Samuel Huntington, Donald Trump, and the Repetition of History

HistoryIn one broad stroke, noted punchline and GOP Presidential overdog Donald I.C.U.P. Trump has resurrected a myriad of painful moments in U.S. history when he called for the “total and complete shutdown of all Muslims entering the United States” yesterday. His statements come at a time when most politicians have been giving historians stomach ulcers.

To begin with, Trump now represents the latest incarnation of anti-immigration Nativism. Initially opposing all immigration beginning in the 1850s, the Nativist movement was most successful in the late nineteenth century when the U.S. government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 during the “yellow peril,” a prolonged period of xenophobia against migrants from East Asia, specifically (but not limited to) China. Such hostility resurfaced when President Roosevelt passed legislation to round up and intern all Japanese and Japanese-Americans in the United States during the Second World War.

In the past four decades, as numerous migrants from Mexico and other parts of Latin America fleeing the drug wars and the effects of NAFTA entered the United States, xenophobic rhetoric prompted another wave of anti-immigration policies. For a long time, I thought Maricopa County Sheriff Joe “Tricky Dick” Arpaio embodied anti-immigration attitudes. And then Trump came along.

Trump has sewn together the ugliest components of American history into a monster that we call, most of the time, Donald Trump. Most recently, he has stapled onto himself an apparatus of xenophobia’s academic wing, an American scholar named Samuel P. Huntington (here is where you should spit on the ground). Huntington (spit) was a historian and theorist whose most notable argument, the Clash of Civilizations argument, outlined his conceptualization of a post-Soviet world: that cultural struggles would replace the ideological struggle between capitalism and communism. Huntington (spit) then proceeded to divide the world into seven or eight civilizations: “These include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization” (Huntington). Here, he divides the world into western culture, three religions, a Chinese philosophy (in a country ruled by communists), a continent, a country, and possibly another continent. The existence of Africa apparently confused the once-time director of Harvard’s Center for International Affairs.

Samuel “P for Prick” Huntington (spit) argued that Islam and the West (apparently not defined by Christianity) have been in a continual cultural clash, and will invariably struggle against one another in the post-Soviet world.

Trump has unburied the Clash of Civilizations argument and stitched it into the nonsensical monstrosity of his platform, synthesizing it with so many other terrible moments in U.S. history ranging from internment to immigration blockades. Trump is the amalgamation of every sin the United States has committed. The argument itself is an insult to all of us.

The Clash of Civilizations argument requires the essentializing of both Western and predominantly Muslim states, as well as the reduction of 1.5 billion Muslims to a pre-packaged cultural image. There are many underlying assumptions here: that there are no Muslims in the west (false), that Islam is incompatible with the west (false), and that all western citizens fall into another pre-packaged image (false). In order for the Clash of Civilizations argument to work, every single American has to look, think, and act a certain way.

I believe Trump is the kind of American Huntington (spit) had in mind. A vote for Trump is a vote for our tarnished past. A vote for Trump is a vote for the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment, a militarized borderland, corporate colonization of Native lands, unsound control of personal privacy, and a legislated bigotry against Muslims that will only isolate Muslims globally, providing vulnerable populations for terrorist organizations to recruit from. A vote for Trump is a vote for Samuel P. Huntington (spit).

The world is not divided into a handful of civilizations. The world is a malleable collage of cultures, languages, religions, identities, all merging and overlapping. We need not clash. It is not inevitable, but a rhetoric of violent domination, surveillance, and authoritarianism will result in more bloodshed. Propaganda always results in violence, and Trump’s call for halting Muslims from entering the country is simply anti-Muslim propaganda. Propaganda against the United States contributes to violence against American citizens, just as propaganda against Planned Parenthood contributes to violence against doctors and patients, just as propaganda against Muslims contributes to violence against Muslims, and at the dizzying epicenter are the instigators of that propaganda, a historiography of hatred stretching back centuries.

We do not need to repeat history. We should strive to be better than our past. It’s not that hard to do if we pause and recognize that we are not chess pieces engaged in unending struggle. We are humans, insurmountably flawed but invariably changeable, improvable, and far more complex than the caricatures dripping out of what I will politely call Donald Trump’s mouth.

-jk

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