The racist pseudoscience underpinning Walker’s belief that immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe were incapable of responsible self-government is out of vogue today, but the both the sentiment and logic are now applied by the descendants of those very same “beaten races” who now work for Trump in the White House, who craft arguments defending his prejudice, and who cast ballots bearing his name. Whether through ardent commitment or conflicted resignation, they are all now a part of Trump’s only sincere ideological project, the preservation of white political and cultural dominance. That was the goal of Walker and the immigrant restrictionists of his day, and it is Trump’s project now.
It is one the president has pursued with abandon. As Elise Foley writes, since taking office, he has cancelled the Deferred Action Program for Childhood Arrivals,subjecting more than 600,000 people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to the prospect of deportation, and cancelled Temporary Protected Status for 50,000 Haitians and 200,000 El Salvadorans living in the United States. Trump has adopted policies that would be responsible for the displacement of nearly a million people of color in less than 12 months in office.
Virtually all of Walker’s complaints, staples of anti-immigrant rhetoric at the turn of the century, will sound familiar to those who have paid attention to American politics for the past two years.
Their habits of life, again, are of the most revolting kind. Read the description given by Mr. Riis of the police driving from the garbage dumps the miserable beings who try to burrow in those depths of unutterable filth and slime in order that they may eat and sleep there! Was it in cement like this that the foundations of our republic were laid? What effects must be produced upon our social standards, and upon the ambitions and aspirations of our people, by a contact so foul and loathsome? The influence upon the American rate of wages of a competition like this cannot fail to be injurious and even disastrous.
A few hours after news of his remarks broke, Trump attempted to reframe his objections as a matter of public safety. “The Democrats seem intent on having people and drugs pour into our country from the Southern Border, risking thousands of lives in the process,” Trump tweeted. “It is my duty to protect the lives and safety of all Americans. We must build a Great Wall, think Merit and end Lottery & Chain. USA!”
Or as Walker put it, “the present situation is most menacing to our peace and political, safety. In all the social and industrial disorders of this country since 1877, the foreign elements have proved themselves the ready tools of demagogues in defying the law, in destroying property, and in working violence.” He offered that “There may be those who can contemplate the addition to our population of vast numbers of persons having no inherited instincts of self-government and respect for law; knowing no restraint upon their own passions but the club of the policeman or the bayonet of the soldier; forming communities, by the tens of thousands, in which only foreign tongues are spoken, and into which can steal no influence from our free institutions and from popular discussion. But I confess to being far less optimistic.”