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Opinion: The Party of Lincoln is Dead, But Don't Just Blame Donald Trump

The 2016 Republican platform solidifies the GOP as the most anti-immigrant force in American politics today, says contributor and political scientist Stephen Nuño.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives on stage on the first day of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP - Getty Images

CLEVELAND-- Make no mistake, the party of Lincoln is dead, but don’t blame Donald Trump. The real Republican Party signed its death warrant the day it embraced the land of Dixie and the kinds of politics whom the Party of Lincoln spilled vast sums of American blood and treasure to cripple.

A party who sends Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who once came under scrutiny for his checkered racial past, to speak at their convention about his concern over Hispanic and black unemployment can only be seen as a gross attempt at ridicule.

Party platforms are important statements about the principles that bind political parties together and the recent release of the 2016 GOP solidifies the Republican Party as the most anti-immigrant force in American politics today. The policy proposals are standard Republican fare, but the hostile tone of the platform towards immigrants is reflective of the GOP's descent.

The platform mentions "aliens" seven times, and the section on Immigration and The Rule of Law is a deliberate affront to immigrants. The platform encourages the implementation of a new internet-based verification system, called S.A.V.E., which stands for Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements. It supports building a border "wall along the entirety of the southern border", even though experts agree it's a pretty ludicrous - and ridiculously expensive - proposition. But much of this language was already in the Party platform, as was its hostility. For instance, the word "alien" was in the 2012 platform ten times, while it is in the 2016 document seven times. The SAVE program is a retread of 2012, as well.

The entire document reaffirms the anxiety that propelled Donald Trump to the nomination, mentioning a derivative of the word "terror" 25 times (the 2012 Platform used the word 29 times), and comforts whomever supports it by clearly communicating its disdain for immigrants, foreigners, and people generally seen as incapable of becoming American.

This would be a profound disappointment to our Founding Fathers, and frankly, the originators of the Republican Party itself.

Days before the Republican convention and having just celebrated the birth of our Nation on the Fourth of July, it is useful to revisit the principles of our country. Among those ideals of liberty, equality, and justice, this country has struggled to rectify these honorable endeavors with the ugliness of racism and the very real American belief in the supremacy of whiteness. However, to say racism is an American ideal is not a radical statement.

The Constitution chiseled into the soul of this country the notion that black Americans were not equal to whites. The Declaration of Independence began a path to war against King George over, among other things, immigration, but it was white immigration and white citizenship that was of greatest concern to the colonists.

Once the American Revolution was won, among the first acts of Congress was to determine who could become American citizens. The Naturalization Act of 1790 stated “That any Alien being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen…”

The history of American immigration is rife with examples of the country trying to socially engineer whiteness as an ideal. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act sought to erect a great wall between the United States and China as white labor grew increasingly restless with competition from the East. The 1924 Quotas Act (Johnson-Reed Act) sought to turn the clock back on the influx of Eastern European immigrants infecting the country.

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During the debates over the passage of the act, Senator Ellison DuRant Smith of South Carolina said, “The time has come when we should shut the door and keep what we have for what we hope our own people to be.” What the Senator “hoped” our people should be, was to retain what racial purity the country had lost with the growth of immigration. Only six senators voted against the immigration bill.

D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" had captured the imagination of the country and had capitalized on the anxiety of whites over the inclusion of African Americans into society. President Woodrow Wilson hosted a screening of the film in the White House and worked diligently to resegregate Federal workers. He also justified the presence of the Ku Klux Klan as defenders of their way of life and was illustrative of the racial sentiment of the time.

The Republican Party, however, was borne out of different ideals. Out of the ashes of the struggle between Democrats and Whigs emerged a truly radical party who sought to make good on the promises of the original principles of this country to form a union based on the ideals of liberty, equality, and fairness.

The 1860 party platform fashioned by these radicals sought an expansion of the original Founder’s conception of immigration and sought to extend the rights of passage and naturalization to all.

It was the party platform of Lincoln, in 1864, amidst the rubble and anxiety of the Civil War, which stated, “That foreign immigration, which in the past has added so much to the wealth, development of resources and increase of power to the nation, the asylum of the oppressed of all nations, should be fostered and encouraged by a liberal and just policy.”

And just four years before, these radicals sought to expand the rights to all migrants, stating that the Republicans were “in favor of giving a full and efficient protection to the rights of all classes of citizens, whether native or naturalized, both at home and abroad”.

The death of the GOP this country once knew began with the embrace of Southern whites. Decades later, this perversion of the Republican Party can be readily seen throughout.

Iowa congressman Steve King said on Monday that "this 'old, white people' business does get a little tired," going on to say that no "subgroups" had contributed as much to society. When asked by MSNBC host Chris Hayes if he was referring to white people, he said "western civilization."

No doubt Rep. King forgot that excluding every place that contributed to society but Western Europe would include the birthplace of Jesus and before that the societies that brought us algebra and other mathematics, medicine and astronomy and the Code of Hammurabi, one of the first forms of law.

By the way, a confederate flag sits on the desk of Rep. King, a duly elected representative of a state that once shed blood fighting to preserve the union against the racist framework of the Confederacy. It's an unconscionable reminder of the values and history of this country's original sin.

The Republican Party chose the Southern Strategy as an explicit attempt to attract southern whites to the GOP. Donald Trump has amplified on this, making Latinos and the southwestern border one of his main targets.

The party platform is following Trump, taking the GOP proposed anti-immigrant stance to new heights, though it is not much different from past platforms in its intent. The first modern GOP platform to make “illegal aliens” a part of its cause was in 1972, and it was the party of Nixon who first organized the GOP to establish a policy infrastructure that appealed to whites throughout the South. The statements against "aliens" have not left the party platform since, and the party of Trump has run with it.

The latest platform reaffirms the GOP's call to change the way we count human beings living in our cities and states. "

"We urge our elected representatives to ensure that citizenship, rather than mere residency, be made the basis for the apportionment of representatives among the states," the platform states.

For anyone trying to convince you this is still the "party of Lincoln", recall that his party once sought "full and efficient protection to the rights of all classes of citizens", not a new twist on separate but equal where Americans are distinguished from one and other by the government.

The Republican platform takes the worst of America's ideals and, once again, attempts to turn the clock back in a time of high anxiety over the future of what it means to be white in America.

Trump has not emerged out of nowhere. He has emerged from the soul of this country, which Lincoln gave his life to changing. Going into the convention, the platform reinforces this stance. The Republican Party will endure, but make no mistake, it is no longer the Party of Lincoln, and it has not been for a very long time.

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