and the lowering of international tension. President Trump has been in office less than a month and the “Dooms Day” Scientists moved the Dooms Day Clock closer to 12 noon. This is the closest that world has been to 12 noon in many decades. Also, America’s reputation in the world has already been severely harmed.
As an African American, I am no stranger to bigotry, racism, and ignorance being the guiding principles in the formulation of American domestic and foreign policy. In one sense, I can believe this is happening in America. In another sense, I can say that I am not surprised. Yet, I can say that it is extremely unfortunate. I was not alive when Franklin Roosevelt ordered the deportation and incarceration of people in America with Japanese ancestry. What I do know is that subsequent administrations said that such a policy was wrong. Japanese survivors were even granted reparations in the amount of $25,000 each. I also know that candidate Trump said that he thought Japanese internment during World War II was a good idea. I also know that candidate Trump said that he thought “stop and frisk” was a good idea even after the practice was fount to be unconstitutional.
Many protesters are asking whether this is America. My answer to them is yes, this is America. Nevertheless, for every Plessy v. Ferguson there must be a Brown v. Board of Education. For every Richard Nixon, there must be a John Kennedy. For every Andrew Jackson, there must be an Abraham Lincoln. For every Donald Trump, there must be a Barack Obama. In the final analysis I agree with the protesters and those who claim the unconstitutionality of recent executive actions. America’s “brand” has been severely harmed. One way to repair this damage to America would be for Donald Trump to make history and become the second President to resign the Office of President. Donald Trump is not only toxic for America. He is toxic for the world.
Anthony Neal earned his Ph.D. in political science at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Dr. Neal is an associate professor at State University College, Buffalo. The author of numerous book reviews and journal articles, he has had his work published in the Western Journal of Black Studies, the Journal of Black Studies, and Black Issues in Higher Education. In 2014 Dr. Neal received the university’s Faculty Appreciation Award, was named Instructor of the Year by the university’s United Student Government, and Professor of the Year by the Student Political Society in the Department of Political Science. In 2015, he published The American Political Narrative which is a succinct yet poignant narrative about the development of the American political system and what is needed to maintain it. In 2016, he will publish a book of poetry entitled “Love Agnostic | from 9/11 to Charleston”