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Trump Statements On Muslim Immigration Recall Past Episodes Of U.S. Exclusion


Donald Trump's call for a blanket ban on all Muslims traveling to the United States has given a raw edge to the debate over immigration and terrorism. Trump's idea has drawn criticism from his rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in part because it recalls past episodes of fear and exclusion in this country. Joining us to talk about this is NPR's senior editor and correspondent, Ron Elving.

And Ron, you've actually been looking at some of these other periods in our history, right, where this kind of language has come to the forefront. What stood out?

RON ELVING, BYLINE: We don't want to overdraw the comparison in all its details, Audie, but there have been times when general anxiety about immigration or wars overseas have been brought into focus by a single horrific event, say, Pearl Harbor - 74 years ago this week - that led to the internment of Japanese families wholesale during the war that followed.

CORNISH: What about actual legislative efforts to exclude people on the basis of their religion? What did you find?

ELVING: Not on the basis of religion alone specifically, but the earliest real struggles against immigration in the United States took place in the middle-1800s before the Civil War, and a lot of that came from fear of Catholics entering the United States. And a little bit later, we had the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred Chinese as a nationality and greatly restricted the rights of Chinese already in the U.S.

CORNISH: Now, we've also heard comparisons made between Trump targeting Muslims in this way and the targeting of Jews in the 1920s and 1930s.

ELVING: There was a famous Catholic priest in Michigan named Charles Coughlin. He was a powerful radio personality, a media star of his day, at first locally and then nationally. His audience reached tens of millions of people.

CORNISH: We actually have tape of one of his speeches. Let's listen.


PRIEST CHARLES COUGHLIN: We are Christian in so far as we believe in Christ's principle of love your neighbor as yourself. And with that principle, I challenge every Jew in this nation to tell me that he does not believe in it.

CORNISH: Ron, where did this movement lead?

ELVING: It led to Father Coughlin praising the rise of Hitler and Mussolini in Europe and blaming Jews for everything from the Russian Revolution to the Great Depression, and he remained popular right up to World War II. And this was also a time when a lot of Jewish refugees trying to enter this country - not all of them, but many - were turned away.

CORNISH: After the war, there was a lot of focus on communist and subversive activities in the U.S., and that led to the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s. McCarthy often talked about the fight against communism as a war. Let's listen to some of that.


JOSEPH MCCARTHY: I am going to discuss this war in which we've been engaged for 105 years, a war declared by Karl Marx in 1848, re-declared and brought down to date by Lenin, again re-declared by Stalin and again re-declared by the Kremlin within the last five or six weeks.

ELVING: We should remember too that both Joe McCarthy and Father Coughlin found a large audience in their time because the Depression and the war and the Cold War produced such a general feeling of fearfulness in the public, it was easy to convince many Americans that one targeted group, be it a nationality or a religious group or a political party, could be held responsible for all the bad things that were threatening them.

CORNISH: That's NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving.

Ron, thanks for talking with us.

ELVING: Thank you Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for

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