American Eugenics – Teddy Roosevelt to Donald Trump

President Teddy Roosevelt was an enthusiastic member of the early 20th century eugenics movement in the United States. They demonized blacks and white trash and promoted sterilization of the undesirables.  I find it probable that Donald Trump played into that lingering trope, substituting immigrants and feminists, to make himself President.

1907:  The US state of Indiana passes the world’s first mandatory sterilization law. (John David Smith, “Minds Made Feeble”, p. 136-137)

1917:  Goddard and the new IQ tests determined that the average immigrant had a “moron-grade” intelligence level. (Smith, p. 6) The Intelligence Quotient was seen as immutable, fixed in the genes. (Donald K. Pickens, “Eugenics and the Progressives”, p. 151)

1927:  U.S. Supreme Court upholds the validity of mandatory sterilization in Buck v. Bell. During the Nuremburg trials, a German doctor will cite Buck vs. Bell as the precedent for Nazi race hygiene and sterilization programs. (Smith p. 156)

For a complete eugenics timeline, click here.

I’m currently listening to WHITE TRASH:  THE 400-YEAR UNTOLD HISTORY OF CLASS IN AMERICA by Nancy Isenberg.  Between this book and Howard Zinn’s A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, I think many ethical failures can be explained.

Given the wide-spread acceptance and promotion of eugenics and class in the United States, Hitler’s actions to purify the master race wouldn’t have seemed unreasonable.  Until he began targeting classes that people in the US considered part of their own class, his actions weren’t so bad.  Japan’s unprovoked attack wasn’t just a declaration of war, a inferior people attacked a superior people.  That was the attitude that allowed us to force Japanese Americans into internment camps.

While we’ve stopped short of targeting immigrants for sterilization or extermination, the current attitudes promoted by the Trump administration (i.e. bigotry and hate) could lead to a new holocaust of incarceration and deportation.