Donald Trump and the scourge of white criminals
Here we are at the end of the presidential campaign that seemed endless, and Donald Trump's two main proposals to Make America Great Again are still standing: He is going to build that wall along America's southern border and deport those illegal Mexican immigrants, like he promised at his campaign's launch; and he's going to ban all Muslims, or just Syrian Muslims, or at least subject certain immigrants to "extreme vetting" based on their religious or ideological values.
Those ideas, consistent as Trump's other ideas have shifted, aren't actually broadly popular — his border wall and mass deportations get the cold shoulder, and voters are more evenly split on the Muslim ban. But they were enough to make him stand out from a crowded GOP field, and they will live on even if Trump loses.
But I wish somebody would ask Trump what he would do about crime committed by white Americans. The Republican nominee often talks about how terrible and dangerous the world is, warning that you, the voter, are in extreme peril. The perpetrators of these crimes, though, always seem to be black gang members in ultra-violent black neighborhoods, Mexican "rapists" and "murders," or "radical Islamic terrorists."
There aren't perfect violent crime statistics by race, but in 2012, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, 60 percent of all people arrested for violent crimes in the United States — murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault — were white. Proportionally to population, African-Americans and Latinos are more likely than whites to be arrested for these crimes, but as Robert Brame, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina, tells PolitiFact, "The statistical fact is that you're more likely to be a victim of a white perpetrator than a black one just because there are so many more whites in the population."
But Trump's suggestion — intentional or otherwise — that white people are only victims of violent crime is just one part of his amygdala-stroking jiujitsu. In Trump's telling, violent illegal immigrants are all Latin Americans, usually from Mexico, and deadly legal refugees are all Muslims. It's a strange taxonomy, and it seems pretty arbitrary. There are plenty of illegal immigrants from China and India, for example, and some of those immigrants even commit crimes — like every other demographic. Why not push for a ban on Russian immigrants, since Russian organized crime is heavily involved in two major problems plaguing America: cyber-crime and heroin? Hell, why not promise to keep out all Catholics?
That last question might sound absurd, politically and logically, but it actually isn't that much of a stretch. If Trump was running against Hillary Clinton 100 years ago (when Hillary was also a man's name), he would probably be obsessed with ridding the U.S. of one of the bêtes noires of that era's nativists: Italian Catholics.
Today, the late Justice Antonin Scalia is Trump's favorite justice and his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, is half New Jersey Italian-American, but it isn't hard to imagine Trump, were he running a century ago, railing against Italian "rapists" and "criminals."
The wave of immigration from Southern Italy in the late 19th century had led to a sizable backlash, including one of the largest lynchings in U.S. history, when a mob in New Orleans lynched 11 Italian-Americans, nine of whom had just been acquitted of murdering the New Orleans police chief. "The lynchings were followed by mass arrests of Italian immigrants throughout New Orleans, and waves of attacks against Italians nationwide," author Ed Falco writes at CNN. Teddy Roosevelt and The New York Times editorial board were among those who applauded the hangings — in a March 1891 editorial, Falco notes, The New York Times called the lynching victims "sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins."
Animus toward Italian immigrants in the early 20th century was tied up with anti-Catholic sentiment: There were KKK riots outside the 1924 Democratic convention to protest the candidacy of New York Gov. Al Smith (whose father was born Alfred Emanuele Ferraro) because he was Catholic, and when he won the Democratic nomination four years later, the Democrats lost a good part of the South, which had been solidly Democratic before and was again until roughly 1968. And it wasn't just in the South: In 1927, a young Fred Trump — the GOP nominee's father — was arrested at an anti-Catholic KKK rally in Queens, according to a New York Times report at the time.
Donald Trump won't hinge his anti-Mexican immigrant rhetoric on religion — attacking Christians of any stripe is bad politics today, no matter the denomination, especially if you are a Republican. But if that's not okay — and it shouldn't be — then Trump shouldn't base his immigration policy on another major religion, or scapegoat an entire nation's populace based on a few "bad hombres." And neither should the next would-be leader waiting to pick up Trump's banner.
It doesn't look good now, and in another 40 years, here's hoping it will be bad politics, too.