'Go Back Where You Came From': Trump's Racist Tweets Have Long Rhetorical Roots When the president told several new congresswomen of color to "go back" to where they came from, he borrowed nativist language about as old as the country itself. Here's a little history.
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'Go Back Where You Came From': The Long Rhetorical Roots Of Trump's Racist Tweets

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'Go Back Where You Came From': The Long Rhetorical Roots Of Trump's Racist Tweets

'Go Back Where You Came From': The Long Rhetorical Roots Of Trump's Racist Tweets

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Four U.S. Congresswomen, all women of color, held a news conference yesterday. They denounced racist remarks that President Trump made over the weekend. They said he's promoting a white nationalist agenda. But the president doubled down, at one point tweeting in all caps, quote, "if you are not happy here, you can leave," exclamation point. That kind of language has deep roots in this country. Here's NPR's Andrew Limbong.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Sometimes it happens in a schoolyard. Sometimes it happens on a bus or in a store. There was that viral video from 2017 of it happening in an Arkansas Walmart - a woman telling another shopper to go back to Mexico.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...Run your mouth. Go back to Mexico.

EVA HICKS: Listen - I said, excuse me.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Go back, wherever you're from.

LIMBONG: For Alan Kraut, it was something he heard growing up in New York City.

ALAN KRAUT: When kids had a fight in the street and the kids were from different ethnic groups, one kid would often say to the other, you and your parents, go back where you came from.

LIMBONG: Kraut's a professor of history at American University, and he's working on a book about nativism in America.

KRAUT: And, you know, it could mean Brooklyn, but it could also mean, go back where you came from - were you, you know, Russian Jews who came to the United States, Southern Italians who came to the United States, Puerto Ricans newly arrived.

LIMBONG: Jennifer Wingard is a professor of rhetoric at the University of Houston. She sees this type of sentiment dating back to 1798 with John Adams and the Alien and Sedition Acts aimed at Western European immigrants.

JENNIFER WINGARD: It actually is constructed for the ability to remove immigrants who are saying things against the U.S. government - should be able to remove these people whether they are here legally or not, to get rid of them and send them home, send them back to their own country.

LIMBONG: The language of American nativism - that you, the immigrant, are beneath me, the quote-unquote "native-born" - can be traced back to the mass migration of the last half of the 1800s, says Kraut, and it's had its American boosters ever since.

KRAUT: Madison Grant, who is a noted early 20th century nativist.

LIMBONG: A eugenicist who believed that non-Nordic European immigrants were ruining the blood pool.

KRAUT: Father Coughlin on the radio in the 1930s.

LIMBONG: That's Father Charles Coughlin, an anti-Semitic radio evangelist. Nina Wallace says newspaper owner V.S. McClatchy used to rail on about how Japanese people could never assimilate into American culture.

NINA WALLACE: They never cease being Japanese, you know. No matter how many years, how many generations they've been in this country, they are always something other than American.

LIMBONG: Wallace works at Densho, a Seattle-based oral storytelling project dedicated to Japanese Americans put into camps during World War II. She says exclusionary rhetoric became law once again with the Renunciation Act of 1944, a law aimed at getting Japanese Americans to renounce their U.S. citizenship.

WALLACE: They'd been, you know, incarcerated for a couple years already - sort of encouraging them to renounce their American citizenship and, you know, in quotes, like, "go back to Japan."

LIMBONG: Now we have the latest example. Rhetoric professor Jennifer Wingard guard says the specific phrasing of, go back home, back to your country, might change depending on the year, but the sentiment behind it remains clear.

WINGARD: Go back to where you came from is the same as go back to your own country, is the same as you are not allowed here, is the same as no immigrants allowed.

LIMBONG: And there is nothing new about that idea.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

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