Unfit for the Constitution: Nativism and the Constitution

Jared A. Goldstein (Roger Williams) concludes his very interesting article, Unfit for the Constitution: Nativism and the Constitution, from the Founding Fathers to Donald Trump as follows:

Today, a wide-ranging campaign targets Muslims and asserts that they hold values that are fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution. With the election of Donald Trump, adherents of that view now hold positions of power in the White House. The allegation that Muslims are inherently un-American should be recognized as part of a long history of American nativism, in which anti-immigrant movements have routinely claimed that unwanted immigrants are hostile to constitutional values. In the 1850s, the Know-Nothings argued that Catholicism was incompatible with the Constitution. In 1882, Congress excluded Chinese immigrants based on the assertion that they were too foreign to embrace constitutional principles. In 1924, Congress enacted the National Origins Act out of the belief that members of the so-called Nordics race alone were genetically disposed to embrace constitutional values, while Jews, Italians, Poles, and Asians would inevitably destroy the nation’s constitutional government. In the late twentieth century and today, anti-immigrant groups have argued that immigration by Latin Americans and Asians is destroying the Constitution.

All of these movements invoked allegations of hostility to the Constitution as the touchstone for identifying dangerous foreigners. In these movements “the Constitution” functions principally as a symbol of the United States, rather than a concrete legal document. To say that some people are hostile to the Constitution is simply a code for saying that they are hostile to the United States, that they are un-American. This way of speaking about the Constitution comes naturally to Americans as a result of the long tradition of identifying what it means to be American by reference to the Constitution, of saying that being American means believing in a set of values embodied in the Constitution.

What the history explored in this article should show is that the creedal conception of American nationalism—the belief that being American means believing in a common creed embodied in the Constitution—has not always been a benign and universalistic force. Devotion to the Constitution may be the cement that unites Americans, but it has also repeatedly been invoked to justify excluding unwanted people who, by race, religion, or national origin, do not share the traits of native-born Americans.

Recommended. — Joe

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