IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

How Trump and Mike Johnson’s election voting attack echoes America’s racist past

Donald Trump and Mike Johnson raised fears about noncitizens voting that echoed the rhetoric used by members of the Ku Klux Klan a century ago.


Listening to Mike Johnson and Donald Trump's fearmongering news conference about noncitizens voting in federal elections Friday, I was reminded of the long history of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States.

As Paul Waldman explained for MSNBC last week, it’s already illegal — and incredibly rare — for noncitizens to vote in federal elections. The press conference appeared to me to uncomfortably echo the arguments of the white nationalist "great replacement theory," which holds that Democrats and others are allowing minorities into the country in order to somehow win political power.

The rhetoric used by the former Republican president and the current House speaker about throngs of violent “illegals” entering the country at Democrats’ urging — and potentially casting unlawful ballots in the upcoming election — took me back to a more distant past: a century ago. Specifically, a 1926 essay on the need to protect “Americanism” from “aliens" by Hiram Evans, a dentist-turned-Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Evans wrote that he believed in "America for Americans," defining the latter quite narrowly. He argued that the country's "pioneer stock" should be kept from intermarriage with nonwhites and claimed that nonwhite immigrants did not — indeed, could not — understand the American spirit:

Americanism, to the Klansman, is a thing of the spirit, a purpose and a point of view, that can only come through instinctive racial understanding. It has, to be sure, certain defined principles, but he does not believe that many aliens understand those principles, even when they use our words in talking about them.

It’s not hard to see the parallels between the rhetoric Evans espoused in the early 1900s and some of the anti-immigration rhetoric you hear in America today.

Today, conservatives routinely accuse President Biden and his administration of “treasonous” behavior while spreading lies about immigrants entering the United States to vote illegally and commit violent crime. Trump has claimed immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of our country and has portrayed them as disease-ridden. This rhetoric is bad enough to come from anyone, but it's especially troubling coming from the highest echelons of one of the country's two major parties.

It's easy to tune out and dismiss Trump's latest routine, but when you hear the historical echoes, it should make you worry about the future of the country.