Trump’s wall is inexorably linked to anti-immigrant sentiment… especially immigration from Mexico. People are shocked that a neo-Populist like Trump would resort to divisive language in our current age– but the politics of division are nothing new in American political discourse… especially in overtly Populist rhetoric.
America’s most noted Populist candidate was William Jennings Bryan…. The rhetoric he utilized in the 1896 Presidential campaign was inflammatory and tinged with subtle antisemitism. The well-read “Cross of Gold” speech from the Democratic National Convention is often taken at face value- Bryan’s well known evangelical roots boiling over. But when considering the audience, and the appeals to Protestant fundamentalists in the South and Midwest, Bryan’s graphic religious metaphor of American bankers pressing a crown of thorns upon the head of the working class is far more insidious. Bryan and his fellow Populists warned of a Jewish “Gold Ring” dominating American finance and controlling most of the wealth. The campaign of 1896 linked corporate excess of the Gilded Age to the stereotypes of Jewish Financiers and money-lenders.
The more things change, the more they stay the same… especially in American politics. Trump’s wall and fear mongering about “Mexican Rapists” is no different from the misguided Populism of William Jennings Bryan in the election of 1896.